Four years ago, on the day that Narendra Modi was elected Prime Minister, I wrote that India is entering its most ominous phase since independence. This was a reasonable fear for anyone who had noted Modi's unwavering commitment to Hindu domination and the fragile state of the Indian economy. Today, as Modi does not create jobs or eliminate corruption, his government has fueled violence against minorities and various "anti-nationals." As Imran Khan prepares to become Pakistan's new prime minister, it is not unfounded to fear that South Asia is staggering into its most turbulent phase since 1
It is true that Khan, unlike Modi, has no corrupt government experience. Since his childhood he has hit the drums for a far-right ideology. He entered politics in his 40s following a career in sports and philanthropy; and unlike Modi, he was known as a playboy of the western world.
This broad experience – of the bourgeois Lahore and plutocratic London, of piety and of hedonism – could make one take advantage of doubt, and credit him with ideological flexibility rather than fanaticism. In fact, Khan's often outspoken commitment to social justice is admirable in a society that routinely desecrates this ideal. But while waiting impatiently in the power room, he has manifested some disturbing tendencies.
Personality traits are barely trivial in politics, as Donald Trump revealed in his groundbreaking performance as the most powerful man in the world. In the case of Khan, another unproven outsider in mainstream politics, they are a crucial clue as to how he will find his way in office.
It has long been clear that he has a trump-sized ego, success in sports and mild erotic conquests helped build. In the 1990s he entered politics with a customary claim for the political dynasties he despised, and a series of setbacks seemed to cement his certainty that political power in Pakistan was his birthright.
Convinced that he is the divinely ordained agent of Pakistan's transformation, Khan has cut a raging swathe through the fragile democratic institutions of his country in recent years. He has mixed Pakistani politics with a hysterically antagonistic tone that has already reduced decades of coups and assassinations to a zero-sum affair. For someone who claimed to be revolutionary and destroy the Pakistani dynastic elites, he seemed overly eager to do business with the ancien regime – with his sleazy politicians, dedicated fundamentalists, sinister spies, and megalomaniac army officers.
Khan has called himself a "true liberal" – in contrast to those he calls "West-anoxic" liberals – and has vigorously defended Pakistan's draconian anti-blasphemy law. He has also done little to prevent members of his personality cult from virulently attacking his critics, especially women and Western anoxic liberals, on social media.
The fanatical zeal of these trolls suggests that Khan, like Modi, succeeds in his extravagant and long-shrouded dream of fame and power for many of his followers. Pakistan has one of the youngest populations in the world, with 64 percent of its population under 30 years old. Like their Indian counterparts, who bought Modis' claim to a 56-inch chest, the boys in Pakistan tend to identify themselves proxy with a politician, radiating hyper-masculine masculinity, not intellectual sophistication or political ability.
However, there is a tragic gap between their digitally fueled fantasies of individual empowerment and the harsh reality of their country, which is currently dependent on a heavily indebted economy (19659004). In a conciliatory acceptance speech, Khan relied on the intention he had with two Decades had gone into politics: to redeem the unfulfilled potential of his country. He has graciously turned to his opponents, and one can only hope that he will work hard at this point to accomplish what he calls "Naya" (new) Pakistan.
However, many of his own words and deeds have helped to ensure that Naya Pakistan will have more than a hint of Purana (old) Pakistan. In addition, many of the challenges his country faces are unsolvable. The expectations of its constituents are so high and its political capacity so limited and the moral authority so exhausted that failure seems more likely than success.
Defeats and setbacks, as Modi's current maneuvers in India suggest, could make Khan despair of consolidating political support by stirring up fear and disgust with critics and dissenters. Khan has started well, with noble intentions and good will. But it is not premature to worry that the fate of India and Pakistan, or one-fifth of the human population, is now in the hands of two macho men who promise the moon and their followers and make recklessness reckless.
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Timothy Lavin at tlavin1 @ bloomberg.net