Even as I begin to formulate my thoughts for an ‘Open letter to Imran Khan’ there is a smile on my face. I am reminded of my own introspection whenever I read any open letter from a journalist to an influential individual. The journalist is invariably a miserable creature who has never met the subject of their letter. And the subject of the letter will not spit on the journalist, even if they are on fire. Open letters are just one of the many passive-aggressive tools that journalists deploy against individuals whom they can scarcely imagine influencing.
But there is another intriguing facet to open letters. They can provide for a “touch the hem of the garment” moment, like the one experienced when an unnamed Biblical widow searched for healing. She found that which she sought when she touched the garment of Jesus. Most of us go through life in the same manner as the widow. We are the supplicants who plead with those in power to give heed to our cause. We are the worker who makes an appeal to a boss, or perhaps the wife who makes an appeal to her husband. Every now and then, we get the desired response. With the aforementioned in mind, let me state that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chairman, Imran Khan, is a gifted man. But now, I am asking him to do one thing. Read along and consider my words. The words are not just for Imran Khan. They are also for you.
Dear Imran Khan,
I have followed your political trajectory for many years now. You have experienced the usual peaks and valleys associated with political life. In June, you shook the ground with the announcement of a million man march to Islamabad. Choosing the date of August 14 afforded your announcement the advantage of sentiment and symbolism. Now you are poised to stage a massive show of strength against the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. You tell us that a sea of people will reach Islamabad on November 30. And you claim that you will never leave your sit-in venue even if you have to live in a tent alone. These are grand words from an equally grand man. But can you reach?
Men can march. And men can sit. But few are the men who can reach. This is the challenge that awaits you, Mr Khan. Stretch your shoulders and flex your arms. Your reach might strike at the seat of government. But if your reach does not impact the immediate need of those around you, all of the marching about and sitting in a tent does little good.
Your ability to gather the people shows one level of skill. But your ability to motivate these individuals to reach out to their own communities under the PTI banner is what will give definition to your vision. Many are the men with a sense of vision. We call them politicians. But few are the men with practical vision. Men with practical vision gain respect and are lauded as the true leaders of the people. What sets the leader above the politician is the ability to reach. Pakistan has a lot of politicians. Pakistan does not have many true leaders. But I think that you can be that man if you learn to reach.
Can you organise the November 30 “show of strength” to exemplify the human body? Or will this strength look more like the old-fashioned children’s toy, The Slinky? Can you organise groups to fan out into the communities, beautify poor neighbourhoods, hand out school supplies to needy children, or aid the widow and the orphan? Can the PTI bring hope to the physical frame of the average Pakistani citizen? Or is this just another Slinky?
Men can march and men can sit. But this is not the time for either activity. Pakistan can ill-afford the misdirection of human energy and potential. This is the time to reach! Reach for a map of Islamabad. Which neighbourhoods have schools in need of a fresh coat of paint? Where is the oldest mosque in the city? Is it in need of repair to an arch, sidewalk or gate? What Christian church needs a new front door or a window replaced? Do not be shy about this. Vibrant houses of worship are part of the landscape of healthy communities. Where is the nearest orphanage? Does the kitchen need a new sink installed? Who are the widows and what can be done for them? What about the women abandoned by their husbands? Who provides for them? What are the needs of their children? What about the neighbourhoods with minority populations? Will a fresh coat of paint on a wall and the repair of a roof or two bring a sense of goodwill and community cohesion?
My own state (Texas) has a proud tradition called ‘Great Days of Service’. These service projects are held once a year to benefit local communities. Individuals fan out to perform community cleanup, offer basic home repairs, paint buildings, beautify local parks and provide food for the poor. Some communities even provide wellness clinics staffed by doctors and nurses. Dare I say it? Maybe the PTI can provide a polio vaccination clinic on November 30?
Reach, Imran Khan. Reach out to organise this massive show of strength so that it moves with the beauty and coordination of a healthy human body. Men who march along make a show of force with the long bones of the body. Men who sit for too long become squatters and beggars. But men who fan out into the community putting all four limbs to work in a wholehearted manner are a thing of beauty.
If you can organise your gatherings to work for the common and practical good, your own garment will be the one that others seek to touch. I know you are capable of this because you are a man of many talents. But please, throw out the Slinky.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org