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In search of power

Updated May 12, 2017


THE gentleman would often be there at the Model Town Park in Lahore for the morning stretches. To those who cared to acknowledge his faded presence, he would frequently reciprocate with tips about health and preservation and longevity. What kind of wheat was best for consumption. Which shop in Garden Town’s Barkat Market sold the best desi chicken delivered from Mianwali. Perhaps a few tips about yoga for beginners as his company reverently rolled out the fakir’s mat for him to sit on and meditate.

There in front of you seemed to be a veteran of a few households quietly going about his self-assigned job of guide, one who is waiting for volunteers ready to learn from him. His manners showed him to be determined to draw upon the grandmotherly kitchen recipes to mix with his varied experiences as a man of the world. All signs were of a soul wanting to be of some use to anyone, looking for acceptance, a profile that contrasted most starkly with the eventful and glamorous and controversial life of power he has lived.

Malik Ghulam Mustafa Khar’s life has its contradictions. For someone who has vied for the role of old-mould patriarch in command of the proceedings it is quite remarkable how many times the gentleman has been forced to seek acceptance afresh after having been waylaid by the tide of time. He combines more than half a century of cut-throat politics, having first contested an election in Muzaffargarh in the 1960s. He has survived many political parties and a leader who chose to disregard his advice to flee after a military coup. He has survived a book written on him and has somehow managed to withstand his own powers of self-destruction.

Imran Khan chose to be philosophical and all-embracing about the pragmatic union between two dashing sons of Punjab.

Mr Khar’s own account tells us that he has lived with the fear of being abandoned by the people who have elected him so many times. On occasion, he has begged them to give him another chance — a last chance — to be able to come up to their expectations. There have been so many moments when it looked like he was done with politics, only for him to re-emerge, under a new banner, claiming back his place in power circles and among the power elite. He has had to stand behind the Sharifs in his search for longevity. He has had to be polite to all others likely to ever offer him a chance to be relevant.

The latest twist has landed him at the doorstep of Imran Khan. Whereas many of us would immediately find factors and even personality traits common to both these gentlemen, by one very strong account Mr Khar is by far the most ignominious catch of Mr Khan’s political career — at least so far as his partnerships in Punjab go.

When it is about Mr Khar there has to be some show of indignation. The old sequence when a party embraces a ‘tainted’ stalwart has to be played again. Pages from his past that paint him in most sinister hues are being flashed with a consistency as if these were the mid-1990s and Imran Khan had just launched a political party. These are all familiar objections, maybe louder than usual given the exceptional baggage that Mr Khar carries with him, from one front to another, from party to party.

The PTI has been roundly criticised for allowing him another chance at making him politically relevant. But the report of his meeting with Mr Khan in which Mr Khar made the announcement of his joining the PTI leaves little doubt about the new entrant’s keenness to somehow be reinvented.

Back at the meeting Mr Khar reposed his belief in Imran Khan’s leadership. He said Mr Khan had the qualities to pull Pakistan out of its troubles, whereas in his quoted remarks on the occasion the PTI chief appeared to be all too aware of and greatly weighed down by Mr Khar’s reputation as a person and politician. Consequently, the party chief’s greetings to the new member were couched in the general language that people in authority use when they are about to extend their patronage to an unwanted ward.

Mr Imran Khan chose to be philosophical and all-embracing about the pragmatic union between two dashing sons of Punjab. He said that change takes all kinds of people, which obviously created space for Mr Khar and, before him, many others whose arrival in the PTI was marked with the mandatory lament about the party’s fall from a clean, principled outfit into a collection of opportunities.

That was not the best welcome that could be accorded to the old Sher-i-Punjab but perhaps the best he could bargain for under the circumstances. Malik Ghulam Mustafa Khar had been very quiet for the last four years, maybe waiting for an opportunity to re-enter what he cannot obviously live without — the power game. He last won a worthwhile mention in the media during the 2013 general polls when he staged a protest against alleged rigging in the vote for the National Assembly seat for Kot Addu. He said he was winning the election until someone intervened on behalf of the rival candidate.

The Kot Addu protest then managed to get some attention in the media but while his was a strong reaction initially Mr Khar appeared to quickly lose interest in pressing the street option further. Instead, he quickly exited the stage limiting himself to very rare public statements. It was not too long ago that his name resurfaced in the context of which party stands where in the politics of southern Punjab.

There were a few who actually thought that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s protйgй was destined for yet another alliance of convenience with the PPP. Needless to say, those who predicted this eventuality included the daydreamers wishing for a revival of the PPP under the stewardship of whoever could initiate any kind of revival. Like the politicians joining the PTI, they must compromise on Mr Imran Khan as the anti-PML-N choice of some merit.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2017