SPEECHES made at the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) rally in Karachi on Dec 25 were a perfect “motley mixture of high-sounding phrases ... [and] adherence to the old routine”. It will hardly endear Imran Khan and his party to ordinary Sindhi and Baloch publics.
The issues speakers zeroed in on and the topics they did not touch upon offer an interesting insight into the ethos of the PTI and how out of touch it is with the Sindhi and Baloch political pulse. Both in terms of content and form there was little on offer for Sindhis and the Baloch in the vicinity of Jinnah's mausoleum.
Start with what Imran Khan had to say about Balochistan. He quite correctly, and I am assuming sincerely, apologised to the Baloch for the wrongs done to them. Who was he apologising as? Was he doing it as a Punjabi? If so, he did not make it obvious. Nawaz Sharif did the same in a meeting with Sardar Ataullah Mengal only a few days back. Instead of echoing what Nawaz Sharif had said to Sardar Mengal, Imran Khan should have paid attention to the veteran Baloch leader's response in which he considered such apologies hollow and minced no words in conveying to Mr Sharif that the Baloch youth viewed the army as a Punjabi army and not a national one.
Unless politicians from Punjab are willing and capable to rein in the army there is little hope of winning over the hearts and minds of the people of Balochistan. Imran Khan's answer to Baloch alienation is to bring 'development' to the province. Mention 'development' to a Baloch and she/he immediately thinks of boots on the ground and men in khaki hunting down Baloch nationalists. 'Development' in the Baloch perception means systematic exploitation of Balochistan's natural resources and a denial of political rights spanning half a century.
Imran Khan quite naively invoked West Germany's example of helping East Germany in the reunification of the two. He wants to play West Germany to Balochistan, conveniently forgetting that it was the East Germans who brought the Berlin Wall down to be one with their West German brothers.
In the case of Balochistan, the situation is almost the exact opposite where there is an ever-increasing aspiration to get out of Pakistan instead of an urge to be part of it. When it comes to Sindh, the PTI bowled, to use Imran Khan's favourite cricketing analogy, a wide on Sindhis in both form and content. topi
Let us look at the form first. The team that Imran Khan chose to surround himself with on the stage did not even have a token Sindhi among them. Sindhis have not patented the Sindhi (cap) and it would have done no harm to adorn one when attempting to put up a mega political show in Sindh.
If you are going to punctuate speeches with songs then not having any Sindhi song on the playlist only sends a wrong message. Whether or not you appreciate Shah Abdul Latif's poetry, it is customary to pay tribute to Latif when politicking in Sindh.
'Tsunami' may be a nice and thunderous word elsewhere but in the coastal areas of Sindh people associate it with misery not merriment. The list of such symbolic follies is too long for a newspaper column.
In terms of content there was little that Sindhis could identify with but a lot that would keep the PTI on the political margins in the province.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi's speech was, again using cricket analogy, akin to Misbah-ul-Haq's innings against India in the 2011 World Cup semi-final. Misbah scored only 17 runs during the first 42 balls he faced thus contributing to the cost incurred by Pakistan.
Qureshi did the same for Imran Khan in Karachi as far as PTI's immediate fortunes in Sindh are concerned. Qureshi chose to play the nuclear nationalism card and accuse President Asif Zardari of being not as strong a nuclear nationalist as an ideal Pakistani president should be. He went on to educate, or rather bore, those attending with concepts such as no-first-use, Cold Start and asymmetric warfare.
The speech sounded more like a pitch to secure the slot of foreign minister in any future government than connecting with the masses in Sindh. Simply put, you don't talk about that stuff in public rallies in Sindh. It finds little resonance with Sindhis.
Imran Khan was equally off the mark if one purpose of the show was to win the support of Sindhis. His road map was a motley of generalities guided by political naivety that made him look up to England as a model welfare state when he first set foot there as a teenager.
His solutions to complex socioeconomic and political issues are sought in simple steps like computerising the land records because a computer does not accept bribe or aspiration to provide free legal advice to 80 per cent of the population.
And no such talk is complete without customary tribute to Lee Kuan Yew's ways of 'developing' the tiny island of Singapore. These propositions resonate with the urban middle classes of Punjab and possibly Karachi but have little to do with various segments of the Sindhi population.
For Imran Khan the only hurdle in the way of exploiting coal deposits in the desert Sindh may be the law and order situation in Karachi but for Sindhis the issue is more complex and requires provinces having a greater say and decision-making powers when it comes to natural resources.
Imran Khan and his party have an attractive platform for the urban middle classes of Punjab but his slogans have little appeal where the Baloch and Sindhi political path is concerned, at least for now.
The writer is a Canada-based author.