Unlike Western press practices, Pakistan’s privacy traditions constrain a robust discussion of the private lives of celebrities in electronic or print media. However, hush-hush gossip, group text messages, and social media in Pakistan are as brutal as anywhere else in the world. As such private lives of political leaders, such as Prime Minister Imran Khan (IK), remain shrouded in an unsortable mixture of fabrications and truths. For the most part, the Pakistani public ignores the private lives of favored leaders, including IK.
The Western press unreservedly paints IK as a playboy. In his youthful days, IK played cricket and won the World Cup for Pakistan, earning celebrity status. In his midlife, IK slept with British women, faced a paternity lawsuit in California, befriended Princess Diane, and married the daughter of an Anglo-French billionaire. More recently, IK enticed a niqabi woman of four children in Pakistan to divorce her husband and marry him.
For the world, IK’s persistent playboydom spanning over several decades is most puzzling as he leads a conservative Pakistan where sisters and daughters are slaughtered (honor killings) on mere suspicion of having a boyfriend. Just as conservative Christians see Jesus in President Trump, many Pakistanis see a messianic figure in Prime Minister Khan.
Unlike Trump, who made money in real estate, IK has not worked to make a living most of his life. It is unclear how he has managed to maintain a playboy lifestyle without a known source of income. IK lives in a palatial house by a lake near Islamabad, a house he claims his former billionaire wife gifted him. Since 1991, IK has established various trusts to raise millions of dollars from domestic and overseas Pakistanis to build hospitals and universities. It is unclear whether he charges administrative fees to run these trusts or whether he has been drawing his expenses from donations to the political party he launched in 1996. The election commission of Pakistan is presently investigating the foreign funding of his political party.
As a consummate thespian, IK plays on religious sentiments of the people of his country. He has promised to institute an Islamic state like the one the Prophet of Islam established in the 7th-century Medina. The religious establishment has little faith in IK’s holiness. IK begins his mostly unprepared speeches with familiar verses of the Quran. In international photo-ops, IK carries a tasbih – a string of beads conventionally used for repeating the names of Allah. In a 2018 memoir, published in London, yet another former wife of IK accuses him of sexual misconduct, use of drugs, and blatantly fooling the public with his counterfeit piety.
The IK fans condemned the 2018 memoir and made it unviable for the author to visit Pakistan. IK’s cult refuses to die down. A swarm of social media trolls comes hard on journalists, opinion writers, politicians, TV commentators, and even judges who question the policies, speeches, or lawless behaviors of IK. He encourages the media regulatory agency to suppress free speech and retaliate against uncomplimentary journalists and media houses.
Playing with the law is the most alarming element of IK’s personality. As an opposition leader, IK pressed the people not to pay utility bills or send money through the banking system, incited his followers to attack the national parliament, demanded the resignation of the sitting prime minister, and openly solicited the military generals for political intervention.
For reasons of their own, the military generals support and prefer IK to lead the government. IK, as a matter of policy, has decided to play with the generals, not against them. Historically, the generals have had uneasy, if not confrontational, relations with civilian governments. Several times, the generals overthrew democratically elected governments. Opposition political parties assert that the military rigged the 2018 general elections to acquire a majority for the IK political party. They call IK as the “selected prime minister.”
Corruption is an endemic problem in Pakistan, as politicians, bureaucrats, and even judges engage in bribes, undue influence, nepotism, and money laundering. There is enormous public support for rooting out corruption. IK has promised to eradicate corruption and get rid of corrupt dynastic politics that have dominated Pakistan for the past forty years.
However, IK, much like President Duterte of the Philippines, trashes the concept of due process and uses the corruption mantra to poison the legal system. IK adores the Chinese decision to take out 500 corrupt people and wants to do the same in Pakistan. One of his ministers proposed “the mass execution of 5,000 corrupt people without even trying them in a court of law.” No tribunal has taken notice of these genocidal statements.
In fact, in one of its judicial opinions, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has prematurely declared IK to be a “truthful and trustworthy” leader while disqualifying a sitting prime minister as being untrustworthy. Riding on the shoulders of generals and judges, IK has toughened up his rhetoric of holding corrupt politicians accountable. He does not express any respect for the national parliament, where he rarely shows up, and occasionally, he walks into the parliament with riling snootiness.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the scarecrow, responsible for the enforcement of anti-corruption laws, has produced horrifying optics. A university professor arrested for corruption was found dead in chains. The Vice-Chancellor of a university was handcuffed and paraded in humiliation. A former Islamabad Development Authority officer committed suicide, leaving a note that he feared NAB prosecution. A former president and a former prime minister of Pakistan are rotting in prison without any formal charges. A former law minister, a fierce critic of IK’s playboy life, has been arrested for carrying drugs in his vehicle. Ironically, many minsters in IK’s cabinet, facing corruption indictments, have not been booked or brought to trial.
IK’s rhetoric of fighting against corruption has undermined government efficiency and productivity. The bureaucracy scared of the NAB has been forced into inaction. Many government projects are halted or grudgingly carried out. The national parliament has failed to generate any significant legislation because opposition parties, fighting for their detained leaders, are unwilling to cooperate. Foreign investments are hard to come by because the prime minister in his speeches abroad paints Pakistan as a thoroughly corrupt country. “We are corrupt” is a lousy slogan to attract foreign investments.
To please the military establishment, IK has decided to withdraw the prosecution team that was winding up the treason case against General Pervez Musharraf, who overthrew a democratically elected government and detained the high court judges. While the trial court was only days away in pronouncing a default judgment against Musharraf, IK petitioned a high court to prevent the trial court from giving its verdict. This move has alienated the lawyers of Pakistan, who have been for years campaigning for the rule of law.
Last week, in an unprecedented show of audacity, the Pakistan Supreme Court ruled that no law is available under which the prime minister could extend the Chief of Army Staff’s tenure. Several times since the birth of Pakistan in 1947, the top general in control of the government has extended his tenure. At other times, the top general has coerced the civilian government to extend his tenure. The parliament must now pass legislation to determine the reappointment of the top general. This empowerment of the parliament might weaken the quid pro camaraderie between IK and the military.
While the people of Pakistan suffer unemployment and unbearable prices of basic groceries, IK has shown little competence to solve the problems. Fantasizing himself as a tremendous autocratic Massiah, IK is by heart undemocratic. He is highly uncomfortable with elected representatives, even in his political party. Little does he know that governing a developing country is different from playing cricket, living on donations or fooling women into submission. Increasingly, his speeches against corruption ring hollow, and his feigned religiosity seem unconvincing. The opposition parties are asking for fresh general elections without military manipulations.