Rabia Sattar Zia
A dream of society free of corruption is like a happy meadow in which everybody including the most corrupt can graze for a while.
Since last few weeks we are watching on national media that Mr Khan has held record of 19 jalsas in 20 days round the country for his Naya Pakistan. This makes me to throw some light on the history of his jalsas. Like a good prospector Mr Khan taps into a rich seam, a reservoir of public anger and much of his own surprise becomes a cult figure overnight. He talks of scams. Coal scams, iron ore scams, housing scams, insurance scams, stamp paper scams, insurance scams, stamp paper scams, phone licence scams, land scams, dam scams, irrigation scams, arms and ammunition scams, petrol pump scans, polio vaccine scams, electricity bill scams, school book scams, god men scams, flood relief scams, earthquake relief scams, car number plate scams, voter list scams, identity card scams in which politicians, businessmen,, businessmen-politicians and politician businessmen have made off with unimaginable quantities of public money.
Stardom thrills this man. It makes him expansive and a little aggressive. When he feels that sticking to the subject of corruption alone cramps his style and limits his appeal. He thinks the least he can do is to share with his followers something of his essence. And so the circus begins. He announces that he is leading Pakistan’s Second Freedom Struggle. Like a magician at a children’s birthday party, he performs tricks and conjures gifts out of thin air. He has something for everyone. “Purana (old) Pakistan is running on a manual system. We want to bring about a system in which institutions will not be run on the whims of individuals. They will be made for us, the people. That is what Naya (new) Pakistan is all about. This is what this movement is all about.
A large part of PTI’s ideological cadre has its roots in the lawyers’ movement. Khan was a part of the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM), a multiparty alliance for the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry sacked by then president Pervez Musharraf. He utilised this platform to reach out to students and a new generation of activists from the middle class who had either abandoned other mainstream political parties or were not members of any party to begin with. Ahsan Rasheed, a businessman who has been with Khan and PTI for years, took over the party’s reins in Lahore and slowly started expanding its base. The first meetings between Khan and the students took place following the imposition of emergency rule by Musharraf on November 3, 2007.
But the real kick started with his nation-wide protests when country-wide protests were held against drone strikes in the tribal areas by the US and his moves to stop war supplies through Pakistan to foreign – mostly American – troops in Afghanistan. In January 2011, an American intelligence contractor, Raymond Davis, shot dead two people in Lahore but managed to fly out of Pakistan without any trial, let alone punishment. In May that year, an American raid in Abbottabad killed al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden. Towards the end of the year, foreign forces in Afghanistan bombed a Pakistani check-post on our side of the border, resulting in the death of at least 24 Pakistani soldiers.
And throughout the latter half of 2011, controversy raged around a memo allegedly written by Husain Haqqani, the then ambassador of Pakistan in Washington DC, to American officials. He was reportedly seeking American support for the civilian government in Islamabad against the military establishment. The timing was immaculate: anti-America sentiments in the country were at their highest then. Hundreds of thousands of young people present at the protests instantly pledged allegiance to Khan and PTI. Khan mobilised people to protest on all issues. This made him the strongest face of anti-Americanism for many Pakistanis who felt frustrated by what they saw as a lacklustre response by the PPP government and the PMLN leaders to the real and imagined transgressions by the US. He was also able to tie this in with his anti-corruption agenda. This clicked instantly with young middle-class Pakistanis raised on a steady diet of stories of massive corruption by the PPP leadership and, to a lesser degree, by those in the PML-N.
What about religious extremism and violence? He held negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban. He went to the extent of offering the Taliban an office space in Peshawar from where they could operate if and when the negotiations materialised. More recently, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has announced a whopping 300 million rupee grant to Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania in Nowshera which is known to have been the alma mater for many senior Taliban leaders and commanders both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Readers my point is that if we look at the political situation of our neighbouring country India our scene is not much better.
Mr Aggarwal’s singular advantage as an emerging politician is his un-singular looks. He also looked like many people .Says Arundhati Roy in her book The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. She further says ‘Every thing about him, the way he dressed, the way he spoke, the way he thought, was neat and tidy, clipped and groomed. Gujarat ka Lalla who had a high voice was transformed into a raging, almost uncontrollable, tornado of terrifying righteousness. “This is our Second Freedom Struggle. Our country is on the brink of a Revolution”, he claimed many times. “This is a space for serious politics, not a circus ring.” He electrified Hindu chauvinists with their controversial old war cry, Vande Mataram! Salute the Mother! When some Muslims got upset, the committee arranged a visit from a Muslim film star from Bombay who sat on the dais next to old man for more than an hour wearing a Muslim prayer cap to underline the message of Unity in Diversity. A scene of Jhantar Mantar protests in India. Now readers what does it reminds us of. Are we too familiar with such scenes?
— The writer is a freelance columnist.