Imran Khan and the poisonous legacy of the ‘Trump of Pakistan’

Ousted PM became a populist ‘cult leader’ who is ‘hero-worshipped’ by many

Imran Khan on stage
Imran Khan delivers a speech during a public rally in Peshawar on 13 April
(Image credit: Abdul Majeed/AFP via Getty Images)

Imran Khan’s “tumultuous term” as Pakistan’s prime minister came to an end last week, “following weeks of high political drama”, said Cyril Almeida on Al Jazeera (Doha). He was elected in July 2018 promising to fight corruption and fix the economy. Instead, he led Pakistan into “a deepening economic crisis”: double-digit inflation dogged much of his term.

In February, as opposition momentum mounted against him, Khan announced cuts to domestic fuel and electricity prices, despite global price rises. As a result, the Pakistani rupee fell to historic lows and economic collapse threatened. At the same time, Khan had fallen out with Pakistan’s powerful military, not least because he alienated Western nations by meeting Vladimir Putin in Russia hours after he had invaded Ukraine on 24 February.

By late March, a series of defections had lost him his majority and the opposition pounced, tabling a motion of no confidence. Khan sought to circumvent this by dissolving parliament and calling a snap election, but the supreme court ruled that his move was in breach of the constitution. He was voted out on 10 April.

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Khan abandoned the “playboy” lifestyle that he enjoyed as one of Pakistan’s greatest cricketers to become a politician, said Zaigham Khan in Dawn (Karachi). He became a “born-again Muslim”, fired up with the zeal of the convert. Khan railed against the social elite (“to which he himself belonged”) and promised to create a better, stronger, less corrupt Pakistan with the political party he created, Tehreek-e-Insaf.

But he has failed dismally on all fronts, and leaves a legacy of no reform at all. Corruption is worse than ever. The Pakistani people are much poorer thanks to his “economic mismanagement”; even middle-class people are struggling to afford basic necessities. For this, we can blame his “hubris”, his “narcissism”, his “flaws of intellect”.

In many ways, Khan resembles Donald Trump, said Kamila Hyat in The News (Karachi). He has become a populist “cult leader” who, though inept, is “hero-worshipped” by many. And, like Trump, he has been unable to accept his own defeat, so he has cooked up a conspiracy theory to explain it.

According to Khan, the US toppled him because he refused to cancel his visit to Russia. He has provided no evidence to back his claims, said Yasser Latif Hamdani in The Print (New Delhi), but his loyal followers believe him. He leaves a poisonous legacy: his brand of “religious populism” will plague Pakistan “for decades”.

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