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Right on time

July 26, 2019

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The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan’s now famous voyage to Washington couldn’t have been planned for a better moment, and not just because of the Pakistan-US bilateral objectives it set out to achieve. The party’s local chapter was craving a show of strength that could reassure anyone who had come to harbour negative thoughts about the PTI during the first 10 months of its coming to power.

Casual conversations with random PTI supporters in the United States earlier this month, in the run-up to Prime Minister Khan’s visit, indicated that some doubts had crept in ever since the general election a year ago. There was also some talk about how groupings could emerge as a very natural consequence of a party having tasted power.

There was some tentativeness about which route and which go-between best guaranteed the pro-PTI aspirants’ access to the prime minister. It was in the fitness of things then that Mr Khan chose to spend the first anniversary of the Pakistan-changing election in the land of opportunity.

Success does keep people united, and the crowd that the skipper was able to draw could keep morale high as those responsible in the PTI go about making the necessary adjustments to ensure a smooth running of the party machine in a country strategically as significant as the United States. The event did catch the fancy of the diaspora and the numbers that collected in the arena in Washington to greet the prime minister made it difficult for those who wanted to protest the government’s policies during Mr Khan’s presence.

If you happen to be of a sufficiently wayward variety, you are likely to run into an angry Pakistani in New York or Washington these days.

It is as it has always been. The diaspora is important in the current battle of ideas, of space and survival in Pakistan — you would have wise men tell you. There is a visible effort to loudly silence any dissenters in Pakistan, a reality that is borne out by the repeated harsh rebukes by a person no less than the prime minister himself to people who do not agree readily to his line of action.

Traditionally, in such circumstances, expat Pakistanis have been very active in their struggle to make sure that some of the basic liberties remained with the masses living in Pakistan, and some international capitals have been placed in a more important position than others.

London is one centre that has constantly provided us poor Pakistanis with leadership apart from inspiring ideologies here. However, no one can beat the lobby-happy Washington and New York when it comes to acquiring the right bona fides in this single-power world that many leaders from around the globe might want to talk to as independent souls free of past afflictions, but that no one can ignore or think of escaping.

If you happen to be of a sufficiently wayward variety, you are likely to run into an angry Pakistani in New York or Washington these days. They could be a small bunch of free-world hopefuls perturbed by what they call attempts to control the democratic dialogue by subtle and not so subtle measures at censoring expression, mostly journalistic takes on issues and sometimes expert commentary on events.

They offer a full range of nuances only if you care to listen to what they have to say. They could be your maligned liberals out to offer services as mercenaries to all good causes, or they could be standing committed under a definite banner like that of the PTM’s.

Whoever they may be, the sense you get is that they are more aware and conscious of the size of their endeavour than they might have been in the past. Not in the least is this feeling of being far outnumbered, of being suffocated by the sheer presence of the mountain they are up against rooted in the PTI’s status of a party that has been shaped by expats’ desires. More than that, for many, it’s a party born of Pakistani expatriates’ dream for their country.

A big crowd, a huge crowd by PTI claims, gathered at the Washington arena will guard against any weakening of the force at the centre of the party. This was necessary amid the unwanted news about how the Imran Khan government was up against many odds in Pakistan, chiefly how it was struggling to set the economy right and the criticism it was drawing for its clear reluctance to allow a debate that includes all.

To top it all, the diaspora, at least a large active part of it hailing originally from various parts of Pakistan and now celebrating their association with Mr Khan Washington-style, does declare support for the prime minister at a cost to the marginalised whose grievances the government finds too hot to handle.

This fits in well with the apparent official policy of dismissing the random voices that complain — preferably, without a hearing, the critics of this one-remedy-for-everyone would say. The PTI doesn’t seem to mind, nor do large number of Pakistanis whose views resonate with the chorus against the corrupt and unpatriotic.

The largely attended public events reinforce the sense the PTI creates about having established a world apart for the Pakistanis — a world that exists exclusively, at a distance from not just who the government has condemned as corrupt, but away from many others who have been crying out for the acceptance of rights that are too basic.

This parallel world in Pakistan that no PTI-ite is willing to see can perhaps be more easily ignored as the party moves to the Donald Trump neighbourhood. It is not for nothing that the area has a reputation for not being receptive to any thoughts originating outside its own happy, dead assured circle.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2019