Imran Khan: All-Rounder, Kaptaan, and Donald Trump of Pakistan

Politics

Imran Khan: All-Rounder, Kaptaan, and Donald Trump of Pakistan

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander

It’s safe to label November 9, 2016, one of my least favourite days in recent memory. Not only was it Day One of the post-demonetisation era, we also had to stomach the news that a pussy-grabbing, hate-spewing, emotionally stunted failed businessman had become the leader of the free world. Yep, I’m talking about Complainer-in-Chief Donald Trump.

While the worst long-term effect of demonetisation was the advent of our hideous new currency, Trump’s impact has been more far-reaching and insidious. Notably, it’s opened the door for a breed of similar politicians to emerge – the kind that panders to populist sentiments in public, while leading a different lifestyle in private. And now, those chickens have come home to roost – or across the border, to be precise.

For only the second time in history, a democratic transfer of power is taking place in Pakistan, and most interestingly, the favourite candidate does not come from either of the two traditionally dominant parties, Pakistan Muslim League-N and Pakistan Peoples Party. Imran Khan, the cricketing folk hero reborn as a conservative politician, and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party has already claimed victory to the top seat in the country. Apparently, Kaptaan Sahab’s supporters were celebrating in the streets since Thursday afternoon, while the votes were being manually counted after the electronic voting system broke down. Naturally, this has led to allegations that the election has been rigged. All in a day’s work for democracy.

But Khan’s rise has been mercurial, just like that of another leader half a world away. A wealthy member of the elite, who has enjoyed a privileged existence, begins tailoring his image to appeal to the masses, and promises to upset the political order while flashing his outsider status, only to sweep to an easy victory over his electoral rivals. Sound familiar?

The similarities between Khan and Trump run deeper than just their non-political origins. All too often, the public is guilty of supporting a politician instead of policies, and Khan and Trump have used this to their advantage. Taking a cue from Justin and his Beliebers (the original IT Cell), both men enjoy a cult following of devotees who see them as saviours, and will defend their actions rabidly in online forums, no matter what they might say, do – or in Trump’s case, grab.

Because there’s one thing Khan and Trump would definitely agree on – respecting women. By which I mean that they’d agree that it’s completely unnecessary to do so in order to ascend to the highest office in your nation. While the Donald’s pile of offences is as tall as Trump Towers, they’re also well-documented. What’s lesser known is Imran Khan’s unsympathetic take on women’s causes, as seen in an interview where he blamed feminism for “degrading” the role of the mother. Whether it’s the mission to Make America Great Again or the march toward Naya Pakistan, one thing that’s clear is that the women are expected to walk behind the men, even if they’re the Queen of England.

The most worrying aspect in the way Khan and Trump mirror each other doesn’t concern them, but their politics.

Like with women, finding similarities between Trump and Khan’s views on the media is as easy as spotting logical fallacies in a Salman Khan film. Trump hates CNN, Khan hates the newspaper Dawn, and both of them label their critics in the media as “fake news”. Trump came to power promising to “drain the swamp” and reform Washington, Khan has campaigned touting his “100-Day Agenda” to overhaul Pakistan’s legislature. If you prefer less reportage and more salacious gossip, both have had multiple marriages, and hide embarrassing skeletons in their closets – the legendary “pee tape” in the case of the Donald, and the curious incident of the kaali dal in the nighttime in the case of Khan (if you don’t know about the latter, consult Reham Khan’s memoir).

But my personal favourite is that Trump allegedly won his election after Russian meddling. While Khan? He owes his imminent victory to ahem, military aid.

However, the most worrying aspect in the way Khan and Trump mirror each other doesn’t concern them, but their politics. Both Khan and Trump are willing to engage with the radical fringe, seeing it as a way to broaden their appeal among the masses. Despite being members of the elite themselves, they aren’t above portraying themselves as men of the people, adopting regressive policies under the guise of populist conservatism.

There’s a large number of Indians who are fans of Trump. They feed his cardboard cut-outs mithai on his birthday and name villages after him. But how they take to a Pakistani Trump setting up shop across the border remains to be seen. Khan and Trump, given their larger-than-life personae, are unlikely to play well together, especially since halting US drone strikes is one of Khan’s promises to the Pakistani people if he gets elected, and Trump is a fan of raining fire and fury on Third World Nations.

The question, “What could be worse than Donald Trump in the White House?” has long been a rhetorical one. However, I believe this election might have given us a potential answer. What’s worse than Donald Trump in the White House? A Donald Trump clone in Islamabad.

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