The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government decided to punish their lawmaker Noor Alam Khan for his speech at the National Assembly. He used to lash out at his own government over inflation and corruption. He would do so openly at the party’s parliamentary meetings as well as at the sessions of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), targeting the government and the bureaucracy.
Therefore, the party decided to serve him a show-cause notice so he could explain why he spoke against the government. And that wasn’t all, it was also decided that he would be expelled from the PAC where he would particularly take the government to task and they were quite perturbed because of it.
When I was reading the notification expelling the MNA, I recalled an afternoon from years ago during the Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf regime when I was a reporter for an English daily. It was when renowned philosopher Noam Chomsky, who was on a visit to Pakistan, was scheduled to deliver a speech at the Convention Center. The entire Islamabad was enthusiastic about listening to him. It was difficult to even acquire a card to enter the hall. Hundreds of people were already at the Convention Center when I reached there, and those people included Imran Khan and Jemima Khan. At those moments, I got the chance to interview Noam Chomsky.
I asked him: “Sir why do you think Pakistanis are here in such a large crowds to listen to you. They are, in fact, here to see you more than listen to you. He was a bit amazed as to what sort of a question was that. He replied: “What can I say.” I said: “You are puzzling for Pakistanis; we find it difficult to even imagine that despite being an American, you continuously write and speak against the American policies, and no questions are asked. No secret service picks you up and the government doesn’t book you for writing and speaking against the US interests. No one calls you a traitor or labels you anti-state for being vocal against them.”
“There is another reason that this crowd just can’t fathom. You speak against the government’s Israeli policies despite being a Jew. We Pakistanis can’t understand the reality of a Jew writing and speaking against Jews and not being questioned. This isn’t possible here at all, so you are more of a superman to them than a philosopher, and they have come here to see the unusual man.” I remember that Chomsky had smiled after listening to this.
A long time after that, I had read that some people are actually ‘necessary evil’ for the society. They are known as the conscious of the society and are not put upon any restraint. When renowned writer and philosopher Sartre raised his voice supporting the freedom of the Algerian Muslims, he was declared a traitor. At that time, French forces were engaged in a war in Algeria. Protests erupted against Sartre, demanding to punish him. The word finally got to the French President De Gaulle and he was asked to punish the philosopher for supporting the Algerian fighters. De Gaulle historically said: “Sartre is France‘s conscious, he is France; how can I put France on trial?”
Like Chomsky, Sartre too was the ‘necessary evil’ for the French society. Let’s accept it; we aren’t American, nor are there Chomsky or Sartre here, but there is no ban on dreaming either, is it? Khan Sahib used to like Chomsky but the latter happens to be American; so no Pakistani should try to play that role. Khan Sahib would say at every instance that he knew the Americans better than us all.
In another scenario, the US parliament was set to vote on a crucial bill and John McCain, who was contending Obama, was on the last stage of cancer. Doctors asked him not to travel. He insisted and reached Washington to cast his vote, and do you know who he voted for? He voted against his own party. Is that all Khan Sahib has learned from the West? To give an exemplary punishment to anyone who criticizes the party or the government or refuses to praise him? Isn’t the same happening in the Noor Alam case?
If a lawmaker can’t criticize his government or the ministers in the Parliament, then does he hold the post just to draw a salary and allowances, and visits the assembly just to praise the prime minister and the ministers? Is there no one to stand up and take the lawmakers to task for their policies and decisions? What sort of a democracy disallows one to speak at the party’s forums at the Parliament or to the media?
Noor Alam was at fault because he was criticizing everyone at the Assembly, party meetings, and the PAC, and he was punished and removed from PAC. Khan Sahib thinks that he would make Alam bow before him by creating obstacles in his ways. I recall that Benazir Bhutto too had put her focus on Nawaz Sharif after she became the premier, and was out to get him over his business. She didn’t settle until she made Nawaz Sharif the prime minister. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif took on Imran Khan when they got the chance. They even banned the commercials of his hospital as those would lead him to the premiership. But what happened then? Was Imran Khan pressured? Was he eliminated?
I feel like Imran Khan is badly surrounded by those who praise him. You open Twitter and every day, some minister is praising Imran Khan and other officials compete over this the whole day. In the evening, they sit on TV shows and tell this nation about the blessings it is enjoying in the shape of Imran Khan. I am shocked at how a person can digest or listen to or read such levels of praise.
When I see Khan Sahib surrounded by such people, it also reminds me of Shakespeare’s play King Lear who had exiled one of his daughters just because she had refused to tell, when asked by her father, how much she loved him. She told him that a daughter doesn’t need to tell her father how much she loves him, but the other two daughters, heaped praise upon him. King Lear handed over his crown to the two praising daughters, gave nothing to the third and accused her of insulting him.
But some time after, those two daughters expelled him out of his palace. The king, alone, left for the jungle and there he was accompanied by a ‘fool’ who would remind the king in the difficult times how he used to be surrounded by praise and those who praised him. Today, if he was in the jungle, it was because he liked to be praised. Khan Sahib should have let some ‘necessary evil’ remain in the party that would remind him that he was only human that could commit mistakes. King Lear was fortunate that he found a ‘fool’ who told the truth to his face while the ‘intellectuals’ of the palace only heaped praise on him. There is not one person around Khan Sahib who could play the role of the King Lear’s ‘fool’.
The king should spare himself from those who praise him or he will found himself abandoned in the jungles as was the case with King Lear.
This is a translated version of Rauf Klasra’s piece published in Dunya.