Imran Khan knows everything. He knows the West better than the West knows itself. He knows India better than India knows itself. He calls the US secretary of state ignorant because, of course, he knows more about Afghanistan than him.
Problem with the ‘know it all’ attitude is that you don’t learn anything new. Why would you make the effort to learn more when you know everything?
Khan’s inability to learn from experience and to listen to sage advice has landed him into trouble. Although many of his followers have left him, disappointed by his incompetence, a subset of hardcore fans still have their hopes tied to him. They are people who don’t believe they know everything, but they are uninterested in knowing anything, facts do not matter, constitution and parliamentary democracy are abstract concepts having nothing much to do with practical life. All that matters is what their leader says and that he must get back into power at all costs. They get their news from memes and forwarded WhatsApp posts. They know history through shows like Ertugral.
Khan tells his followers that all other politicians are corrupt, chor and daku. The same ‘politicians are corrupt’ mantra that the establishment has indoctrinated for decades. His followers don’t see him as a politician — to them he is an otherworldly figure, a messiah, who will save Pakistan, even after almost four years of incompetence and ouster from office.
Khan’s inability to learn from experience and to listen to sage advice has landed him into trouble. Although many of his followers have left him, disappointed by his incompetence, a subset of hardcore fans still have their hopes tied to him.
Truth is Imran Khan and his followers are products of widespread disinterestedness in learning and knowledge. The habit of not wanting to learn begins early in an individual’s life in the curiosity killing enterprises that are Pakistan’s schools. Ziaul Haq’s Islamization programme systematically discouraged critical thinking and produced obscurantist citizens, some of whom are in positions of power and influence today. Many of Imran Khan’s followers belong to the younger generation but they are firmly grounded in the same obscurantism. A society lacking in reason and rationalism will readily buy fantasies and conspiracy theories from a populist leader; thus Khan’s fans are willing consumers of his narratives of anti-Americanism, victimhood and Islamic nationalism. For them his fascist record and incompetence are drowned by his glamour, optics are more important than substance and governance.
Thus it’s not surprising that Khan’s followers are often from the middle or upper class ‘educated’ sections of the society, that march to their leader’s populist tune. They want quick fixes and won’t give the democratic process a chance.
Here’s a lesson for the new government: revamp Pakistan’s education system so that it produces citizens who are interested in learning and knowledge, change textbooks so that they foster curiosity and critical thinking, and include material that will teach students about constitutionalism and parliamentary democracy. Perhaps then future generations of Pakistanis will put more emphasis on performance and governance than on irrational and blind worship of a personality.
Imran Khan may in his moments of solitude look inward and realize that he does not know everything. Perhaps I am indulging in wishful thinking.