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Imran Khan Backs Down After Martyrdom Controversy


In what can only be described as a Freudian slip, Pakistan’s leading daily newspaper Dawn mistakenly referred to Hakimullah Mehsud, the newly-anointed leader of the Pakistani Taliban (abbreviated as TTP), as “the ruthless PTI leader” on their front page—a reference to the party of cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan. Khan, often criticized for being a Taliban apologist, has recently come under fire after the leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) party referred to Mehsud as a ‘martyr’ and refused to endow the same status to the thousands of Pakistani soldiers that have been killed in Pakistan’s own war on terror.

The army, vocally supported by politicians and various civilian organizations, has demanded an apology, but Khan’s party has thus far been mum. This is likely because JI are PTI’s coalition partners in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, and Khan’s own policy has been in sync with the religious parties’: to redirect the public’s anger over Taliban terrorism towards the US.

Not willing to take the heat for his coalition partners’ follies, Khan has instead backed down from saying he will block NATO supply routes, and says he will simply stage a protest against drone attacks in the regional capital of Peshawar instead. He also been at pains to clarify that he is not anti-US or anti-India per se—simply critical of their policies. In the meantime, his deputy Asad Umar has been in Washington reiterating that the Taliban and Mehsud are terrorists in an attempt to distance the party from the furor.

In a sign of how conservative Pakistani politics has become, calling a ruthless militant who has killed thousands of civilians a terrorist is increasingly a ‘moderate’ position to take. But if nothing else, there is some cold comfort in knowing that this kind of vitriolic anti-Americanism has some practical limits, as Khan and Pakistan’s religious parties are finally discovering.

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