PTI has lost the election, let there be no doubt about that. Voting irregularities have been reported in a few constituencies and people are exercising their right to protest this disenfranchisement. But even if the ECP addresses all voter grievances to our hearts content, no sea-change in the results can be expected. The people of Pakistan have spoken loud and clear and they have sent the PML (N) tiger out on the prowl. For PTI's bat, it’s the morning session of the first day of a test match: almighty swipes across the line will have to give way to dogged straight-bat defense.
At this juncture it would be worth charting PTI's course over the years so we can appreciate the monumental task it has accomplished even in defeat.
PTI has been on the political horizon since 1996, but it only began gaining traction in 2009. The nullification of the NRO was a watershed moment and heads should have rolled. But the inertia displayed by the parliamentary political forces (also known as mukmuka in common parlance) dumbfounded many. Imran Khan seized that opportunity and put a stake in the ground by demanding midterm elections. As his stance on many issues from corruption to terrorism became popular and the performance of the PPP government went from bad to worse, swathes of people began crowding the PTI camp.
The party grew exponentially in a brief time, so much so that Imran Khan was confidence enough to hold a rally at Minar-e-Pakistan in October 2011. The rally was a huge success and PTI had finally arrived. Political bigwigs flocked to PTI and the electables PTI had been missing were at its feet. True to form, Imran Khan held their feet to the fire by announcing intra party elections. Many of the new entrants balked and bolted, but Khan stood steady. This electable exodus had the potential to cost his party many parliament seats, but Khan pressed on with the elections and as a result his party began to have a semblance of an institution with roots in the masses.
By this time it had become patently clear that Khan's moves were not guided by how many seats he would win or lose, he was doing things because they were the right thing to do. He wanted to succeed, but not at the cost of his conscience.
It was a new type of politics. It was something the Pakistani people had never seen before. As a result, a large number of people, especially in the urban middle classes, sat up and took notice. For ages, they had seen politics as usual and had grown tired of it. So when a viable alternative was presented, they jumped on it. They began owning the PTI cause, sacrificing their time, money and energy in their quest for change.
Like any other new contender, the odds were stacked against them, yet they fought valiantly. The skipper's infectious perseverance and determination rubbed off on his supporters and they fought like cornered tigers. Dreams of a clean sweep seemed near fruition. When Imran Khan fell and suffered injuries at a Lahore rally, the PTI rank and file rose and took it upon themselves to ensure that the campaign does not end in a whimper.
The dawn of May 11 was full of hope, but by the time darkness set in, most of this hope had dissipated. PTI had done well in KPK and pockets of urban Punjab, but it was clear the much-anticipated sweep would not materialise. Heads began to droop. A loss had turned serious contenders into distant runners up within a day.
This loss has put PTI in uncharted territory. In the run up to the election, PTI had taken up the mantle of the underdog challenger and done justice to it. A chastening loss has left the PTI faithful listless. Navigating the party ship through these choppy waters will require Imran Khan to dig deep and bring his legendary leadership skills to the fore once more. Just like he taught his party cadres to compete, he will have to teach them how to lose with grace.
It will be crucial for the party to consolidate its wins and ensure that the gains which have been painstakingly made are not squandered. Even though the party did not do as well as expected, it did not return empty handed either. It's in a position to form the government in KPK. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, goes the saying. PTI will have to take this saying to heart and make the KPK government a model for the rest of Pakistan. At the national level, the party will be well advised to avoid confrontation solely for political point scoring. The country is facing a multitude of challenges and what it can least afford is petty squabbling. If the party can adopt the motto "Think nationally, Act locally" not only will it do the nation a great service, it will enhance its chances to win the elections next time the nation goes to the polls.