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Herald: Person of the Year

Published 23 Mar, 2015 05:50pm

The year began with a promise: Naya Pakistan, thundered one man, was just around the corner. As it turned out, he wasn’t entirely wrong: We ended the year with a new president, a new(ish) prime minister, a new parliament, a new chief justice and a new army chief — in one sense at least, that of systems trumping individuals, naya Pakistan appears to have arrived.

(And yet – why does it look so familiar?)

Of course, in the Pakistan 2.0 envisioned by Imran Khan, the tsunami would have broken the Takht-e-Lahore and swept across the country, leaving stunned lions and snapped arrows in its wake, and Khan would have presided over a society full of honour and free of corruption. This may not have come to pass but, with a province in his pocket, the third largest number of seats in the National Assembly and the second highest number of votes garnered in the general election, 2013 will, nonetheless, go down as the year when – after some 16-odd years in the wilderness – Khan officially emerged as a political force to be reckoned with.

Divisive though he may be, quick to offend as well as to take offense, there is one thing about him that we can all agree on: When he sets his mind to something, there is no persuading him otherwise. It is this very inflexibility that both attracted and alienated so many people this year: For those weary of things falling apart, as well as lack of conviction among those who should put them right, Khan’s certitude was a breath of fresh air; for others, hoping for more nuance and flexibility in our statesmen, it appeared to be nothing more than sheer intransigence. Contradictions defined Khan’s year in politics: He commiserated with victims of the twin church attacks in Peshawar but, in the same breath, urged that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan be allowed to open an office in the city; he continued to fashion homegrown militants as mere disgruntled citizens but also announced that he would personally spearhead the polio campaign in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which has long attracted the Taliban’s ire. Meanwhile, his party remained in permanent dharna mode, more a motley crew of rowdy activists than serious-minded legislators.

But don’t forget, as one social media commentator noted, that Khan planning on spearheading the polio campaign is the same Khan who created a cancer hospital out of nothing. It is this ability, to act and win against all odds, that has been Khan’s saving grace ever since his cricketing years and so it remains today. Despite all the muddled policies and shallow ideologies, at the end of the day, here stands before you a man of action.

You get the leaders you deserve, they say — and indeed, the Khan of 2013, a humourless hypernationalist, does seem rather reflective of our times. There is, however, no denying the profound influence he has had on our national politics this year. The public appears to agree — first, by voting for him in large numbers in the general election; then, by voting for him equally overwhelmingly in the Herald’s online and postal ballots. For introducing a vibrant, if raucous, third force in Pakistani politics, for creating waves (if not a tsunami) in the general election and for forcing people to sit up and take notice, with delight or with dismay, of politics in general and his party in particular, Imran Khan is the Herald’s Person of the Year for 2013.

It isn’t always possible to be famous in Pakistan — one can, as evinced by our Person of the Year nominees, only be infamous.

Of course, the Herald’s Person of the Year isn’t necessarily an honour; the title is bestowed on an individual – or a collective of individuals – who has been newsworthy, and has affected lives, fostered ideas and thought, challenged attitudes and influenced events, for better or for worse, through their actions in the past year.

The year 2013 kicked off with a series of tragic terrorist attacks on one of the most targeted minorities in Pakistan — the Hazara community in Quetta. What ensued was something incredible and unprecedented — families of the victims and members of the community staged a peaceful three-day long protest, along with the bodies of their loved ones, in the freezing cold weather. As a result, the government of Balochistan was dismissed. The Hazara community made it on our list of contenders for the resilience they displayed in the face of tragedy and for the mere fact that theirs is a cause that needs to be highlighted.

While choosing contenders for the list, the obvious route was to consider the most defining event of 2013 — the general election. Out of this single event, we chose three contenders for our list – voters, Asif Ali Zaradri, and our winner this year – Imran Khan. There were some unconventional choices: Mountaineer Samina Baig, who became the first woman to climb Mount Everest, and artist Imran Qureshi who displayed a remarkable installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. And then there were the controversial choices: The ever-relevant Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain, journalist and perpetual caretaker Najam Sethi, and the on-trial former dictator Pervez Musharraf.

That left us with the last spot, which went to Malala Yousafzai, the Herald’s Person of the Year for 2012. Despite taking the title last year, she could absolutely not be ignored for having highlighted Pakistan’s widening ideological, political and cultural rifts, if nothing else, with her growing global stature.

Once the short-list was finalised, we followed the same pattern as we did last year: Letting readers and a 10-member panel of judges decide who best defined the year 2013, through a three-way voting process. Readers voted online on the magazine’s website, Dawn.com and also via postal ballots printed in Dawn and Herald’s December 2013 issue. Our panel of judges includes front runners in fields ranging from science to art, human rights to politics and entertainment to literature.

Our list of nominees for the Person of the Year, however, wasn’t always received with open arms. “[Apart from Malala] this is a rogues list,” said one panelist, while another pointed out the exclusion of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, whose name they suggested for “giving the judiciary a spine”.

Jourmnalist and human rights activist I A Rehman provided a detailed analysis of each of the nominees before making his own choice. After striking out most of the names for either being ineffectual or insufficiently qualified to be the role model that, according to him, a person of the year should be, he was left with three: the voter, Samina Baig and the Hazara community. “The voter goes out next because for all his commitment to democracy, he did not defy terrorists where their threat was serious. Besides, he could not stand up to the manipulation of voting and result-making by the bureaucrats and political thugs,” Rehman wrote back to us. “Between Samina Baig and the Hazara community, I will choose the Hazaras. Samina Baig’s achievement as a climber is truly outstanding, but her glory is shared by her brother and she has been recognised. I favour the Hazaras.”

But, perhaps, the strongest protest came from one of Pakistan’s most eminent writers. He refused to be part of the panel of judges over the fact that there was no author among the nominees for the person of the year. He also said that the political personalities included in the list were not worthy enough to be selected as they lacked the stature of great politicians such as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Voting trends reveal a distinct divide between the public and those whom we call public intellectuals: Imran Khan, for instance, garnered all his votes through online and postal ballots, gaining approximately 43 per cent of all popular votes — the result, perhaps, of his legions of social-media-savvy followers. None of the panelists, however, picked him as their person of the year. Their preference, it appeared, was for more ‘ordinary’ citizens: Young Malala, who received 40 per cent of the panel’s votes; the Hazara community, who received 30 per cent; and the voter, who obtained 20 per cent. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, the panelists seemed to refrain from making political choices — the one individual, an eminent personality in the finance sector, who chose Imran Khan because he has “thus far stood by values and principles despite political wrangling and pressures” did so on the condition of anonymity thereby disqualifying her to be on the panel of judges.

Interestingly, Malala – last year’s winner – ranked sixth in terms of popular votes, despite dominating the panel vote. This can perhaps be attributed to ‘Malala fatigue’, a distinct and very real phenomenon resulting from the immense controversy generated by the young activist’s growing celebrity status and a reflection of domestic unease at her international acclaim. Interestingly, the public did not vote for themselves; Pervez Musharraf, a former dictator, garnered more votes than the Voter. It might be a bit of a stretch to read deeply into this, about our political and democratic preferences, but it does mean that there may be some truth to Musharraf’s insistence that he has a vast social media following — only some, however. It turns out, according to our poll, that not only Imran Khan, but also the Hazaras and Samina Baig have more online followers than the erstwhile dictator.