Are Taliban Jealous of Imran Khan?
Every year, terrorists kill thousands of Pakistani civilians. Most of these killings take place in the name of religion. While extremists from the majority Sunni school of thought randomly kill the followers of Shia Islam, the Pakistani Taliban, on the other hand, target those who are ‘insufficiently religious”. Out of all these killings, one high-profile planned assassination has flabbergasted millions of Pakistanis.
The Associated Press (A.P.) reported on August 9 that the Pakistani Taliban had threatened to kill Imran Khan, Pakistan’s dramatically rising right-wing revolutionary leader. Mr. Khan, who led Pakistan’s cricket team to become the world champions in 1992, represents a predominantly urban Pakistani youth that is economically marginalized, religiously passionate and politically xenophobic.
The Taliban subsequently denied the killing part of their warning as their statement outraged Mr. Khan’s followers but they still insisted that they did not want the founding leader of the Pakistan Justice Movement (locally known as the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf or P.T.I.) to organize a grand anti-drone public rally in Waziristan, the stronghold of Taliban in Pakistan’s ungovernable tribal region. Despite his public opposition to America’s war on terror and drone strikes on the safe heavens of Al-Qaeda leaders, Mr. Khan is still unpopular with the homegrown Taliban who view him as an “infidel” because he had once described himself as a ‘liberal’.
Ahsanullah Ahsan, the Taliban spokesman, told A.P., “It’s sure and clear that we don’t have any sympathy with Imran Khan. Neither [do] we need his sympathy, as he himself claims to be liberal and we see liberals as infidels.”
Mr. Khan maximizes the widespread anti-Americanism among the Pakistani youth to advance his political ambitions. Two years after retirement from Cricket, he renewed his celebrity status by founding one of Pakistan’s largest cancer hospitals in commemoration of his cancer victim mother, Mrs. Shaukat Khanum, in the city of Lahore. In 1996, he joined politics by forming his own political party but Khan remained such a popular cricketing phenomenon that he could only attract fans instead of voters for more than a decade.
Imran Khan blames successive Pakistani governments, particularly that of General Pervez Musharraf (1999-2008) and the current one of President Asif Ali Zardari for compromising the Pakistani nation’s ‘honor’ with the United States. He terms U.S. assistance to Pakistan a curse that has, in his views, transformed the Islamic republic into an American colony.
The raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2nd, 2011 and U.S. drones which target Al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan’s inaccessible tribal regions are unacceptable to Mr. Khan and his followers. These actions, they say, violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and reinforce “American imperialism” on their nuclear-armed Muslim nation. Some say Mr. Khan is the political face of Taliban and his leadership envisages a new Pakistan that will remain deeply religious and stanchly hostile to modernity and cooperation with the western countries.
So, why do the Taliban want to kill a man who shares the crux of their ideology?
Pakistan is caught up between two different forces that want to keep the country isolated from the rest of the world by further Islamizing the society: Bearded, semi-literate, rural Taliban and western-educated, suited and clean-shaven urban radicals like Imran Khan. The real clash between the two is on the fundamental question: Who is a better Muslim and is a more committed opponent of the United States in the region? These questions may sound very idiotic but are very critical in a country like Pakistan where hundreds of people are killed every year in the name of religion.
Taliban are unwilling to give any space and credit to Mr. Khan for the ‘promotion’ and ‘protection’ of Islam because the latter, ironically, believes in western-style parliamentary politics while the Taliban view parliament as “un-Islamic. On his part, Mr. Khan does not acknowledge the fact that more Pakistani civilians have been killed by Pakistani Taliban than American drone strikes because self-critique does not attract popular vote in his country. The Pakistani army has had historic connections with Islamic extremist groups like the Taliban but their new covert alliance with Mr. Khan’s P.T.I. worries the Taliban as they fear losing the army’s patronage against a western-educated, conservative political leader.
Imran Khan’s killing or rise to power are both dangerous for Pakistan. In the first place, Taliban’s killing of Mr. Khan confirms the State’s complete loss of control over its Islamist proxies. Despite his conservative views, Mr. Khan has at least shattered the monopoly of two of Pakistan’s mainstream political parties. With his assassination, hopes for an alternative political movement, no matter how flawed, will fade away for the next many decades. On the other side, Mr. Khan’s proposed march against drone strikes or his subsequent rise to power simply means that political forces in Pakistan, in addition to the military, do not still view radical Islamists as their enemy. P.T.I. is left with a Hobson’s choice: Protect its leader at the cost of the Taliban or empower the Taliban to kill its own leader in the name of Islam. (Courtesy: My Telegraph)