One of the younger entries on the national political landscape, the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) experienced a stagnant period for over a decade before their ‘tsunami’ hit centre stage in 2011. The party chiefly draws its popularity from the urban middle-class and is politically conservative and socially liberal.

History In 1996, a cricket legend decided to switch from the sporting arena to the political field. Of the three elections (1997, 2002 and 2008) that took place after Imran Khan founded the PTI in 1996, PTI has participated in only two.

The young party fared badly at the time, winning no seats in the 1997 election and only one seat in the 2002 election (won by Khan himself). The 2008 election was boycotted by the party in protest of the deposition of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry by the then military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

In 2011, PTI re-emerged with a bang and veteran politicians from Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) jumped on the PTI bandwagon.

Political stance According to the party’s manifesto, the PTI aims to establish Pakistan as a truly independent and sovereign state.

The party further pledges that it would work to provide the people with a new and credible leadership committed to restoring “Pakistan's political and economic sovereignty” by way of building “a new bond of trust between the government and the people”. This has been the thrust of PTI’s stated agenda, and also, what many believe, constitutes its appeal.

Moreover, Khan and his party have also focused on an anti-corruption campaign with the former cricketer stating that eliminating corruption was PTI’s ‘top priority’.

Also, with Pakistan being a country haunted by heavy debts, external loans and aid packages, PTI declares itself fiercely anti-aid and the said point is also stated clearly in the party’s manifesto.

Khan’s party has also emerged as a staunch supporter of dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban and has been speaking out with considerable force against US drone strikes. The PTI also believes there should be no military operations in the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), branded by Washington as the main hub of Taliban and Al Qaeda militants plotting attacks on the West and in Afghanistan.

Last year, PTI also unveiled its economic policy, spearheaded by ex-Engro CEO and the party’s senior vice president Asad Umar. The policy focuses on energy crisis, institutional reforms, expenditure curtailment, improved revenue collection and development of human capital.

Over the years During the 1997 election, PTI was a political non-entity. After a disappointing performance from 1996 until very recently, Khan — previously well known for his cricketing skills and a ‘playboy personality’ — suddenly and swiftly became a formidable opponent to PPP and PML-N.

Although Khan has always been a popular public figure, PTI became prominent as a political party in 2011 with an impressive public gathering in Lahore. Political observers have described the meeting as one of the biggest rallies held in the provincial capital in over 20 years.

With the Lahore meeting, PTI left an indelible mark on Pakistani politics. Khan followed it up with another large-scale public gathering in Karachi attended by over 100,000 people.

Now the term ‘tsunami’ used by PTI to describe its rallies has become a popular term in public discourse.

Witnessing the transformation of the party’s fortunes, a number of veteran politicians dissatisfied with their own respective affiliations jumped ship to PTI — most notably, Javed Hashmi (formerly PML-N), Khurshid Kasuri (formerly PML-Q), Jehangir Tareen (formerly PML-F) and Shah Mahmood Qureshi (formerly PPP and an ex-foreign minister). With these big names, Khan’s party finally had electoral viability.

In October 2012, PTI was once again in the spotlight, nationally and internationally, as it held a peace march towards South Waziristan to register a powerful protest against drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The march consisted of PTI leaders, activists, supporters and several local and foreign journalists. At least 30 anti-drone activists from the United States also participated in the march.

However, PTI has seen several losses after its many wins. A notable instance was when an old guard of the party, Admiral (retired) Javed Iqbal, bid it adieu  saying it had been taken over by ‘Musharraf’s cronies’. Prior to Iqbal’s departure, Dr Shireen Mazari also resigned from her basic membership of the party. Besides these departures, the PTI has also witnessed intra-party tensions and infighting; often, as observers say, on account of divergent views of its newly acquired political heavyweights.

Most recently, PTI’s intra-party elections were marred by violence and chaos, shedding light on the disorder within the party. This disarray is also sometimes associated with the party’s crucial young support base, much of which is known for its often aggressive zeal and loyalty.

Key figures Imran Khan, Javed Hashmi, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Jehangir Tareen, Asad Umer

— Research and text by Soonha Abro

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