When American comedian Trevor Noah did a segment on highlighting similarities between Trump and Imran Khan there was a lot of hue and cry from many including those that are critics of the later. Some of them suggested that Imran Khan struggled for 22 years to reach the PM house while Trump won the election in a fluke. They seem to forget that Trump’s first attempt at Presidency was in 1988 but he did not go anywhere. I am not suggesting these two are similar but there certainly are similarities. One of the most significant qualities of both of them is their marketing prowess and communicating with their base. The emergence of social media was a game changer for them. They have unmatched expertise in this area and it played a dominant role in their political fortunes.
Over the years Imran Khan and his social media team meticulously built his persona of honesty, piety, and uprightness. In other words, they created a feel-good factor about him. They started with using images of his torn collars and sleeves (I always wondered why IK shirts always were torn from the same place), then used pictures of him praying or performing Umrah, and then about his honesty in financial matters. While they promoted IK at the same time they also dedicated almost equal time to suggest that anyone that is not with Imran Khan or against him is a choor and dakoo. Anyone that dissented in the party was doing it because he/she was denied a ticket so were dishonest in their critique.
Since taking the oath of office Imran Khan’s social media team is in overdrive to create a feel-good factor about the new government by comparing expenses of the oath ceremony, PM living in military secretary residence, aversion to VIP protocol, and austerity drive. They are also suggesting everything they do has been done for the first time when the reality is that all this has been done in the past too. So history does not start with Imran Khan being PM. I am not saying all this is not important but in terms of the gravity of crisis faced by us, these are trivial matters.
These efforts to promote a feel-good factor about Imran Khan, as the only honest leader, was also used as a smokescreen to divert focus from his absence of policy credentials. Ask Imran Khan what is his plan to fight hate speech and intolerance or foreign policy or uplifting the economy and most of the time you will get a long-winded statement that has no substance. I give him full marks for the style of his first address to the nation but he got zero marks on policy and substance.
Imran Khan may lack credentials or intellectual depth to have mastery of the policy but the most concerning is that his ministers are also using trivia to create a feel-good factor. Finance Minister Asad Umar wants to solve the economic crisis through passion and junoon (there is an actual tweet about that and he said it in Nadeem Malik show), Malik Amin Aslam now wants to plant 5 billion trees (good but the environment is not just about air there are also rivers, greenhouse gases, and other factors too), FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi wants to use bravado (fine there was no discussion on terrorism in the call with Pompeo but what is our policy about it and why the world don’t believe us).
These are just some examples that the new government policy agenda is not clear but their use of feel-good smokescreen raises many questions. Is this an effort to take the attention away from policy decisions that are made elsewhere? or do they lack policy clarity about how to go forward? If the answer is yes to any of these questions then we should be worried.
I am an avid critic of IK but my intentions are to keep pushing them in the right direction rather than become a hurdle in their path. When I did it as a member of PTI Imran Khan labeled me as a traitor and an agent of his opponents. He acted on our advice but never gave us credit because that would be too much. When I criticized him for his me, me, me victory speech it resulted in thanking party activists in his address to the nation. When Info Min Fawad Chaudhry tweeted PTV will give equal time to the opposition then I asked them to control their abusing social media trolls. Next day PTI Official twitted to report the abuse. Now I an out of PTI and as a member of the opposition, we will keep pressuring them to talk about the policy and how to deal with the crisis. Their smokescreen will not divert our attention rest assured.
By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi