IT is a dream gone sour. Here’s why:
1 . Mismanaging the establishment: This was the easiest relationship to nurture because it formed the genesis of the PTI that was reborn, revamped and refuelled somewhere around 2011. PTI’s path to power was red-carpeted by the establishment without much care for nuance or subtlety. Imran Khan began his stint as the prime minister with one hundred per cent support from the establishment, a luxury few leaders had enjoyed before. And yet, event by event, issue by issue, and policy by policy, the PTI leadership began to rack up completely avoidable irritants with the establishment that finally exploded into the open with the controversy over the appointment of the DG ISI. Everyone in the PTI knew that if there was one relationship that was responsible for bringing the party to power, it was this; and if there was one relationship that would be responsible for sustaining the PTI in power till 2023 and beyond, it was this. And yet the PTI leadership blew up this very relationship. There will now be plenty of time for the party rank and file to review the series of bad decisions that went into wrecking this relationship, and figure out who made these blunders, and why.
2 . Refusal to build a working relationship with the opposition: The PTI’s ingrained divisiveness in its worldview worked well when the party was in the opposition. Extremes painted in simplistic colours make for uncomplicated and linear narratives. In government, however, the party needed to change gears. A basic working relationship with the opposition would have kept the political temperature down and enabled a smoother running of the affairs of the state. This would have also helped the government focus more on delivery as its primary agenda. The PTI, however, took its eye off the ball of governance and started chasing the wrong targets. It never could recover from this misjudgement and therefore could never really get its governance act — or narrative — together.
The gap between what the PTI promised and the people it selected to deliver on the promises was wider than anyone could have imagined.
3 . The Buzdar blunder: It may have been an ‘interesting choice’ at the start, but it wasn’t long before it became clear that Usman Buzdar could not deliver as the chief minister of Punjab. And yet, it was Prime Minister Imran Khan’s adamancy that perpetuated the blunder instead of correcting it. As time went by, the blunder began to mutate into multiple crises: (i) It became the first source of friction with the establishment and kept on getting worse over the years (ii) it led to worsening governance in the province in sharp contrast to the Shehbaz Sharif years, and began to cement the perception of incompetence for the party (iii) it resulted in poor political management among the elected members of the party leading to factionalism, groupings and ultimately breakaway members fed up with not having their issues resolved by the weak leadership of the party. The Buzdar blunder was an avoidable one. When it was not avoided, it became one of the leading factors for the PTI’s failure. The fact that PM Khan finally threw Buzdar under the bus at the last moment for his political survival, made the blunder look even worse.
4 . Choice of team: The gap between what the PTI promised and the people it selected to deliver on the promises was wider than anyone could have imagined. The PTI’s cabinet team was probably the weakest in living memory — and this explains why the PM had to reshuffle it so often. There were of course some exceptions like Dr Sania Nishtar and Dr Faisal Sultan, but the overwhelming majority was ill-suited for the task at hand. What made matters worse was their focus on combating the opposition instead of their focus on their ministries. Team management and selection, therefore, set up the PTI government for failure due to various reasons: (i) the team had no specific central vision other than the vague concept of a welfare state. This forced them to figure out how to define their parameters of “performance” which led to strange schemes and projects conjured up by bureaucrats in order to showcase that the minister was doing something/anything (ii) critical ministries like finance, energy and information saw constant change of ministers thereby keeping these areas in a constant state of flux (iii) disastrous performance in ministries and divisions like aviation, human rights, accountability saw little or no change thereby reinforcing the governance crisis (iv) Perceptional damage was exacerbated by poor and negative communication by an array of spokespersons who were more busy trying to demolish the opposition than to build up their own government’s perception.
5 . Hubris and arrogance: This misplaced sense of entitlement and self-righteousness became one of the key factors in PTI’s failure. This attitude of contempt towards everyone else, laced as it was with mocking and sneering in press conferences and statements, injected a deadly dose of toxicity, antipathy and revulsion when what the PTI really needed to do was to inspire hope, inclusivity and a feel-good factor. Arrogance is a trait no one likes in a person, but when it becomes second nature to a political party, it turns off entire segments of society. When you combine this arrogance and hubris with the power that a government wields, you get a deadly combination. The PTI has hurt itself and its image badly by sporting such an attitude. It may want to review it as it prepares itself for an ignominious ouster from power.
Is it within the PTI’s capacity to learn from its mistakes and correct them? Is it even feasible that its self-righteousness will allow itself to — for once — stop blaming the world and look inwards to find the reason for the disaster that has befallen it? The party is a reality — just a more diminished one. It can revive itself from the humiliation it has brought upon itself, but it can only do so if it is willing to look deep inside its soul and figure out what really went wrong.
The writer is a journalist & political commentator.
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2022