Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), have drawn criticism for his recent refusal to condemn China’s atrocities against Uyghur Muslims and for remarks blaming rising violence of women wearing “very few clothes” and the fact that men are not “robots”.
Khan also sparked controversy last year by describing Osama bin Laden as a martyr, instead of calling him a terrorist, while speaking in Pakistan’s parliament. His information minister tried to backtrack on Khan’s remarks about bin Laden last week, a year later, because of their negative effect on Khan’s recent attempt to re-establish ties with the United States. .
But portraying bin Laden as a martyr, linking rape to “vulgarity” and women’s dress, and claiming that China’s brutality against Uyghurs is not a problem were not mere slips; they reflect the worldview of the Pakistani Prime Minister. Khan has previously blamed the victims for inviting rape through their behavior. And he went so far as to say he doesn’t know much about the Uyghur problem.
Khan’s reputation as a former cricketer and westernized playboy sometimes misleads outsiders into thinking he might represent a liberal view of Pakistan. In fact, Khan and his PTI represent Pakistan’s continued descent into obscurantism and shameless bigotry.
Not so long ago, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s remarks to a CNN interviewer that Jews have ‘deep pockets’ and ‘control the media’ drew attention about widespread anti-Semitism among the elites of the world’s only Muslim country with nuclear weapons.
After Qureshi’s interview with Bianna Golodryga, an Islamist MP called for the use of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal against Israel and another minister cited a bogus anti-Semite for proposing that Muslims plan for world domination like Jews.
Pakistan is already renowned for having a deeply polarized politics and little tolerance for its religious minorities. Khan and the PTI compounded the problem with their tendency to normalize prejudice and use abusive language.
During the first two years of Khan’s administration, 31 members of religious minorities were killed, 58 were injured and 25 targeted for blasphemy. The reality of Pakistan under Khan defies claims, made at the time of his election, that he represents an opportunity to reshape Pakistan’s image.
Any reshaping of Pakistan under Khan has been in the direction of indulging and approving various extremist biases. Even when the current ruling party was in opposition, one of its politicians created a political storm by using an anti-Christian slur in a provincial legislature. Sixteen months into the government’s term, a senator from Khan’s party said on a television program that he and Khan saw the Ahmadiyya Muslim community as worthy of their curse.
The senator also used a derogatory term for Ahmadiyya. Neither the PTI nor the Prime Minister bothered to distance themselves from his statement.
Khan’s supporters are often quick, especially on social media, to try to erase the effect of preconceived statements. For example, Qureshi insisted after being called out for his comments in his CNN interview that he was only talking about the State of Israel.
Pakistan, it is argued with some justification, has the right to support the Palestinians and to criticize the conduct of a state and government it does not recognize. But Qureshi’s remarks were clearly referring to the Jews and not the government of Israel.
No one is saying that the tiny state of Israel, with a GDP of $370 billion, has deeper pockets than Turkey ($778 billion GDP), Iran ($454 billion GDP) or various Arab countries. Pakistan’s foreign minister would never say that Saudi Arabia, with its $793 billion GDP, had “deep pockets”.
For nearly two centuries, anti-Semites claimed that Jews had deep pockets and controlled the media and Qureshi repeated this anti-Semitic trope. His colleague Ali Muhammad Khan, Pakistani Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, directly cited from the source of the epithet: “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, an anti-Semitic hoax about a grand Jewish plan for world domination.
In front of Parliament, a leader of the fundamentalist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which recently rioted to demand the expulsion of the French ambassador for blasphemy against Islam by his compatriots, declared that ” Pakistani Muslims will sacrifice their youth and their lives, but they will not accept the dirty feet of Jews in Jerusalem.
This is a far cry from the days when Pakistan, after its birth in August 1947 as the homeland of South Asian Muslims, was home to a religiously diverse community. Its then capital, Karachi, had mosques of various Muslim denominations, several Catholic and Protestant churches, a Jewish synagogue, Parsi (Zoroastrians) fire temples, as well as Jain and Hindu temples dedicated to various deities.
Although Khan lays claim to the mantle of Pakistan’s secular founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, his government has let Pakistan’s rankings in global indices of human rights, women’s rights and religious freedom continue to decline.
The Pakistani Prime Minister has often expressed his admiration for Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, known for his sexist, anti-democratic and anti-Semitic remarks. Khan has attempted to replace moderate American and Arab influence in Pakistan with closer ties to Erdogan’s Turkey.
Khan’s statements and those of his party colleagues should not be ignored. They reflect a worldview that, when translated into politics, will only make Pakistan less tolerant of its citizens and more difficult for its international partners.