Imran Khan and Dr Qadri and their respective supporters currently paralysing the sitting government are not going to win their prize, and nor should they — but they are both playing a vitally important role. The list of things that are wrong with Pakistan are as long as your arm and do not need reiterating here. The solutions are not exactly Terra Incognita either. Few would argue with the core demands of either of the two revolutionaries — apart from those who would lose out were what they were seeking in the short-term come to pass. The prize they reach for is perhaps, a generation away, possibly more, and neither will live to see the glittering moment — which will anyway be a slow dawning, a realisation, rather than a burst of coruscating light. And it will be those yet unborn it will shine upon.
Neither Dr Qadri who says he does not want power, nor Imran Khan who very definitely does, is fit to hold it in significant quantities, and most definitely not at the scale of the state.
Dr Qadri, a mystic of powerful vision to some but mad as a bag of snakes to others and probably a mix of both — struck a resonance with a particular constituency. He cuts to the heart of those who are poor, disempowered, disenfranchised, forgotten and neglected … the thesaurus of deprivation is his lexicon and he speaks to them in a way that is powerfully attractive, seductive even. But what he has to say does not translate in the world of realpolitik to workable policies or even an outline manifesto, and it amounts to little more than a glorified wish list. A wish list maybe, but when none of your wishes have come true and are never likely to it is a list millions have signed up for.

Imran Khan is another music in a different kitchen. Fifteen or so years as a political pygmy and he might have evolved into a giant, the chance was certainly there and his constituency, as deprived but in different ways to that of Dr Qadri, also signed up in their millions and gifted Imran Khan a place at the top table. Third place maybe, but right up there with the bunch of snolleygosters that have run the show for the last half century.
As opportunities go it was as golden as it gets, and it revealed in him the fatal flaw that sees him today painted into the same corner of a shipping container as Dr Qadri, and fast running out of deadlines to throw like caltrops before the horses of the government cavalry. Imran Khan is revealed as anything but a democrat, and Dr Qadri as a footnote that will be remembered with a degree of gentle fondness, and both of them are to a degree delusional in terms of the paradigm they have constructed for themselves and led their followers to temporarily share with them.
Flawed — and probably doomed in their different ways — as both are they are doing a very necessary job of work. They are chipping at the mould that shapes the contours of power in Pakistan. If Pakistan is ever to move out of its place towards the bottom of every list on the planet then that mould needs to be re-cast — and moreover recast in the form of the aspirations and visionary imagery that Imran Khan and Dr Qadri foist upon us at tedious length every day for hours on end. They may not be the most reliable of men in a multitude of ways, but the messages they carry are far from being wrong-headed.
Those messages, delivered through a filter of determined self-interest, were in part delivered on the floor of the Pakistan Parliament on the afternoon of September 2, a day which may represent a corner drafted in outline but yet to be turned. The prime minister and his men sat glum for the most part as their fortunes were read to the backs of their heads. These are the yesterday’s men of tomorrow if there is to be a future for any of us, and the Nearly Men in Containerland will never warm their hands at the fire they started.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2014.