We have a strong tendency to label our opponents as fascist. Imran Khan has attracted this label more than any other leader in recent times. But people who use this term don’t explain how Khan qualifies as a fascist?
Fascism emerged in the wake of World War I in central and southern Europe in times of great economic distress. Its viable political model — which fascist leaders in Germany and Italy later emulated — was provided by the military dictatorship established by army generals (in Siberia) who were loyal to the deposed Russian royal family during the civil war that ensued the Russian Revolution of October 1917. The Russian Orthodox Church provided the ideological architecture that was later emulated by Hitler and Mussolini in Germany and Italy respectively. So conditions of economic distress, hatred for your opponents, a revivalist form of religion and military dictatorship are considered essential ingredients for the rise of fascism in European societies at the time of World War I. The recent wave of fascist parties and groups in the US and Europe is primarily based on similar ingredients, except that the element of military dictatorship is missing in those societies. However the present fascists in western societies claim linkages with their respective militaries or glorify them in their narratives.
Imran Khan is not a fascist but confused. But his rhetoric will make him one. His links within the military establishment — the forces which fundamentally display a strong anti-democratic tradition and ethos — may push him on the path of fascist politics. Further, his half-cooked thoughts on Islam’s role in politics and society inspired by celebrated Islamists, like Maududi, may lead him to fascism.
Let’s examine the possibility of Imran Khan taking this path in future on the basis of three following factors:
The influence of Islamist thought on Imran Khan’s narrative: His slogan of introducing an Islamic welfare state in Pakistan is influenced by Islamist thinking on politics, which many experts describe as an incomplete synthesis of western political thought — with its emphasis on systems — and Islamists’ own perceptions about political principles as enunciated by the Quran and Sunnah. Restricted political participation, curbs on civil and political freedoms are essential parts of Islamists political thought. There is no doubt that Imran Khan’s narrative is greatly influenced by Islamists political thought. What is less clear is whether Imran Khan takes Islamists thoughts on restricted political participation and curbs on social, political and civil liberties as gospel truths. He hasn’t spoken on these issues. But most certainly he is familiar with them. His governance track record is anti-liberties and anti-political freedom.
His links within the military establishment — the forces which fundamentally display a strong anti-democratic tradition and ethos — may push him on the path of fascist politics. Further, his half-cooked thoughts on Islam’s role in politics and society inspired by celebrated Islamists, like Maududi, may lead him to fascism.
Imran Khan’s links with the military establishment: His rise to the status of popular political leader since 2011, according to many media accounts, was greatly assisted by military spymasters and army generals. Later, he started cultivating the army as a constituency when he came to power. His policy of giving jobs to army officers and anti-politics and anti-politician rhetoric since 2011 is seemingly aimed at cultivating this constituency. The single biggest factor that will take Imran Khan on the path to any local version of fascism is clearly his continued links with the army and its ranks and files. The deep anti-democratic tradition of the Pakistani Army could prove to be a contributing factor in this journey.
Imran Khan’s anti-political institutions rhetoric and his tendency to personify the nation’s will: In democracy, political parties are the representatives of one or the other political, social and economic interest groups. Khan, on the other hand, claims to represent the whole nation. He labels all his opponents as traitors. This is a scary situation, especially when seen in the light of the reports that Khan is drawing support from within the military’s ranks and files. The other day he publicly claimed that army officers’ families would accompany him on the long march on Islamabad.
Another scary aspect is his attitude towards political institutions. Take the way he and his party flouted the constitution at the time of no-confidence motion. This indicates he will trample on political institutions if he comes to power again.
Till this point of time nothing is inevitable, though. Domestic and international political situations will define whether Khan will take a path to fascism. Democracy and liberalism are receding worldwide. In such a situation the opportunist in Imran Khan could push him in the direction where he would see substantial gains in adopting this path. Economic meltdown back home will prove to be a decisive factor.