Monday, November 5, 2007

Imran Khan at LUMS

Imran Khan came to LUMS today, the 3rd of November, in the backdrop of the most disconcerting political turmoil the country has seen for decades. Amidst speculation of the imposition of emergency in the country by the state, Imran was here to speak about the role of the youth in the country’s political future. Perhaps he could not have come at a more apt moment in history.

Arriving at the overflowing PICIC Auditorium to thunderous applause, Imran was quick to arrive at the gist of what he had to say; he assertively declared that this was a defining moment in Pakistan’s history and at the crux of it all, was a General who was determined to stay in power. He said this was a critical time for the youth especially, as it was their future at stake and that they could garner this as a great opportunity to bring about substantive change.

He proceeded by outlining his assessment of the crises that Pakistan faces right now. The first, he identified as the unification of militant forces in the wake of the United States’ War on Terror. The root cause of this, he said, was the role the Pakistani state had played in the post 9-11 destruction of Afghanistan. He stressed that it was important to assess the current turmoil in the light of history, as, without such an approach, there could be no lasting solution. Military solutions in the War on terror, Imran said, were useless, as ‘once the people living among the terrorists start perceiving them to be freedom fighters in the face of oppression, then the war is lost.’

He spoke about how the aerial bombardment of villages on the Pak-Afghan border had fuelled the radicalization in the region, sparking rebellions by the tribal youth against elders who had negotiated with the Pakistani military.

The Lal Masjid movement, in his view, was part of an entirely different phenomenon. He classified it as a fundamentalist reactionary movement against the socio-cultural manifestation of Musharraf’s ‘enlightened moderation’. His underlying message about such movements, however, was clear. ‘If Musharraf stays in power for another five years, this problem is going to grow immensely.’

The second crisis Imran underlined was the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. He said that Pakistan’s was a state that catered to a small elite, with the vast majority of the masses deprived of the basic necessities of life. The educational system, according to Imran, facilitated this disparity and deprivation. Said the PTI leader, ‘There was a time when our government schools produced the preeminent intellectuals of Pakistan. Now, the educational system doesn’t allow such people to emerge.’ The current system, he said, was a remnant of our colonial heritage, which fostered a sense of inherent civilizational inferiority among the masses. He spoke of the need to replace such a discriminatory system with one that was universal and accessible to all.

Amidst rumors regarding the imminent emergency being whispered throughout the auditorium, Imran went on to speak about the unfair economic system under the present state structure. Pakistan, he said, was a country in which the ‘poor subsidized the rich’, where 90% of the taxes paid were indirect, with inordinate tax evasion by the industrial and financial elite. The removal of agricultural subsidies on the directives of the IMF, the inability of poor farmers to get credit, and the non-payment of taxes on capital gains (numbering billions on the stock market alone), all contribute, among other injustices, to this parasitical structure. All in a state where ‘500,000 children die every year from drinking contaminated water’. The problems he outlined were undoubtedly grim.

Imran then outlined his methodology of solving this myriad of crises. He held that Pakistan needs a state with a wholly independent judicial system to maintain a check on the ‘growing class of criminals coming into politics’ and ensuring accountability of the legislative and executive branches. There is a need for an ‘educational emergency’ in the country, with the direction of resources away from arms into a universal, non-discriminatory educational system, he said. Further, he outlined the need for an ‘employment emergency’, one that created new opportunities in deprived urban and rural areas.

The final part of the solution, said Imran, was to pull soldiers back from the Northern Areas, and search for a political answer, in the realization that ‘there is no military solution in the War on Terror’. ‘People do not realize how many women and children, how many Pakistani soldiers and civilians have died in this War. As long as NATO stays in Afghanistan, it will be impossible to stop infiltration. Ultimately, there will be a rebellion within the Army’s ranks….and Pakistan will become another Algeria.’

Around the time Imran wound up his talk, word had reached the auditorium about the imposition of emergency. In the thick of the alarming uncertainty, a senior professor from the LUMS Law department stepped forward to announce that this was indeed Martial Law, that the constitution had been suspended, a Provisional Constitutional Order promulgated and the Chief Justice sacked. The resounding jeers of the crowd made apparent their visible displeasure at the decision. Imran was quick to give a call to action, declaring that the time had arrived for ‘everyone’ to get active, especially the students. ‘Students have not played any part in this democratic movement yet; this must change, for it is your future that is at stake.’ The crowd’s response at this point was overwhelming, with the large majority of the audience vociferously expressing their support for Imran’s cause. An occurrence of such a nature, one should note, has never taken place in the annals of LUMS’s highly de-politicized history.

As senior party leaders informed Imran that arrests warrants had been issued against him, he ended his talk with an impassioned enjoinder to the now highly animated crowd, ‘Societies are changed, not by pragmatists, but by idealists. Aim high, do not be scared of failure and never compromise on your vision.’

A short while after he left, Imran was placed under house arrest by the military.

Whether or not you like the man, or agree with his views and solutions, the matters he brought up were definitely worthy of contemplation. Even as cynics pointed out his political ineptitude, his aristocratic upbringing, his lack of an organic link with the masses, the issues he was talking about were altogether too real to be relegated to the vault of erratic political banter. And one could not help but wonder, in the face of martial law, whether it was time to shed all political cynicism, all self-serving facades of indifference and above all, all the ideological dissimilarities that we Pakistanis are plagued with, in the fight to save this country.

For there can be no doubt, that this is a country in dire need of a rescue by its people right now.

As we hover precariously in the uncertain realm between martial law, emergency and civil agitation, one can only hope that it is not too late.

May Allah save us all. Amen

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