Imran Khan in DC

So, thirty thousand Pakistani-Americans gathered in DC to hear PM Imran Khan, billed as the largest gathering of Pakistanis in North America ever. I am seeing that Bangladeshi and Bangladeshi-American social media is somewhat impressed. It is doubtful that any Bangladeshi leader can even pull half that crowd in North America. This is also a little bit puzzling. By most measures and in popular discourse, Bangladesh has been doing far better than Pakistan economy and society-wise in the last ten years. So how come a Pakistani leader, in midst of economic stagnation, fiscal crisis, currency crisis etc etc back at home manage to pull such a crowd? Is Imran Khan really popular among Pakistanis? Is there a home-expatriate divide? I am curious to know from Pakistanis.

17 thoughts on “Imran Khan in DC”

  1. I’ll go first (gird yourself people).

    Pakistan does bear resemblance to Israel or Yugoslavia in being an ideological nation not an ethnic one.

    So a huge swathe of the nation buy into the national ideology and they still believe and will continue to believe.

    In fact the idea of India has been sharpened and excited by the existence of Pakistan.

    Secure ethnic nations like Bangladesh can acquire stability and prosperity but it may be more A* than X-Factor.

    India trumps both in having the potential to both be an A* nation and an X-Factor one too. Truly the Jewel in the Crown; if Modi came to the US he would fill 10 such stadiums with NRIs and be feted by an extremely successful Diaspora..

    1. Yugoslavia was formed based on unification of South Slavs. Basically, it means Serbs and former or converted Serbs. At that time was underestimated the power of hatred from convertites. That was for centuries the strongest weapon of Vatican (divide et impera) in their expansion.

      But there are many other states which can be named ideological nations (I would say artificial) – USA, UK, Soviet Union, France. Because these countries are ultra-nationalistic (e.g. USA, France), so many flags, so pathetic anthem singing with hand on the heart, strong nationalism in sports, strong political centralism without autonomies, neither recognising any national minority nor giving them elementary rights to use their languages (but pushing other countries to make their own minorities privileged) etc, to keep fresh this nation-binding glue.

  2. You answered your question already, those Pakistani-Americans aren’t living in a country which has seen massive devaluation, inflation and the promise of even tougher times ahead.

    Imran Khan has a lot of popularity in the Pakistani diaspora, I have relatives and friends who get really, really butt-hurt if you criticise him. They were thoroughly disenchanted with the establishment parties who they see as being largely responsible for the country being in the state that it is in and them having to leave for opportunities elsewhere. They see Khan as the last opportunity for them to be able to return to a somewhat reformed country where they can return and have servants to deal with domestic drudgery and enjoy a higher social standing compared to being moderately well off or not so well-off wage slaves in the West.

    Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh doesn’t appear to be particularly liked, she is seen as the head of a corrupt, authoritarian oligarchy and had a long feud with Mohammad Yunus the Bangladeshi pioneer of micro-credit and Nobel Peace Prize winner. She will probably be better remembered after she is dead.

    1. Great replies everyone. I am particularly interested to know about the divide between stayed at home vs gone west within the families in a country. I think a direct barometer of the overall success of a country is how those who escaped to greener pasture are looked at by those who stayed at home.

      A few days ago I was reading a Chinese American saying that during the 90’s, Chinese Aamericans, when they visited China, were kind of treated like Olympian gods by their families. During the ’00s it was kind of neutral, people choosing different ways to live. Now in the 10’s the native Chinese treat their American cousins with downright condescension. They think only those who couldn’t hack it in the rising China, settle in the West.

      I think a similar dynamic may be working with a little bit of lag among upper-middle class Indians and NRIs. What I noticed in Bangladesh is that visting Non-resident Bangladeshis are no longer treated or looked at in awe. Family members are somewhat neutral. NRBs no longer get to tell long stories about their life in the West because most of their families and friends have already visitted some parts of the west for tourism, business or professionally, and are quite familiar about everything. After visiting home, NRBs on the other hand keep telling how much more money their cousins back in home are making and how much more lavishly they are spending. However, the quality of life in Bangladesh (pollution, traffic jam, abysmal health services, great corruption) still is a great put-downer and nullifies attractiveness of economic prospects among lot of NRBs.

      I wonder at what stage Pakistanis and Non-resident Pakistanis are now.

      1. @Shafiq

        // I think a similar dynamic may be working with a little bit of lag among upper-middle class Indians and NRIs //

        My family is lower middle class and I certainly do not see what you are describing about Indian-NRI dynamics. NRIs esp Americans are seen in a very positive light. Maybe it is different in middle / upper-middle class families, though I doubt it.

        1. I think it has changed a bit, feel all 3 countries diaspora – resident dynamics is more or less in the same stage (the chinese are a bit ahead) . The NRI does not induce the awe it used to lets say in the 90s , but its not condescending like in the Chinese case. More or less positive to “good for you” stuff.

      2. In my own extended family in Pakistan, it is commonly realised that living in the UK means a small house and a lot of household chores so it’s less attractive to those with families. But we still have relatives who come over because work cultures are far more pleasant here, there are many fewer causes of stress and with discipline you can save a fair amount.

      3. When I graduated college 5 years ago, 80% of my friends had jobs in India in cities like Gurgaon and Bangalore. Most folks who were outside had gone for grad school.

        Today, almost 80% are outside India.

        So it does not seem to me as if Indians’ enthusiasm to move abroad has dimmed much. This does not preclude the possibility that grad students and such see marginally more possibility in India. I am not sure how much this will actually convert to reverse brain drain.

        What has definitely happened is that back and forth has increased.

        It’s now pretty common to have startups with one co-founder in the US or Singapore and the other based out of Bangalore or Hyderabad. Each flying off to meet as and when required.

  3. There are many parallels between Imran Khan and Modi. They promote a sort of conservative populist nationalism. Their followers tend to be rabid, especially online and in the diaspora. They are outsiders coming in to ‘drain the swamp’. They tend to be authoritarian and limit freedom of speech.

    When it comes to these things, it’s actually not about performance. Trump can sell out more buildings than most other US presidents could have, probably. He can probably get a crowd more easily riled up. He probably has more hard core fans. But that’s to do with his personality and ideology, not performance or expected performance.

    Finally, there’s also cultural differences. Pakistanis tend to be more loud and expressive people, similar to North and West Indians.

    1. “There are many parallels between Imran Khan and Modi.”
      I don’t think so.

      Imran Khan is “Cricket”.

      Imran Khan is “Hot”.

      Modi is not.

      “They promote a sort of conservative populist nationalism.”
      Modi is populist. I have no idea what you mean by “conservative.” Modi is ultra liberal and pro freedom in the classical sense. Very femnist and pro LBGTQ. The second most pro business and pro globalized free market PM in Indian history. Unusually pro freedom of thought and art by Indian and global standards. Pro freedom for muslims. Is this what you mean?

      “Their followers tend to be rabid, especially online and in the diaspora.”
      How do you define rabid? I think many/most Indians see Modi as a means to make India great again.

      “They are outsiders coming in to ‘drain the swamp’.”

      “They tend to be authoritarian”
      Can you define this term? Do you mean Modi is not a delegater in governance within his administration? Is not flexible?

      “and limit freedom of speech.”

      Modi is the 2nd most pro freedom of speech PM in Indian history after Vajpayee. Being pro freedom of speech in India causes the left and many self described liberals to brand someone as:
      —white supremicist

      In my opinion, Modi should now push for a constitutional amendment to guarantee free speech in India. This would likely cause SPLC, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, Human Rights without frontiers, reporters without borders etc. to denounce Modi and India as nazi, white supremicist, racist, Islamaphobic, sectarian, exploitative, oppressive. India should do it anyway.

  4. Imran Khan is an extremely polarizing figure. There are people who believe in his claims of bringing a “Naya Pakistan” and are excited by the fact that he is fighting against corruption by jailing the Sharifs and the Bhuttos. Conversely there are those who believe that the PTI administration only provides a fig leaf for the real powers that be. The PM is “selected” and he is carrying out a vendetta against the PPP and the PML-N.

    Evidence on the ground in Pakistan is that the PTI doesn’t seem to have any idea on how to manage the economy and seems to instead be jailing the entire opposition. Maryam Nawaz and Zardari’s interviews are not allowed to be broadcast. This is the first time that the PM is being accompanied to the White House by the Chief of Army Staff and the DG ISI (which is enough evidence as to who is calling the shots). Even in his speech yesterday, the PM spent time describing how he is going to take Nawaz and Zardari’s air conditioners away from them in jail. Don’t these remarks seem extremely petty from a head of government on a state visit? Some of us would prefer that PM Khan focus on solving the pressing issues rather than focus on revenge against the dynastic political parties (which may not be perfect but represent the people’s choice). Corruption is a serious problem but then it should be dealt with even handedly, rather than only focusing on opponents of the regime.

  5. “So how come a Pakistani leader, in midst of economic stagnation, fiscal crisis, currency crisis etc etc back at home manage to pull such a crowd”

    I think the socio economic milieu from which desi diaspora is from is the same one which gets the least impacted by all this crisis. TBH i am a bit surprised how much sheen Imran’s govt has lost, in a year. It took Modi a total of 5 years from becoming “the best” to “better than the rest” , while Imran has reached that position in a year.

    On Hasina though i think when all dusts settles she will be remembered as the most successful of all 3 leaders in the future.

  6. so i don’t know much about pakistan. isn’t the country led by a military ‘deep state’? khan is just a figurehead right?

    i don’t think india is as advanced as china. ppl who go to china are always amazed by how futuristic shanghai seems (ppl from the west).

    1. The “pearl tower” (a TV tower in Shanghai) has a sort of a time lapse sequence of photographs of the Shanghai skyline starting (I think) with the early nineties. It makes an amazing visual of the national trajectory of China over the last thirty years.

  7. In terms of a direct comparison between Pakistan and Bangladesh, some of what you observe may be a simply be the ‘anti establishment’ nature or fresh opportunities that Imran Khan theoretically represents to his throngs of Pakistani supporters, that I suspect Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto would not have been able to muster in the West.

    Certainly, for many UK based Bangladeshis, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia very much represent the stagnant corrupt politics of the past 30 years and would have no hope in generating such crowds. Also, in spite of the continuing development in Bangladesh, I’m not sure many in the UK would attribute those gains to the political policies of Sheikh Hasinam

    Anecdotally however I do note that younger UK born Pakistanis at a university stage seem more invested in the politics of Pakistan than UK born Bangladeshis. It tends to be the now settled first generation migrants who fly the respective flags for AL or BNP. Affinity with or patriotism is another matter, as there is a huge amount of association with Bangladesh on a sporting / identity level.

    What Zach says re ideology vs ethnicity makes some sense here. Those Pakistanis invested in IK at university tend to have more a religiously conservative slant that is almost complemented by their political affiliations, as opposed to Bangladeshis in the UK where home country political zeal is low and if there were a religious vs cultural dichotomy, the religious ones would probably actively refrain from supporting either of the two main parties.

    Basically, need a Bangladeshi Modi or IK before a true comparison can truly be made.

  8. Shafiq, I thought the reason people like Imran is because:
    —He is hot
    Is there another reason?

    Do you have a perspective on the oft mentioned “Im the Dim”?

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