Saeed Naqvi | The Establishment in Pakistan plays Hamlet without Prince of Denmark

The PCB, in a state of funk, decided to take corrective action by resurrecting Imran.

With innovative audacity, the “Establishment” in Pakistan attempted to play Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. It happened like this.

The Pakistan cricket board produced a video clip on the history of Pakistan cricket. This was in preparation for the World Cup being played by 10 teams across 48 matches in India from October 5 to November 19.

The video’s existence was made public by legendary fast bowler Wasim Akram in a tweet. Soon after landing in Sri Lanka to cover one of the “warm-up” matches, Akram received what he called the “greatest shock of my life” he found the “great Imran Khan’s” name missing in the video. It was Imran, as captain, who won the 1992 World Cup for Pakistan. How obviously malicious.

Whatever the political differences in Pakistan, said Akram, no one disputes the fact that Imran Khan is “an icon of world cricket and it was he who developed Pakistan into a strong unit in his time and gave us a pathway: PCB should delete the video and apologize to Imran Khan”.

Such a spontaneous outburst from Wasim Akram, himself one of world cricket’s all-time greats, couldn’t have remained a solo reaction. How long does it take for such anger to spill onto the streets?

The strength of popular mobilisation behind the Tehreek-e-Insaf chief must have hit the Pakistani establishment between the eyes. The PCB, in a state of funk, decided to take corrective action by resurrecting Imran -- giving him his rightful place in the World Cup 2023 promotional video.

The shoddy effort to deny Imran Khan a place in the cricketing universe is not dissimilar to the establishment hounding him out of the political turf on which Imran Khan happens to be the most popular politician in Pakistan’s history. The Board of Control for Cricket in India appears to have measured up to its Pakistani counterpart. In a promotional video, it they left out Babar Azam, the world number one ODI batsman.

A bright eleventh-grade schoolboy, a cricket freak, stumped me with his question: “If Imran Khan is the most popular politician in Pakistan, why is he in jail?”

Since the Berlin Wall fell 1989, establishments have increasingly replaced the people as arbiters of electoral outcomes. If the people had been the arbiters, Bernie Sanders in America and Jeremy Corbyn in Britain would have defeated their rivals by wide margins.

A Fox News poll published in 2016 showed that Bernie Sanders had a +28 rating, above all US politicians on both sides of the political spectrum. This prompted Trevor Timm of London’s Guardian to do some plain speaking: “One would have thought with numbers like that Democratic politicians would be falling all over themselves to be associated with Sanders, especially considering that the party as a whole is more unpopular than the Republicans, including Donald Trump. Yet instead of embracing his message, the establishment wing of the party continues to resist him at almost every turn.”

Let me give you just one tiny example of how establishments assert themselves in determining electoral politics. During the primaries for the Democratic nomination in 2020, as in 2016, Sanders was galloping ahead of others in the field. To arrest his advance, Michael Bloomberg, billionaire and former mayor of New York, entered the race. His entry had to be played up. Two full-fledged op-ed columns by NYT’s Thomas L. Friedman appeared, who began one of his columns: “I like Mike because… etc.”

Similar manoeuvring in 2016 had the effect of bringing Donald Trump to power. John Kerry, secretary of state, couldn’t bring himself to consider Mr Trump a serious happening. He met statesmen across the globe who, he said, were bewildered at the prospect of Mr Trump entering the White House. Columnist Surjit Bhalla went one better, lamenting that “Trump’s victory will be the end of Western civilisation”.

My stand had been straightforward. “If you make Sanders impossible, you will make Trump inevitable.”

In the context of Pakistan, a variant of the same formulation applies. “If you make Imran Khan impossible, you make Army rule inevitable.” India qualifies for a critical appraisal too. It requires a separate column in greater detail.

Acquiescence in this general hollowing out of democracies will deliver us to a destination which the eleventh-grader of this narrative will find deceptively attractive. The headline in a recent issue of The Economist is scary, and not only for Latin Americans: “Young Latin Americans are unusually open to autocrats.” The infection is spreading.

In a recent international poll in Latin America, respondents were asked to rate their approval of 17 world leaders on a scale of one to ten. On a list which included Pope Francis and Volodymyr Zelenskyy, guess which world politician has the highest approval rating among people across Latin America? This approval is even stronger among the young.

This extraordinarily popular leader surfaced in 2019 as 37-year-old Nayib Bukele, President of El Salvador, wearing on his sleeves the promise of eliminating gangsterism, which is endemic in his country.

With such impunity did he embark on a “gang crackdown” in March 2022 that 87 people were murdered in a single weekend. More than 70,000 young men are in prison. Bukele, who calls himself “The World’s Coolest Dictator”, is readying himself for the 2024 general election. With an approval rating of over 80 per cent, the backwards baseball wearing dictator prepares himself to drive a nice, long nail in the coffin of liberal democracy, even as the peace of the graveyard descends on El Salvador. Remember, the President is only 41.

This is how liberal democracies are being replaced by replicas of Nayib Bukele. A foolish thought whispered in my ear -- Yogi Adityanath as a prototype for India.

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