I have just finished watching Imran Khan’s election speech. Bits of it have been played on our channels but it is important to see it as a whole.
I am not a ‘Pakistan hand’ like the guests who are invited by channels to speak in television debates. Although in one sense I am, since earlier this year my book Born to be Hanged on Pakistan’s first democratically elected charismatic leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was released. I wrote in it that during the course of this work I had spent 20 years with a man who I had never met. My book received mixed reviews in India mostly written by retired diplomats. The best moment for this book happened when Kumar Ketkar (Rajya Sabha) released it in Mumbai Press Club. He spoke beautifully focussing on the literary aspect of the biography with a remark that once he began reading it he could not put it down all night. Against this background I watched Pakistan Election 2018.
Imran Khan, the man who sat before the camera seemed to me a simple person. His words were simple, his manners were ordinary, no rhetoric, no posturing. (Even as I write this piece I can visualise how it will be taken by ‘experts’ and how they will prepare their verbal arsenal to rip it apart.)
I heard and saw him as someone who wanted to transform Pakistan into a humane, developed corruption-free state. Seven times he spoke about the poorest man and woman being his primary focus. Human development was the number one priority in his scheme. He deplored that his country was on top of the global list of stunted children. He was ashamed of the highest maternal mortality in his country.
The opulent lifestyle of rich Pakistanis was juxtaposed with those whose grind and toil could not earn enough to feed their families. In that context he promised to use public money for public good. In concrete terms he declared that the massive Prime Minister’s House would become a peoples place, may be an education centre. On behalf of his provincial governors he made the same promise. China was held as an example before Pakistan for its massive poverty alleviation program which in record time brought 6.5 crore out of the poverty trap. In that respect he said China would be his model.
Then he spoke of his country’s relations with the neighbours. Afghanistan, he said, was as hurt and beleaguered as Pakistan; he hoped to build trust and friendship so one day the borders would become free. The he came to relations with India. As a cricketer he said he had visited India many times and had friends all over the country. Both countries would immensely gain from enhanced trade relations. The problem of Kashmir and human rights violations persisted, he said, but the one and only way to address it was by talking. Anywhere in the world the presence of Army in domestic areas results in human rights violations. He decried blame games played on both sides. India blaming Pakistan for Kashmir and Pakistan blaming India for Balochistan. These games lead nowhere. If India takes one step forward Pakistan would take two. His last sentence was directed at the Indian media which during the elections had painted him like a villain of Hindi films.
The Prophet’s example was cited when he had declared Medina as a city of peace where the poor and indigent would be looked after by the bait ul maal (state treasury). This is how he wanted to see Pakistan and what better example than that of the Prophet of Islam. At the end he reminded his people that he had tried to fulfil his promises in the past and he would do so in the future; the massive Shaukat Khanum Free Cancer hospital being one such promise.
Listening to his language, his use of vocabulary, his expression, I thought of the protagonist of my book Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who spoke a mixture of Urdu-Sindhi-Punjabi… and his words just poured before a mesmerised audience. He spoke no polished poetic Urdu; but Urdu was not his language. For that matter it was not the language of his (and Imran Khan’s) mentor, the Qaid e Azam. People read the sentiments of their loved leaders and don’t bother about language, as they read Jinnah’s. Ordinary law abiding peace loving people of Pakistan have voted overwhelmingly in favour of him and his Tehrik e Insaaf. Once again they have rejected the religious parties despite their paralysing the country with their massive sit ins.
While conjectures about the army holding the real control are drawing room talks, probably on both sides of the border, I just ask one question. Will we stop in our tracks and give this man a chance to bring peace to the second most troubled part of the world? He began by saying that no one needs peace and stability more than Pakistan. He was thereby sending a message to the world. Is the world listening?