Will Imran Khan need Jinnah on extremists?

By Amaar Ahmad

Imran Khan’s stock has arisen in the past few months with his surging tsunami. But before this tsunami translates into any electoral success, it is imperative to try to put sense into Khan’s political philosophy. His philanthropy – establishing a cancer hospital and a university – is a great contribution on its own. However, his charitable effort may eventually be of no avail to Pakistan if Khan’s appeasement of fanatics remains unchecked.

Khan sahib could recall that in 1921, Muslims of India were in the grip of frenzy under the Khilafat Movement to restore the Turkish Caliph. Under the leadership of Gandhi and Ali brothers, thousands of Muslims abandoned their properties and vocations for Afghanistan because of the senseless mixing of politics and religion. The few Muslim leaders who opposed this madness included Jinnah who derided this as a “false religious frenzy”.

Today, another false religious frenzy is being sponsored across Pakistan. At Defa-i-Pakistan rallies, led by politico-religious groups and including Imran Khan’s PTI party, thousands are demanding jingoism, boycott and reactionary steps in the name of what is mistakenly called honour. The nature of the proclamations at the rallies is similar; retreat into isolationism and perpetuate hostility against India.

On his Defa rallies, Mr. Khan needs to learn from Jinnah and avoid the same error as Khilafat Movement. Only by distancing himself from the false religious frenzy spread by our Mullahs is he going to become the leader Pakistan needs. But in Khan’s own words, it is the liberal ‘scum’ who are responsible for Pakistan’s troubles. Moreover, he believes that engaging extremist and ‘marginalized’ parties is necessary to make them a part of Pakistan’s mainstream.

Both claims are utterly false. Firstly, the founder of Pakistan was a liberal by any estimate. The pious hypocrites of his era also derided Jinnah. To recall, the Congress-backed Ahrari Ulema and Maulana Maudoudi had been harsh on Jinnah and harsher on the idea of Pakistan. Mr. Khan would not dare call Jinnah ‘scum’ but surely he would do well to stop rubbing shoulders with the ideological descendants of these opponents of Quaid-i-Azam.

Moreover, it is also ridiculous to say that banned outfits need to be brought into the political mainstream through the electoral process. The fact is that these ‘marginalized’ groups marginalize any dissent by the threat of violence. The views ofsuch religious groups are completely fascist and no amount of appeasing is going to moderate them.  Their habits are spoiled and a political co-habitation with them might also irrevocably damage Imran Khan.

However, Khan’s argument may hold under one condition only: that is if JI, JUI, SSP, LeJ, TTP, JuD and other extremist outfits declare that they will accept Shias, Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis as equal citizens of Pakistan who deserve to live in peace. Unless JuD openly reconsiders Hindus as equal Pakistanis, Imran Khan argument in JuD’s favour will not be sincere. Likewise, unless SSP openly declare Shias or Ahmadis as deserving of life and liberty in Pakistan, there is no point in Khan asking to have them accepted into the mainstream. Without an open and unambiguous declaration of peaceful intent, these groups indeed need to kept marginalized.

Imran Khan should learn from Jinnah’s refusal to accept Ahrari Ulema’s demand that it is they who should decide about the membership of Muslim League. Repudiating populist demands did not hinder Jinnah from securing Pakistan. Imran Khan would do well to recognize that repudiating Mullahs today will not ultimately stall his political ambitions either.

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