This isn’t an exercise in point-scoring, satisfying as that is under most circumstances. This is a lament, and it’s written not with smug satisfaction, but with a heavy heart.
It starts with a slogan, one beloved of protesters across the length and breadth of this land, and perhaps beyond. And that slogan is:
Girti hui deewar ko aik dhakka aur do.
Here, the wall in question is part of the edifice that we, for lack of a better term, call the system. There are some things we can all agree on, regardless of what side of the political divide we stand on.
One is that this system needs serious and sustained reform. Another is that it cannot and will not reform itself without pressure.
Where we differ is what form this pressure must take.
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For Imran Khan and his followers, it must be a wrecking ball that destroys the entire structure in order to save it. Then and only then can we build a new Pakistan over the crumbled brick and mortar.
But what if that dhakka, that push, that pressure, had been applied from within the structure itself?
What if it has been aimed at not destroying it entirely (how many times have we tried the tabula rasa approach?) but at shoring it up, at repairing the wall instead of smashing through it?
But that’s impossible, they say.
The entire edifice is rotten and needs to be demolished. We tried to reform it, they say. We made attempts and they were all stymied. And they’re right. They did try, in fits and starts and without any real strategy.
But they gave up far too soon, and gave up on all of us when they did.
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Consider that this system of patronage and nepotism, this system that is geared towards the needs of the few over the needs of the many, is one that has accrued over decades.
With apologies to my PTI friends (those that still remain), a year is simply not enough to throw in the towel. Not when you spend over a decade to gain this opportunity.
No one said it would be easy, and to believe that it would be is naivety of the highest order. And there is really no excuse for that, not for a party that went from being a political laughing stock to a major force through sheer will and effort, not for a man who, of all people, should have known that taking the easy way out is for cowards, that to build is far more rewarding than to destroy, even if it’s harder to do.
Consider also that, in comparison to the past, it is now far more difficult for the power elite to get away with the excesses that were once possible.
This doesn’t mean that the ‘status quo’ won’t try to get away with theft, fraud and murder. They can and will do so. But it does mean that their actions are now more closely watched, judged and called to account, than ever before. As a consequence, they have become a little more sophisticated in their ways and the need was, and is, for the counter pressure to also evolve.
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Imran should have been that counter-pressure.
Imagine, for a moment, if Imran had used that passion inside Parliament.
Imagine an Imran Khan showing our flabby polity what being in the opposition really meant. Imagine an Imran Khan who was the scourge of this government, dogging its steps and hounding it in speech after speech, calling attention to its every misdeed and holding up his own record, not of some long-past cricket victory, but of actual governance, in shaming contrast.
‘Who is Maryam Nawaz Sharif to disburse youth loans?’ He may have thundered.
‘Who will account for the lives lost in Karachi?’ he may have demanded.
Imagine if he had made these speeches in the National Assembly, the very Assembly that his voters gave him entry to.
By doing so, he would have kept the government constantly on its toes, would have forced them to moderate themselves, would have forced the other parties to step up for fear that he would eclipse them entirely. And they would have been unable to respond, weighed down by their own inertia and incompetence.
What a sight that would have been. What a shame that we never saw it happen.
What a tragedy that he took the easy way out.
Instead of being the civilian savior of Parliament, taking on his opponents on the floor of the National Assembly, he laid siege to it like some general come to conquer a foreign land, like some latter-day Mahmud of Ghazni come to smash idols and idolators alike.
He didn’t even do that right; instead, here is a general who burned his boats, who left no exit for either himself or his enemies. In short, a general who does not know even the basics of military strategy, let alone politics.
Imran has strengthened the very forces he sought to defeat.
Thanks to his misguided and mistimed lunge he has succeeded in uniting all against him and handed a dying dynasty a lease of life. Because in his world, the slightest dissent is blasphemy, criticism is proof of corruption. It is either black or it is white, because he is blind to the kaleidoscope of colours, both seen and unseen, that actually make up this world.
And here’s another tragedy; people went to Islamabad because they believe in him.
They camped out there despite all the odds because there is a deep and genuine and justified wellspring of anger and resentment at the constant injustices we have suffered. The crowds that gathered there did so because they needed an outlet.
Also read: Open letter to Imran Khan, from a PTI voter
We know we deserve better and many of us thought that this man would give it to us. We were wrong.
The timing of his moves leaves him open to valid criticism about his motives.
Is this about saving Pakistan or gaining power?
His rabid invective leaves no room for retreat. His apparent dalliance with questionable forces raises doubts about his intelligence and intentions alike.
Did he truly think that his ‘revolution’ would not be exploited in a land where hidden forces are always ready to pull strings?
Did he truly think he could dance with them and spin away with his soul intact?
Are naivety and foolhardiness now leadership traits?
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A party that could have been a force for change is now battered and tainted. Lines have been drawn, and lines have been crossed and the divide is deeper now than ever before and there is still no end in sight.
I have little doubt that the PTI will survive this, but the cost to it and to Pakistan itself, has been far too high.
But predicting the future isn’t what this little piece of writing is about.
This isn’t prophecy, this isn’t an obituary and nor is this a triumphal note. It is a lament.