Is Shahid Afridi the new Imran Khan of Pakistan? Why not? After all he’s got all that’s needed to take the reins of prime minister’s office. He is handsome and without brains.
Since his retirement from international cricket, the former all-rounder has been in the news for his political aspirations. Someday, he may even become the prime minister of Pakistan–if the ‘selectors’ pick him.
Afridi’s Kashmir card
2019 was a golden year for pretty much all PM-hopefuls in Pakistan. With India diluting Article 370 of its Constitution and bifurcating Kashmir into two Union territories, the field was open for many to build a political career. At one such event to ‘free Kashmir from the clutches of India’, while responding to Imran Khan’s call to stand for 30-minutes in a show of solidarity with Kashmir, Afridi told a triggered crowd about his grandfather Abdul Baqi Sahib, who was given the title of Ghazi-e-Kashmir. Hence, Kashmir belongs to him and his future generations. Why not. His dada and his batting average are a reason enough for India to get scared.
Keeping up with his rhetoric and at par with Pakistani PM Imran Khan, Afridi’s recent statements regarding Indian Prime Minister Nadrendra Modi, calling him buzdil and narrating how Pakistan served tea to the captured Indian Air Force pilot (Abhinandan Varthaman) who he considers a chooza, stirred quite a storm in a teacup. His statement also triggered a reaction from Indian cricketers who thought Afridi was way out of line. But they don’t know how that fantastic cup of tea will be used to ‘select’ future prime ministers in Pakistan.
Afridi’s love and hate vis-à-vis India has often led him into trouble. During the 2016 T20 World Cup in India, Afridi had said that he gets more love in India than in Pakistan–Pakistanis went crazy. In 2011, the former all-rounder had said that Indians weren’t large-hearted–Indians were offended.
On a sticky wicket
To be fair, Shahid Afridi’s Kashmir policy is as fluctuating as his cricketing career. Before getting on to the ‘Kashmir Banega Pakistan’ bandwagon officially, there was a time when Afridi thought that Pakistan couldn’t even manage its four provinces, what would it do with Kashmir. But then times change and aspirations change too.
What is the play here? Is Afridi being groomed to become another viable political pawn by those who actually run the country? Nothing out of the ordinary for a country where all political leaders in the past have come through the fauji nurseries with some reaching the highest offices. However, Afridi considers the real rulers of Pakistan as donkeys and horses who need to be made insan ke bachche.
“گدھے گھوڑے مسلط کر دیے ہیں” 😂 pic.twitter.com/tsrl7xTeC7
— Gul Bukhari (@GulBukhari) April 27, 2020
So what is it that the ‘selectors’ see in Afridi that they couldn’t find in Khan? Just another mouthpiece or a little more than that?
Afridi may have started his political career by raising his voice against ‘human rights violations’, but the issue is beyond his scope. When his heart cries for Kashmiris, we wonder why as a Pashtun, his heart doesn’t ache for his own people. Marred by oppression, violence and enforced disappearances, the Pashtun men, women and children are fighting for justice under the banner of Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement. Do we see Afridi standing up for any of the causes that are actually within his reach?
When Afridi visits Kashmir, does he ever raise voice for the lack of development in the region? Probably, raising such issues won’t get him the kind of international attention that a ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan’ roar would bring an aspirational PM. In Pakistan, even a word on the sufferings of Uighur Muslims in China is deleted when it is not in accordance with the state narrative. So the causes an aspiring politician stands up for should match with the ones the state believes in.
To be fair, back in the day, Imran Khan held a stern anti-establishment line. His opposition to the military operation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and to rights abuses in Balochistan was a hallmark of his political career in the early 2000s. All his opposition was diluted when he gave up his causes to come to power.
Reading Afridi’s political mind
About the intellectual bandwidth of Afridi, the less said the better. He shared his political opinions (which might not be his) in his biography Game Changer and praised General Pervez Musharraf. Afridi described former army chief Raheel Sharif as someone who “was one of those stand-up-and-be-counted guys. Always ready to deliver.” Whatever that meant. He also gave us a scoop that Pakistan’s army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa “does better cricket analysis than most commentators and analysts.” Should we be worried that our future prime minister thinks that the army chief’s job is analysing cricket?
Afridi was also fond of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, before he said this: “But he (Sharif) didn’t learn much from all his time in and out of politics. His social media approach of late has been disastrous and has been divisive for Pakistan.” And of course, in all of this, Afridi wouldn’t have heard of a couple of coups here and there, which weren’t disastrous at all.
Under Afridi, Pakistan would be different from what it is now, but if you don’t believe that then you’re a hater. Afridi hoping that his biopic is made with Tom Cruise and Aamir Khan, or promising to end unemployment if elected as Pakistan PM may seem fanciful ideas, but these aspirations are real. The mask should come off and our favourite Lala should announce his political party and tell the world he’s running in the next general elections in Pakistan. Or wait, if he’s still 16 then we’ll have to amend the Constitution. Anyway, our next prime minister will be handsome and ‘16’.
In Persian, it is said: yak na shud du shud. As if one problem wasn’t enough, another rises. The winner of 1992 World Cup is in the PM seat and the winner of 2009 T20 World Cup is next in line. And we are just getting started.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.