Haroon Shahid Image Credit: Supplied

The first video I saw of singer and actor Haroon Shahid was Sambhal Sambhal, his lovely duet with Zeb Bangash, from his 2017 debut Shoaib Mansoor’s Verna. Sambhal, with its can’t-get-out-of-your-head melody, is still one of my happy songs.

The last videos I have seen of Shahid are his series of clips posted on Twitter on March 27, 2022, for the Imran Khan solidarity rally in Islamabad. Haroon Shahid the artist and Haroon Shahid the PTI supporter are a delightful combination of talent, hard work, intelligence, a wicked sense of humour, an endless supply of patience for non-stop trolling for his support for Prime Minister Khan, and his unchanging belief that Imran Khan is the perfect leader for Pakistan.

Haroon Shahid is one of the many leading TV and film artists and musicians of Pakistan who support Imran Khan and are unapologetically outspoken about it.

For Gulf News I asked Haroon Shahid a few questions:

Your very passionate and very vocal support for Imran Khan, how did that begin?

I was one of those many people who noticed Imran Khan, politically, for the first time in 2011. Before 2011, everybody in my family—except for my older brother who I think was the first one to support Khan—was either unaware of Khan the politician or ridiculed him. My brother was studying at Punjab University [Lahore] when Khan, during a visit to the university, had a scuffle with the student members of a religious organization. That’s when he had the realization that Imran Khan made a great deal of sense, and that he was going to be the next prime minister of Pakistan. We used to make fun of him [brother]!

My support for Khan began after the October 30, 2011 jalsa at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore.

Why did you vote for Imran Khan in the 2018 elections?

I also voted for Imran Khan in the 2013 elections. I voted for him in 2018 because I firmly believed in his struggle, especially his fight for electoral reforms after the 2013 elections. I was a first-hand observer of how Khan was able to make a huge difference in Peshawar after his party came to power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in 2013. So much work was done on the basics; the reforms he introduced were visible, from the police to hospitals. I noticed a regeneration of belief in the people of Peshawar.

Just recently, I had the experience of travelling in Peshawar’s BRT [Bus Rapid Transit]. I was there for a wedding, and I realized that BRT was a fantastic project given to the people of Peshawar. I don’t think any other government could have done that for KP.

Prime Minister Khan has done a lot of good work. His projects like the Ten Billion Trees Tsunami show Khan’s deep interest in environment, and he is also passionate about the importance of tourism and showcasing Pakistan to the world. Since Khan wasn’t in government in the centre in 2013, we didn’t know how he would perform economically, what the impact of his policies would be, what changes he would bring in. The past three and a half years were tough initially, but things have started to stabilize. This is also a ‘decade of dams’, and Khan is the one who’s pushing for building of dams to ensure Pakistan’s water issues are eliminated, once and for all.

I will also vote for Imran Khan in 2023. And so will all those people who I feel have seen Khan’s policies hitting them hard, but then, slowly and steadily, things improved, making their lives better.

Image Credit: Supplied

In your view, which are some of the major issues that the Khan government has been unable to handle well or utterly failed to tackle?

One of the major failures of Khan’s government, which I think is still a critical factor, is optics. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf [PTI] government has not done much in terms of showing the right optics. This, I think, is also very Imran Khan-ish! He shies away from being at the forefront of everything, or having his photos put up everywhere. Overall, this government really needs to up its PR game.

I think the biggest thing that Prime Minister Khan has been unable to handle well is the corruption issue. His supporters truly believed that he would be able to get hold of Nawaz Sharif and others in terms of the corruption cases against them. I don’t think there has been a major change that has come about or will come any time soon with the way the political structure stands in Pakistan today.

The appointment of Usman Buzdar as chief minister of Punjab, I don’t judge Khan for that. I think it was a good move to have someone like Buzdar at the helm of affairs in Punjab, but the PTI government couldn’t build up Buzdar’s image. Again, a lot to do with PR.

Some issues, but overall, I’m satisfied with the performance of the Khan government.

Do you still believe that Imran Khan is the best leader for Pakistan, currently and for the next few years?

Definitely. I think Imran Khan is the best leader, the ONLY leader in Pakistan, to be honest. We need consistency in Pakistan, and not just with democracy but with leadership as well. Imran Khan is the best and the only choice that we currently have in Pakistan. If you look around, there is not anyone, not even one person from the opposition that I could say I believe in to lead Pakistan in the right direction.

I believe in Imran Khan for the way he has handled Pakistan’s foreign policy. His focus on climate change, environment, water conservation, and tourism has resulted in some great work. Universal healthcare in Punjab and KP, the Sehat Card is fantastic, and I see that so many people are truly happy with this programme.

I wish that everyone could be fully aware of the amount of work Prime Minister Khan has done in the last three and a half years. Imran Khan deserves the biggest praise for how he managed and handled Pakistan during the pandemic. The amount of pressure that he faced, the amount of criticism that he took, when he refused to let Pakistan go into a complete lockdown. I think, in time, this will probably be something that is taught as a case study in universities and colleges: how Pakistan and its leader refused to have a long complete lockdown to save the underprivileged, the low-income stratum of society, daily wage earners, and people living under the poverty line from complete destitution, or even death from starvation.

For me, in the last three decades, if I could say that one Pakistani leader took the most pressure and handled it well, it has to be the time when Imran Khan, dealing with the pandemic, did not bow down to the pressure exerted him on by the media and the opposition parties of Pakistan. Imran Khan won.