It feels good when something negative is said or done to an enemy. We’ve all had that feeling when one’s anger is satiated, or worldview confirmed; delighting in the warm after-glow of our egoistic triumph. Our brains are wired for confirmation bias: constructing narratives which align perfectly with our preconceptions. Like impressive curators of information, our minds take large slices of objective reality and surgically subjectify them, adding a personal ‘spin’ to whatever stream of content gets projected into the complex theatre of our subconscious self. There is, then, little wonder that we, as a species, are as tribalistic to the extent that we are. Even societies which appear to have flown the perch of such grand sounding passions as ‘nationalism’ or ‘patriotism’, still find themselves curiously organised in various camps: ‘liberals’ versus ‘conservatives’, ‘pro-gun’ versus ‘anti-gun’, ‘pro-immigration’ versus ‘anti-immigration’, and so on. Even if we remove all political identifiers, we are still left with some group allegiance or another: the ‘Manchester United’ fan, or the ‘Seahawks’ fan, and just a whole array of similar fandoms. It’s helpful to be mindful of this, especially during national elections, when our cognitive biases are operating at full blast, and the tribesman in each of us is rattling the cage. While close mindedness is often associated with conservatism, in Pakistan, it appears, that some liberals are not much different. Because a gentle reading of any English news publication these days makes Imran Khan look the image of some lapsed conman, or a blithering ignoramus How could this Oxford educated Don Juan be so misogynistic that he dares attack feminism or feminist ideals, our liberals wail in chorus. How could he support the Jirga system, when his own kids live the good life under British common-law? Some even point to his failed marriages, or peculiar choice of spouses. Others have picked up Reham Khan’s latest book — published somewhat conspicuously right around election season — frantically turning its pages to find more to hate on this man, to vilify him and show him to be the philandering power-crazed rogue they think he is. This is where it gets interesting. For most of his youth, Khan was attacked by conservatives for his way with women. One can empathise, seeing this man from Oxford, with looks and charm that placed him several standard deviations above the average Pakistani male, isn’t the healthiest boost to one’s own self-esteem. Any conclusion which portrays Sharif as a friend of democracy or democratic forces ignores the tyranny with which Sharif lords over his party After all, that rare Pakistani with the mannerisms of an Englishman, exuded the kind of polish that can’t merely be deployed as an effect, acquired through exposure to a certain quality of upbringing only few are privileged to experience. But there was a lot more to Khan than appearance and personality. There was Khan the athlete, amongst the world’s finest sportsmen during his time. There was Khan the fighter, who would transform his bowling action after a career threatening spinal defect, and still bowled fast. There was Khan the captain, who would lead a substandard team of cricketers to their first and only world-cup victory after they were almost written off. There was Khan the philanthropist who would give a healthcare-deprived country it’s first and only free cancer treatment hospital. And today we have Khan the leader, who offers justice to a country where justice has long been blind and dead. But recently, in a peculiar reversal of sorts, some people are gushing forth with angry diatribes against Khan and his apparently anachronistic ways pointing towards two broad sets of problems with the Pakistani intelligentsia. First, young Pakistani liberals, recently exposed and eager to absorb modern semantics around conceptions of feminism and liberalism, seem to lack conceptual clarity around these constructs. To them, the world is divided into two camps: liberals (forward looking good guys aligned with the West) and conservatives (regressive malcontents, at best uninformed, at worst dangerous). If Imran Khan takes a public position which seems even remotely opposed to their starry-eyed, Anglicised worldview, there is often a guttural ‘disgust’ response directed against him which often ignores pragmatic realities of the day, and seems to emerge from a place where a modernist takes on any issue has to be by default, right, because anything traditional sounding is, well, silly. Take the issue of feminism. In the minds of many liberal Pakistanis, feminism equates to equality between men and women. However, there is raging debate in the West where some powerful women are rethinking feminism altogether, of whether it’s been taken too far, and if, perhaps, a measured pivot back to more traditional roles might even be necessary (traditional here does not imply misogyny). In Pakistan, unfortunately, such debates are shot down before they’re even left open to debate — and now it’s the so-called liberals who’re exercising the same hair-trigger intolerance commonly associated with the conservatives. Second, and perhaps more disturbing, is when some criticise Khan, while building a softer narrative around Nawaz Sharif or PML(N). Take the Panama verdict. Some people are spinning this entire event as an establishment versus Sharif narrative — projecting Sharif, albeit subtly, as some heroic gladiator, our last saviour of democracy, undone by the establishment. They forget to mention what this last saviour has done in the past, dismissing a sitting Army chief and a chief justice in a single term. It is true the civil-military imbalance is problematic, but any conclusion which portrays Sharif as a friend of democracy or democratic forces ignores the tyranny with which Sharif lords over his party, or has comported himself both as a former Prime Minister and a citizen of the state. It’s easy to pick on Khan’s flaws till the end of time, pointing to this or that statement he made, and then write angry blogs about him with lip-smacking self-satisfaction. What’s way harder is all he’s given to a country that, quite frankly, has had little to show for itself. It’s not as though Pakistan is the land of Roosevelts and Kennedys, this is a country that’s had one failed leader after the other since inception down to the present, each setting us back in ways which can only be described as crimes against humanity. At the current levels with a population which continues to explode, a youth bulge with no economic prospects, an economy heavily under debt and water-scarcity right around the corner, one thing is certain: the status quo isn’t working. Short of an alien intervention, or the smartest people on earth making it their life’s mission to fix this country, our choices are limited, and sticking to the status-quo is no longer one of them. The writer a freelance columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, July 24th 2018.