Imran’s encounter with foreign media: Narrative busted?
I compared Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, to populist strongman Jair Bolsonaro.
To his credit, he took it okay. In the full interview I also told him he was acting a bit like Sherlock Holmes so there was a lot going on!
tweeted Melissa Chan, the famous journalist at DW, the German broadcaster. Melissa, along with Becky Anderson of CNN and Andrea Sanke of TRT, is the third foreign journalist who have conducted Imran Khan’s interviews in the last one week.
This sudden wave of Imran Khan’s interviews with foreign media, it appears, is the part of his lobbying campaign to build his image globally as a ”lone crusader for democracy” in Pakistan who is trying to confront the military establishment to pave the way for ‘real freedom’ – Haqiqi Azadi.
But the fact is that this whole attempt, instead of giving a booster to his image building campaign, has seriously backfired and it has visibly dented Imran Khan’s image.
The international media was already questioning his narrative about the assassination attempt on him but now, after these interviews, a reasonable chunk of his lukewarm supporters have also started questioning the credibility of his much-hyped series of narratives — the foreign sazish, imported government and indigenously-designed assassination attempt.
The interviews with foreign media, albeit a smartly designed tactics to add fuel to Imran Khan’s current onslaught against the intelligence agencies and PML-N leadership, have shattered his carefully crafted aura of a visionary leader and blatantly exposed the fickleness and vacillation of Imran Khan.
Imran Khan’s media team, being overtly confident about his oratory capabilities, exposed him to the foreign media without any homework, resulting in massive embarrassment for him and his party.
They seriously over-estimated the capabilities of their leader, who has so far only allowed a few of his favourite and supporter journalists to take his interviews.
Ever since his departure from the PM House in March this year, the PTI’s media team has not invited any of the mainstream independent journalists to any of his media talks or panel sessions.
The PTI media team, knowing well the feebleness of his narrative, is afraid of the picking questions from the independent journalists.
So far, all his media talks have been pre-planned and laced with planted questions by the supporter group of journalists who are desisting from pushing their favourite political leader into difficult situation.
Now, after facing the independent and “neutral” foreign media, Imran Khan finds himself in extremely awkward situation because most of his narratives have been punctured ruthlessly by the foreign journalists.
Four elements were common in all his recent interviews with the foreign journalists. One, all the journalists asked him a very simple question about proofs to validate his allegations against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Rana Sanaullah and the senior staff of intelligence agencies, but Imran Khan tried to smoke this question by hiding behind irrelevant long stories from his cricketing days and initial days of political struggle.
Two, all the anchors appeared to be totally unimpressed by his irrelevant and dodgy answers and kept on dragging him back to the main questions, but Imran Khan kept on trying to evade the thorny questions by resorting to his threadbare bhashans which are repeated in his every jalsa and political gathering.
Three, Imran Khan was visibly nervous and shaken in all these interviews. His trade-mark over-confident persona was totally absent in all these encounters with the foreign media.
It appeared that Imran Khan was not ready for such a barrage of blunt questions. He was totally “out of practice” for the independent media.
Fourth point was Imran Khan’s deliberate efforts to duck discussions on his foreign sazish narrative and cypher story in all these interviews.
The PTI’s media team is very professional and well-trained in handling the media talks and interviews, but it has failed miserably in handling his recent series of encounters with the foreign journalists.
Imran Khan’s first two back-to-back interviews with CNN and TRT had actually laid bare the vulnerability of his narrative in the face of independent media, and it was expected that, after this fiasco, the PTI media team would advise Imran Khan on how to tackle the similar questions in the future.
But his third interview will Melissa Chan showed that neither Imran Khan learned anything from his previous two interviews, nor his team advised him on how to tackle such situation when confronted with independent journalists.
All foreign journalists literally thrashed Imran Khan with their very simple but logical questions – many independent and senior Pakistani journalists are also eager to ask Imran Khan similar questions, but he is too averse to “unpleasant queries” from the media.
The most disturbing aspect of the Melissa episode is her second tweet in which she preempted the severe reaction from Imran Khan’s supporters after this interview.
“Pakistan twitter!Ya’ll a lively bunch!But no, sorry – I get rape and death threats. There are no free speech issues! You have the freedom to tweet; I have the freedom to read or not. Tough cookies!
” was her next tweet after the release of Imran Khan’s interview. This tweet has further corroborated two realities about the negative and poisonous trends simmering in the social media of Pakistan.
One, there is complete lack of tolerance in the PTI folds. Anyone who dares to criticize Imran Khan is immediately trolled, threatened with dire consequences including death threats or rape and tagged as “outcast” on the social media – cases of Khurram Hameed Rokhri and Faisal Vawda are lucid examples.
The second reality is that the international community is well aware of the tactics being employed Khan’s supporters to malign and degrade his critics.
The pro-democracy image, which the PTI is trying to project, is far from reality. The content and tone of all three interviews with foreign journalists, which were arranged by his own team, have exposed the fact that Imran Khan is globally classified as a populist politician — in the league of Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and Viktor Orban etc.
Interestingly, Imran Khan is quite happy to be classified as populist, as evident by his interview with Melissa.
—The writer is political analyst, based in Karachi.