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Why Aamir Liaquat

Updated April 10, 2018

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I have said many things in the past about the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and its politics. However today, instead of taking apart the PTI, I will try to do something different: I will explain why the party is opening the floodgates to let the likes of Aamir Liaquat in.

The not doctor, Aamir Liaquat, recently joined the PTI flanked by Imran Khan and other senior leaders. Unlike other instances of people joining the party, this time around the reaction was completely different.

Instead of latching on to whoever was joining the Tehreek, PTI supporters spoke out against Aamir Liaquat jumping ship.

The resentment against allowing the not doctor to join was real and people even pulled old tweets of his against the PTI to explain why they were not in favour of the move.

And while eventually, like good partisan folk, the PTI cadre online accepted Imran Khan's decision, this whole exercise highlighted two things.

Firstly, the PTI's vocal support base, at least the one online, is idealistic and still sees the party as something unique and different.

Secondly, the PTI leadership is acting like a political party and focusing on trying to win elections in real life rather than Facebook. This is progress for the PTI and future elections in Pakistan.

As we transform Pakistan into a stable democracy with two potent parties at least at the provincial level, a strong PTI with actual seats in assemblies is a good thing.

You might ask why I say that? Well, a strong opposition is the best check on the government.

Op-ed: PTI’s Punjab dilemma

Take for instance every single province in Pakistan at this point. The reason the provincial governments get away with doing whatever they want is because there is practically no opposition to them.

In Punjab, the opposition is negligible. In Sindh, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is so well entrenched that there is hardly an opposition to push back. Balochistan has a negligible opposition and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's (KP) opposition is too splintered to do anything.

In such a scenario, at the national and provincial levels, a strong PTI in Punjab and Sindh would be a good thing for the country because we can have a real opposition that can force the government to think twice before underperforming.

PTI winning votes would make it a credible opposition and that is a good thing for Pakistan.

So, to get to that point, the PTI is finally making peace with the fact that they will have to take people in no matter who they are and do what needs to be done.

Even if those people include Aamir Liaquat, the PTI has an incentive to have them in the party because they can contribute in one way or another.

We might not like their contributions, but let’s not pretend that Aamir Liaquat's Ramzan transmission is not watched by a massive audience across the country.

Electable needed

To contest elections and give the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) a tough time in Punjab, PPP/Awami National Party in KP and Muttahida Qaumi Movement/Pak Sarzameen Party/Musharraf in Karachi, the PTI needs electable candidates: people who have their own vote bank and can realistically utilise the PTI vote to win a seat. This is not really rocket science.

Idealists believe that somehow if the PTI gives a ticket to its loyal workers, they will magically win a seat or keep integrity even if they lose.

Related: What's behind the rift?

The thing about this myth is that loyal workers, unless they are Jahangir Tareen or Aleem Khan (technically, ‘loyal’ is a stretch for both), lack the financial resources and the political capital required to successfully contest elections.

I am not talking about winning, I am talking about contesting elections only. Let me explain this claim in detail.

A National Assembly (NA) constituency has anywhere between 300 to 400 polling stations in it. For instance, NA-154 had 338 polling stations.

For a candidate to successfully even contest elections, they need hundreds of polling agents. Polling agents do not work for free and do not just pop up on the day of elections. They need to be paid, trained and need transport for their services.

Similarly, at every polling station the candidate needs some sort of a setup: a tent and some staff to help prospective voters cast their ballot or choose.

With an average of 300 plus polling stations, it is not exactly a middle-class person’s game to play. So, while we all enjoy bashing the PTI for welcoming every Tom, Dick and Harry, they are simply doing what reality dictates.

The PTI is trying to win elections, if they happen, this year. The idealistic delusions and moral high ground are finally getting pushed aside in favour of winning seats in assemblies.

In such circumstances, even if Bilawal Bhutto wanted to join the PTI, they will welcome him with open arms.

Why Aamir Liaquat

Simply put, it's cheap publicity. The not doctor is not going to contest and win elections on his own. But what he does bring to the PTI is a foul mouth that can go toe to toe with the new breed of rabid partisanship popularised by the PML-N courtesy of Talal Chaudhry and Daaniyal Aziz.

In a political culture like Pakistan where dignity and decency have nearly been wiped out in favour fanatical cult-like partisanship, the PTI needs someone like Aamir Liaquat to fight back.

Aamir Liaquat might not have a steady vote bank or even a constituency, but what he does have is celebrity. And that has been a permanent fixture for the PTI not only for fund raising purposes but also publicity.

The decision might look wrong on the face of it, but think of it this way: the PTI gets front and centre coverage during Ramzan simply because one of its leaders is on TV every day for four to five hours.

Every single time people look at Aamir Liaquat, they will associate the PTI with him. That association helps. Not as much as a steady vote bank, but it does make a difference.

Secondly, he opens an audience to the PTI message that is currently closed off to them. I am not saying he will put the mohajir vote in play; I am saying he at least gives the PTI a window into that audience that so far has refused to even hear them out.

Given Karachi’s current political engineering work, that kind of window could make a difference between zero seats from Karachi to three seats from Pakistan's largest city for the PTI.

Satire: Diary of Aamir Liaquat

As I mentioned earlier, the news focus may be Aamir Liaquat, the real story here is the flood of potent candidates joining the PTI. Within the last quarter, Saleem Shehzad of the MQM (Karachi), Mian Tariq of the PML-N (Gujranwala), Malik Shakoor of the Jamiat Ulema-e Islam-Fazal (Charsaddah) and Malik Aftab of ANP (Nowshera) are just some of the seasoned politicians who have joined the PTI.

They are doing so because of their own reasons in each case but they are being taken in by the PTI because the party needs a stable of candidates that can realistically push its seats count up in the Parliament.

And yes, by doing all this, the PTI is moving past its naïve approach to politics that existed pre-2013.

They are trying to recruit across the country and most of what they are getting are second-string or third-string candidates, but that is still better than no candidates at all.

But … Aamir Liaquat! Why!?

As I often mention, elections are not won based on how nice and well spoken a candidate is or how good they make you feel. The PTI is doing its job as a political party preparing for the next elections.

Be it Zaid Hamid or Aamir Liaquat, if the party can get any publicity and opening into a new voter segment, they will take them in.

The problem is not the PTI accepting people like Aamir Liaquat; the issue is the delusional understanding of what elections and democracy should look like held by a clear majority of people on social media and in expat communities.

Elections are ugly and ruthless. You cannot expect to stay clean while you dig for coal. And that is the dilemma the PTI’s base needs to get over.

Democracy is a coal mine and you are wearing white; either stop digging or get used to soot.