It was a Sunday night and Washington’s large Capital One Arena was packed. But it wasn’t packed for basketball or a music concert, it was 20,000 people who came to listen to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. It was at this moment when on a cultural level, decades of mistrust and bad blood between Pakistan and the United States evaporated. Prior to the formation of Imran Khan’s government, Pakistani Prime Ministers were the kinds of people who could only fill large public squares at home by mobilising a network of bribery and patronage. Such politicians could not attract any great attention abroad in places where the system of feudal political patronage dose not exist.
But the people who came to listen to Imran Khan were not paid or coaxed, many in fact came from all over the United States at their own cost in order to see Imran Khan in the flesh. When Imran Khan took to the stage flanked by both a Pakistani and American flag, it was as though a new era was born – one which carried with it the spirit of the 1980s which was the last time that Pakistan and the US cooperated on an equal footing against a clearly defined and easily recognisable common enemy.
What’s more is that when speaking of a desire to create opportunities for Pakistanis to advance their worldly condition on a level playing field, he was speaking the language of political optimism that once defined American politics. But whilst American politics grows ever more cynical, Imran Khan assured his audience of 20,000 that a forward looking Naya Pakistan is being built for them and for their children.
IK's speech was a heart to heart talk, he highlighted the real issues. A history is made in #CapitalArena, IK is the first politician to held such an unexpectedly huge jalsa there. He represented Pakistanis internationally, in a way that no one did before.
— Ab Rehman (@GovtPakJobs) July 22, 2019
Although most of the audience were Pakistani-Americans, there were surely a good number of Americans in the arena with no connection to Pakistan. This of course includes those working at the large facility. They too would have seen and heard Irman Khan and they would have realised that the man before them was speaking American insofar as celebrity is a major element of the broader American culture.
More importantly, Donald Trump who shortly awaits his meeting with Imran Khan would have seen the footage. Above all else, Trump likes someone who looks and acts like a success. As someone who himself packs arenas for frequent political rallies, Trump will likewise recognise in Imran Khan someone who is a formidable figure with a global appeal.
This contrasts sharply with the parochial, pretty and lowly style of politician that since the 1990s Pakistan has produced. Such people simply do not turn heads outside of their own circles within parts of Pakistan and this has helped the international enemies of Pakistan to inflict damage on Pakistan’s reputation. Without a leader whose reach is global, few listened to Pakistan over the last twenty-five years and in many respects, Pakistan’s leaders hadn’t even tried to get their point across outside of Pakistan’s borders.
With Imran Khan his has changed. He is a superstar and whilst his government’s sometimes lax security policies against certain seditious and foreign threats are clearly fit for criticism, there are signs of improvement which should be not only applauded by encouraged.
Although Imran Khan’s meeting with Donald Trump will be about more than symbolism, in politics as in life, symbolism is highly important. For Donald Trump in particular, the personal and the political are deeply intertwined and as such, Imran Khan’s mass rally in Washington will certainly be a pleasant conversation starter between the two leaders.
Even before Iman Khan and Donald Trump speak about key issues regarding a re-start of proper bilateral ties, Imran Khan has won America. In a country that since 2001 was programmed by its fake news media to hate Pakistan, in a country where Islamic societies are often misunderstood and in a country whose arenas are usually filled with sporting or music events rather than anything remotely political, Imran Khan stole the show. Even if his rally is played for 20 seconds on America’s notorious television news programmes, this is a victory for Pakistan because all it would take is 20 seconds of footage from Imran Khan’s rally to change perceptions of Pakistan from one that is wholly negative to one that is self-evidently optimistic and indeed one that is inspirational.
While the petty figures of Islamabad’s old elite continue to bark like dogs, Imran Khan has done something that even many European celebrities find hard to do. He conquered America’s heart and he did it with dignity, charm and sincerity. This simply cannot be denied.