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Tsunami?

Published Aug 01, 2012 06:57pm

Let me start by saying that I am a fan of Imran Khan.  I loved him as a cricketer, and I admire him as a defiant politician. Despite years of turpitude, he did not sell his soul to the devil in exchange for political success, has remained financially honest, and finally seems to have developed a public-following, large enough to bring about meaningful change in this land.

And because I like Imran Khan – I want to believe in his promise and support his cause – I would hate to see his fail.  Which, sadly, is what I fear is about to happen.

Let me explain.

The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Imran Khan, have already passed the legitimacy test (which is frequently the biggest hurdle in politics). They have established themselves as a potent political force to reckon with. And they did so, last October, without borrowing any wisdom or support from Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Javed Hashmi, Khurshid Kasuri, Shahfqat Mehmood, Afzal Sindhu or their likes.

However, sadly, despite having been catapulted from the minor leagues into a party with national appeal, the PTI’s focus has not shifted from ‘building a party’ (through induction of alleged big-wigs from other parties) to ‘building the country’.  And this is symptomatic of political immaturity.

Let’s pause and try to understand what might be the wisdom behind Imran Khan’s opening the party doors to a genre of individuals that the old-guard of PTI has spent its entire political life opposing. Why reach out to individuals with questionable loyalties and tainted political allegiances? Why do press-conference after press-conference to ‘launch’ people who will not stand with PTI for a moment longer than it is convenient or expedient for them? Has the mighty Khan misjudged this game? Does he actually believe that these individuals, who up until yesterday were exactly the junta that PTI struggled against, have now truly and earnestly ‘changed’?

Or instead, is this simply a politically dexterous exercise of gathering enough ‘winning candidates’, regardless of their political histories, before the election … sort of getting your ducks in line?

If a blind man on the street can see that (some of) these new PTI champions are only loyal to their personal ambition, and will consider jumping ship the moment it serves their political interest, we’d have to assume that Khan sahab is cognizant of this fact too.

What then, might be the reason to include them in PTI today, jeopardising the party’s integrity in the process? The answer is less than complicated, and can be summed up in one word:  Electibility! These individuals are more ‘electible’ in their constituencies than some of their (less tainted) counterparts.

This brings us to the next question. Why do PTI and Imran Khan want ‘electibility’ over integrity in their new members? Does this mean that Imran Khan believes that individual personalities, and not party appeal or the overall message of PTI, will win the elections?  And if so, then how is the PTI politics, built around individuals and not some overarching message of hope and progress, any different from that of the other parties that the nation has tried, tested and been disappointed by countless times?

This, in many ways, is a crisis of confidence. Khan Sahab seems to be unsure that his message of hope is resonating with the downtrodden masses. As though the message itself is not ‘electible’ and therefore the party needs electible personalities. Khan Sahab must be reminded that we believe in his ability to bring about progressive change through a mobilisation of the faceless people of this country… and not through the changing of guard from among the symbols of status quo. People came to the Lahore jalsa of Imran Khan not because of the ‘electibility’ of the man addressing them, but despite it. The target audience of Khan Sahab’s message is not the PPP or PLM-N jiyalas, who support their candidates because of how many favors that candidate (once elected) can lend them.  PTI’s appeal is to that silent majority that wants to see the collective destiny of our nation improve, and therefore would vote for the message being delivered more so than the men and women delivering it.

The generation who grew up following Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s message of ‘roti, kapra aur makaan’, across the dusty fields of this nation often narrates the stories of how, in the 1971 elections (not the 1977 elections), virtually unknown individuals got elected on the People’s Party ticket! Because Bhutto’s message had seeped into the national conscience.  Imran Khan and PTI have the opportunity of doing something equally fantastic. If only Khan Sahab would believe that people have heard what he has had to say. And that, if anything, the presence of tainted personalities of the past weakens his message, not strengthen it.

Politics is about perception. I once heard Imran Khan make a speech in which he described that during his five years in the Parliament (between 2002 and 2008), he observed a very weird phenomenon in our legislative assembly: members from one side of the isle stand up and hurl accusation of past corruption and misconduct on members from the other side. The other side, then, does not get up to say ‘we have not been corrupt’… but instead reply with similar allegations about the accuser. As a result, after a while, everyone just shuts-up because none of the parties (and their members) can claim to have a spotless record.  And so the business of the state continues in the status quo manner because each side has skeletons in the closet.

I think about that speech.  And I wonder: if the PTI comes to power (with the current roster of big-wigs) would things be any different?


The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore, with a keen interest in fundamental and constitutional rights.  Previously, he was Vice President in the Global Markets & Investment Banking Group of Merrill Lynch, New York.  He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.  He can be reached at: saad@post.harvard.edu


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.