The Man Who Has No Fear
By Bina Shah

I went to a wedding last night: a touching, lovely occasion, as weddings always are. As I was standing on the stage watching the joota chupai (a fun custom where the friends of the bride hide the groom's shoe and he has to pay them money and get it back so he can leave with his bride), I looked up and saw a very familiar face amongst the guests greeting the newly married couple.
It was Imran Khan.
There was a palpable hush and then a gasp as suddenly everyone seemed to have the same realization as I did - Imran Khan was on the stage! Sitting with the bride and groom! Getting his photograph taken! And he is so handsome!
Within moments he had gotten off the stage and stood to the side while people bombarded themselves at him: Eager mothers with young daughters, children begging him to sign five hundred rupee notes, people wanting their picture taken with him, waiters and chowkidars who wanted to shake his hand. He was extremely gracious towards everyone, shaking hands and signing autographs and posing for pictures. I wondered what he was thinking as he was doing all of this. I suppose he's used to the madness by now, having lived most of his life in the spotlight. But it was still very strange. He couldn't complete a conversation without someone else breaking in, interrupting, and wanting his attention.
And the effect he had on the women was something to be seen. Young girls and old women alike were batting their eyelashes at him and smiling and simpering. I’d be willing to bet there wasn’t a girl there who didn’t imagine just for a moment that it was her and the ex-cricketing superstar sitting together on the stage underneath the canopy of flowers.
The thing is, Imran Khan is actually devastating when you see him in person. He stands ramrod straight and looks taller than anyone in the room, even if there are taller men around him. He's not as broad as he used to be, and has slimmed down, but his entire body and bearing announces that he is still a world-class athlete. He has a prowling way of walking, like a big cat. He speaks slowly and lazily, even when he's talking about politics, which it's obvious is his passion much more than any woman could ever be. In short, he has an intense personal magnetism that draws you in and forces you to look at him. Although he is handsome as ever, it's that aura that everyone, man or woman, finds irresistible - something much more than charisma, much more than attractiveness.
I think it's the feeling that he is a king in the making, and he knows it. And everyone wants to be close to the king so that they can shine a little bit by association.
What would happen if he were actually allowed to run this country? I listened to him speak a little bit about political issues to a select group of people, of which I was lucky enough to be included - albeit on the sidelines. Imran has very strong ideas and is forthright about expressing them, whether this relates to politics, religion, or his philosophy of life. He was speaking, when I heard him, about the fact that Karachi was on the way to social and economic prosperity and harmony, but that the city had somehow been derailed along the way.
“Do you think this was a deliberate plot to diminish Karachi’s importance as a city in the larger Middle Eastern region?” I asked him.
“No, it was just more the problems of mismanagement and corruption. I’ve gone on the record before stating what and who I think should be held responsible for this, though. Even though I’ve gotten a lot of pressure and my party workers have been harassed, we won’t bow to any sort of political intimidation.”
Although politicians do tend to engage in a lot of big talk, sometimes it can be hard to pin them down to their statements. But here was Imran Khan, taking responsibility for them; I found it incredible that a man could be so bold about his intentions. "I have no fears," he said. "Most people don't achieve their dreams because they're afraid. That they will lose. That they will lose their lives. Their money. Their honor. I'm not afraid of any of those things. At the same time, I know how blessed I am. But not everything is my timing. Most of it is Allah's timing."
Imran believes that now is not the time to be obsequious to Western powers, either. He stated the example of Mahathir Mohammed’s forcing an apology from a leading British newspaper for publishing an article about corruption in Malaysia. “He told them that he would cancel all British contracts if they didn’t retract their article. At first they cried freedom of the press but then they apologized! Can you believe that!” The admiration on his face was evident as he related this story. Imran, obviously, admires those statesmen who can lead Muslim countries through the political morasses that have been created by the East-West divide and the fallout of 9/11. It is a role that one senses he would play with relish if he were given the chance.
In speaking to Imran, you can't help but get the feeling that this is a man who holds a firm belief in himself and in his future. He seems to be totally confident that everything is going to turn out all right, and it's an unshakeable belief that colors everything he does and says. Perhaps this is why he tends to err and sometimes even offend with his political pronunciations - take the example of the religiously colored statements he was making a few years ago that appealed to the maulvis and infuriated the liberals of the country. The truth is that Imran is quite a balanced man - eventually. He swings one way and then the other before he finally finds his middle ground.
What Imran needs is a strong advisor, someone who can play Kissinger to his Nixon, someone who can take the rough edges off his political style, mentor him, and help him see the intricacies of political situations. Because a man like him sees things in terms of black and white, winning and losing, good and bad.
Politics is rarely such a clean game.
At any rate, what is most apparent is that Imran Khan is a total gentleman, and perhaps that's the most attractive thing about him. He seems to take the issues of honor and ethics extremely seriously, and is working hard to live his life by the principles that appeal most to his sense of fair play. So far this has not translated into political success, but it has given him an incredible amount of personal capital that he can bank on. No matter what else happens, Imran Khan has the total respect of the Pakistani people, his political or personal difficulties aside. This is why he holds so much promise for the nation, and why he represents such a threat to its establishment.
Imran Khan, in short, is a man with no fears, and in politics, that is a far more threatening thing than any terrorist could ever be.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.