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Man of the system

Updated August 10, 2018

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This is a phase for the new leader of our country that is going to be replete with ‘how are you different from them?’ questions. 

There is going to be intensified criticism of PTI gestures, and if they choose to stay their brusque course, lambasting by Imran Khan fans of his critics. A motorcade Imran Khan travels in is going to generate as much excitement, and plenty of head-shakes, as his choice of ministers. A case in court about recounting, among others, is going to throw up questions about what precedents are being set and not being set.

See: Imran’s Pakistan beckons

The debate is going to be long and maybe even unending but its severity will be most pronounced in this current period which will have Mr Khan coming under the strictest scrutiny that is possible for a politician about to lead a country. For one basic question still needs to be settled here: who has created whom? Is it the system which created or co-opted Imran Khan or is it he who is on the cusp of truly mastering the system?

Imran Khan’s success will ultimately depend on his ability to pick and choose the right conflict.

There are no two ways about it. The system has done whatever it could to bring the restless former cricketer in line. This is not the Imran Khan who had once ruled hearts with his showings on cricket greens. This is not even the man who had launched a social initiative that had brought him plaudits for his resolve and consistency.

This is a changed man. The dreamy middle-aged soul who had promised an alternative to the old political parties some 22 years ago has also long gone. What we have in his place is a pragmatic politician who swears by the honesty of his endeavour but who has yet to prove his competence. Without a powerful expression of competence based on a realistic understanding of the situation, this leader will quickly squander the promise his followers have attached to him.

There is already plenty of evidence spread over all these years which indicates that the system is placed in a hugely advantageous position to win this battle against Imran Khan here. It has every right to feel that this politician has sufficiently been tamed and is ready to play by the rules, which had been similarly applied to those he had set out to dislodge. 

The danger here is that his team, including bad politicians from the other side looking for a quick rehab in his clean-up laboratory, might end up depending too heavily on terms such as sincerity and austerity alone, on the pattern of those who could do no more than ride a bicycle or refuse their salary whenever forced to prove their credentials as model rulers.

There have been a lot of objections raised by all sides regarding the time the PTI chief has taken over nominating his new ministers. The delay, however, could suggest that he is at least trying to resist the omnipotent writ of those who have crafted a politician from this raw-thinking aspirant. It is not like everything is settled, or has been settled, by the powers that are credited with the rise of Imran Khan.

Even if for pretence’s sake, some kind of consultation and competition is taking place within the party. This is somewhat of a change not only in the context of the argument which says that Mr Khan had everything delivered to him in finished form by the so-called resourceful friends. It also betrays some retouching of his image, that of a dictator running the party with an iron hand. These initial in-power signs have to be built upon for party-driven real change in the country.

There will be little real long-standing change unless the PTI manages to do the impossible: reconstructing the institution of the political party that lies destroyed in Pakistan. Thus these small and not so small intra-party fights which pit a Pervez Khattak — another son of the system in the thick of things since the non-party elections of 1985 — against opponents seeking power for themselves are absolutely essential to the cause here.

The more these fights come into the open, conducted within decent limits allowed by the democratic idiom, the more liberating the PTI’s influence will be on the people of this country. Again, this may be a utopian dream, placing the system’s very own creation on a confrontational path with the hands that have allegedly moulded him, but then some face-offs are less dangerous than others.

Imran Khan’s success will ultimately depend on his ability to pick and choose the right conflict. Without this ability and without a will to identify the right areas to build upon the challenge to the old Pakistan, the PTI chief will fast lose even that distinction where he is considered by millions of Pakistanis to be at least different in certain aspects from competing politicians.

Who knows, by bringing up the task of creating a true and efficient political party in the country, Mr Khan may succeed in taking the public’s gaze away from certain other confrontational points where he may be helpless in the face of relentless old-state determination to not give in. It may start as a facade but this facade may one day yield to some substantial change. Wishful thinking? But then, how else are we going to begin our expedition to discover the new Pakistan.

From one Intikhab to another, this is about pushing the boundaries without the umpires finding anything illegal about it. Back then, his cricket manager Intikhab Alam would relate a tactical move from the Imran Khan repertoire of tricks to swing a game in his favour — sometimes to the obvious discomfort of the captain.

It involved a West Indies tour to Pakistan. The hosts had lost the first Test, in Faisalabad if I remember correctly. On the eve of the second Test (was it in Lahore?) as Imran Khan accompanied Intikhab Alam on a visit to the stadium, he asked for the boundary ropes to be pushed back by a few yards, making the distance that more longer in comparison to Faisalabad. The plan worked perfectly when Vivian Richards was caught while going for a six. Imran had triumphed then. He has to be more innovative now.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2018