Prime Minister Imran Khan can’t catch a break for being politically consistent. It’s as if elite Pakistanis are so numbed by corrupt leadership and western enlightenment liberalism, that they refuse to accept that Khan represents the average pious Pakistani’s middle class conservative aspirations and a younger generation’s hate for old politics.
Same page on the war on terror
Some of the PM’s conservative (and liberal) critics are using him as a decoy to deflect their own compromised histories. Like the PM, some were initial apologists of military rule and, others who were not, romanced with the Taliban’s resistance. Like the PM, many of his current critics stridently defended piety as the legitimate righteous political alternative to all things western and secular. Like the PM, many were skeptical about the conceptual flaws of ‘terrorism’ and like the PM, distrustful of survivors like Malala Yousafzai. Like the PM, it was not just Islamists but a small cohort of progressives and their hangers on who were not even part of the political moment, who opposed and demanded an immediate end to all operations against the misguided anti-imperialist Taliban, even in the wake of the APS massacre in 2014 – and maintained this even in August 2021.
So then, why are these detractors outraged that the mastermind of the mass murder, Ehsanullah Ehsan, was released from jail? Or by the PM’s disinterest in justice for the parents of the murdered children? These are policies that stem from the same logic – avoiding any punitive measures and acquitting suspects and exculpating acts of terrorism which is anyway, a slippery concept. At least, the PM remains consistent about his solutions but the radical pacifists do not acknowledge that most of their reformist demands (including the abolition of the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) have been met subsequently. Why then, the squeamishness about peace and reconciliation with the Taliban today?
While critical of the PM’s claim that Pashtuns are Taliban sympathisers, these critics had also stereotyped tribesmen as permanently vengeful anti-imperialist warriors or pure victims. And don’t the polls show that many Pakistanis imagine Afghanistan as their ideal Islamic model? Why then this bourgeois shudder to the PM’s appeals for humanising or mainstreaming the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban? The nihilistic call for no operations ever but also, no peace and reconciliation either, is peak liberal fence-sitting.
Conveniently amnesiac, many of the PM’s critics have historically agreed with his bold observation that Pakistani liberals are ‘khooni’. Such ‘liberal fundamentalists’ were indicted for supporting imperialism and ‘secular goodness’ when in fact, one is hard pressed to find any Pakistani liberal who isn’t invested in rescuing pure Islam from polluting culture, imperialist distortions, or ‘Hindu influence’. These critics were righteously diagnosed as suffering from ‘Imranophobia’ – as coined by an admired younger corp of Pakistani scholars of Islam producing majestic work on religious identities – Left intellectuals’ favourite new topic.
These retro-Islamist scholars impeached liberals for holding blind faith in the textbook doctrines and virtues of liberal secular democracy – the kind that motivates their opposition to the PTI’s efforts to level hierarchical polarisation in society through the Single National Curriculum. These un-nuanced liberal fundamentalists ‘suffering Imranophobia and Madrasaphobia’ cannot bear the dissolving of the private and public and religious and secular binaries.
Righteous critics have established that secularists suspect religion as a barrier to progress – even if they pretend to seek alterity to majoritarianism and support resistance to the instrumentalisation of murderous religious politics. Secular resistance is admirable only in India.
Piety politics is here
Admittedly, the PM and these diaspora scholars have won. They admirably exposed those dupes that they termed ‘mullah bashers’ as incapable of recognising that the roots of all violence lies in British colonialism and American neo-imperialism. Religious agency is so slippery that apparently it has no power at all. This is obvious only to the PM and these anti-liberal critics because despite having grown up in the West or pursued careers there or aspire to, they have miraculously shed all western influence themselves and are truly indigenous, while the natives who disagree or challenge them are said to suffer from proper western enlightenment liberalism.
This task was enabled by their defenders in Pakistan who cancelled any critical analysis on how piety politics legitimises and anchors Islamist politics and which are manifestly playing out in the PM’s Riyasat e Medina. Shouldn’t the unapologetic purging of Ahmadis from the mainstream, dismissal of Hazara persecution, marginalising of religious minorities, blaming of victims of sexual violence, and attempts to hegemonise public religiousity with a fresh layer of clerical authority be supported as goodwill attempts to release society from the ‘suffocation of secular fundamentalism’? What exactly did these scholar-activists have in mind when they defended the politics of piety?
Let the savior save
Luckily, the PM’s calling led to his return from slavish western secular hedonism to save Pakistan from such cultural imperialism. Unfortunately, the scholar-activists who underwrote his theories have proven regrettably fickle. Many have betrayed him intellectually and ironically, criticise his implementation of their theories. Many continue their ‘important anti-imperialist work in the west’ (actual quote) by suffering on tenure tracks, dismantling imperialism one publication at a time. None explain what they want of the constant PM.
The methods of these turn-coat critics of the PM are also ideologically inconsistent. When any stated or published contradictions are challenged, these critics launch PTI style trolling and personalised critiques via vindictive social media campaigns. No different from the loyalist blind-supporters of the ‘handsome’ PM, such online intellectualism is amplified by a chorus of mediocre cheerleading women right tickers and opportunist ‘male allies’. Such commentary is mostly personal, competitive, self-serving and even misogynistic. The personal is apparently not always political, according to some Twitterati’s selective thinking.
The PM should be wary of these dubious distractions and soldier ahead on his own hybrid righteous course. Instead of clumsy bullying (as in the Asad Toor and Matiullah cases), the PM’s team should deploy the strategy of his duplicitous critics and just shame, cancel and deplatform all opposing views – that’s a more civilised and acceptable, if intellectually insecure method.
The PM is practically Left
Motivated by righteous piety, today the PM is directly fighting the cause for civilian supremacy against military hegemony. Shouldn’t the pro democracy lip servers throw their key board activism in support of his moral crusade without cynicism and snark, as they did for other compromised parties?
Moreover, the jaded people who deliberately misread Khan’s pious politics as ‘appeasement of Islamists’ need to educate themselves on the erudition churned out by many Giant overseas Scholars who have established that labelling poor Muslim men as fundamentalist or Islamist is Islamophobic, and such politics is actually secularising Pakistan in a non-western way (which, according to left leadership, is an elitist project but when Islamists do anything, its subaltern politics).
The methods of these turn-coat critics of the PM are also ideologically inconsistent. When any stated or published contradictions are challenged, these critics launch PTI style trolling and personalised critiques via vindictive social media campaigns.
These theses have contributed historic revelations and corrections such as, how Islamists like Maududi were the true decolonisers of India. The left may be relieved to know that liberal secular elitism can now be rebutted by the Marxist potential of Maududi – who seems to have graduated from his Leninist possibilities of past years. Our unwashed proletariat – which en mass and permanently hankers for sharia and rejects secular sanctuaries that are reserved only for educated and ambitious elite Muslim thinkers who come up with such theories – must be so relieved.
Where are the feminist supporters of piety politics?
These ‘Imranophobic’ liberals, who despair over the activism and opposition of the pious women of the Jamia Hafsa and Minhaj ul Quran to the Aurat March, are also deceitful for not supporting gender empowerment when it applies to these inconvenient women. Are these women not exercising pious agency as consciously independent political subjects? Do they not have the right to be offended by feminist causes that promote profane, anti-Islamic sexual autonomy for Muslim women?
These critics are contradicting expensive and elite research findings that confirmed Muslim women’s alterity, pious subjectivities and non-western agency, which they defended five minutes earlier. Where are the ‘radical left defenders’ of these pious women’s subjectivities when they need them most?
Those who argue that this regime is empowering a creeping coup of the religious right, or that this is a regime far worse than that of Zia ul Haq, are contradicting their own logic of the past twenty years, when they insisted that piety movements were innocuous and authentic and empowering for women and the poor, and a form of reassertion of emasculated Muslim male piety.
Khan’s persona exemplifies the politics of piety and his current wife represents the agentive subaltern veiled subject of dozens of theses. Why cringe from defending it now? Does claiming a confessional ‘ex-PTI’ identity on a twitter handle wash off the responsibility to revisit the intellectual journey that depended on discrediting resistance politics and those who criticised this trend for a decade?
Those who scorn the PM’s negotiations and compromises with the Islamists should read their own theses or, re-read their sources that argued the benefits of humanizing the Islamists and how mainstreaming them will blunt the extreme right’s disruptive power. And no, the same cannot apply to the PTM or Baloch dissenters because those are supported by western powers and civil society and NGOs that promote a human rights discourse that is racist and imperialist. Unless there’s a bonfire of open access dissertations planned, the next generation of Pakistani scholars has a lot of confusion and contradiction to sift through.
Those who argue that this regime is empowering a creeping coup of the religious right, or that this is a regime far worse than that of Zia ul Haq, are contradicting their own logic of the past twenty years, when they insisted that piety movements were innocuous and authentic
Stealing the PM’s pain
The PM should be wary of appeals about how feminism is not western and how precolonial South Asian Muslim rule was exploitative of women and minorities even prior to modernity and the colonial exploitation. Why would the PM need to be lectured about this when he has more knowledge about the West and the secular wasteland that he shook off to be reborn? He’s written and politicked on these exact themes long before wannabe Lahori scholars gift-wrapped these in Texan or Mid-western Ph.Ds.
While the PM sacrificed 22 years in the political wilderness for these causes, his critics simply benefitted from American aid and then paid taxes to Empire for warring on Muslim countries and enjoyed LGBTQ rights. They simply stole the PM’s truths and smoked them in academic pipes.
For all the outrage, colonial-style anthropology and social science theses have offered no alternative thinking, dialogue, manifesto or strategy for the aftermath of the war on terror. Ironically, some proposed ‘hybrid’ solutions but mock the PM when he attempts to do the same. They know all too well that the macro-economic paradigm is exactly the same as before and yet, their activism has reduced to individualised social media threads which is apparently, legitimate ‘critique’.
Centrists will save the status quo
In retrospect, the PM’s best bet lies with the centrists on both sides of the ideological spectrum. These neutrals are neither passive nor aggressive. Unlike the out-raged, they do not rage or get out to protest, instead, they ruminate on the best ways of avoiding any confrontation. They are equal opportunity buffers to any radical change and in fact, facilitate the PM by down-playing activism, preferring to fictionalise, satirise and praise each other into a viable community. These wait-and-see noncommittal stoners are Khan’s best allies and effective anti-dotes to his backstabbing critics who deserve what they get.
Until the critics of the PM offer a convincing alternative to his Riyasat-e-Medina vision and frame it with ideological clarity – which includes renouncing their own historical record and issuing apology for their misgivings – they have not earned the right to complain about the PM’s efforts to shed our colonial burdens and offer a culturally appropriate, divinely inspired alternative.