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Pakistan’s Khan dilemma

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By Kamran Asdar Ali


This morning (April 3rd) Maureen Dowd in her column in the NYT, on the by now infamous slap by Will Smith, writes how the actor, Denzel Washington cautioned Smith, “at your highest moment, be careful.

That is when the devil comes to you.” She goes on to analyze the entire episode as a Shakespearean tragedy, the fall of the mighty and brings up Freud’s formulation of the death drive.

Influenced by her words, I thought about what happened today in Pakistan when the Prime Minister’s parliamentary party used a particular (and false) interpretation of the constitution to undermine the democratic process itself.  Some years back (2012) when Imran Khan was being constructed as a “viable” alternative by the hidden players in Pakistani politics, I had written in an Op-Ed that we may be witnessing the birth of a populist in Pakistani politics who will develop strong authoritarian tendencies in the coming years.

Today, he clearly proved his propensity toward authoritarian rule by encouraging a constitutional coup, consolidating the impression of his disregard for the constitution and for parliamentary practice. For Pakistan’s sitting Prime Minister the Schmittian model of a strong Presidency with a compliant parliament would be an ideal solution in order for him to continue his role as the “chosen one”. Through an undemocratic act to ward off the challenge of a no-confidence motion against him (which was the constitutional right of the opposition), he has thrust the country into a crisis that could yet lead to a commissarial dictatorship. Borrowing from Agamben (who at times builds on Schmitt) we should always be cautious when we hear the slogan that no sacrifice is too great for our democracy, least of all the temporary sacrifice of our democracy, as it starts the state of exception that Pakistan’s dictators and now civilian heads of governments have developed their careers with.

But, I digress, thinking with Dowd, this treacherous act may also be a kind of death drive by Imran Khan. His megalomaniacal personality and his belief in his charismatic power has led him toward a more destructive future for the federation and the political process, rather than building consensus and  generating political spaces for positive outcomes (life affirming instincts linked to Freud’s concept of eros). Despite anti-American rhetoric peppered with cultural nationalism his egoistical decisions have pushed the country into a legal civil war which seeks to eliminate not only political adversaries but entire categories of citizens who for some reason cannot be incorporated into his view of the political system; spreading chaos and political uncertainty in a country which is reeling under the weight of run-away inflation, a huge external debt and dwindling foreign currency reserves. Shameless and destructive, his act will be long remembered.  … Not sure if any “devil” whispered in his ears, Imran Khan owns this one and in his desperate move for self-preservation, he has sown the seeds for his own future failures, disgrace and ignominy.

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