ON October 30, 2011, Imran Khan summoned over one lakh people at Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore. Crowd was not kind of one flock. It was rainbow of all sections of society. They all came at their own will and bill to challenge status quo. They profusely wanted a change. Politically it was a water shed. PTI rocketed sky high instantly. People saw hope. Over next few days, PTI grappled with dilemma of its ideological existence. In droves, there were calculating politicians and opportunists on its doors.
Haunted by charm of their electability and own political and organizational inadequacies, PTI gave in to political expediency. They came into PTI, not only with ease but also raced to its top hierarchy with equal haste and ease. Shah Mehmood Qureshi who calculated countlessly before joining PTI, becomes its Vice Chairman. Jahangir Tareen is its General Secretary. Punjab is largely in hands of Aleem Khan and Khakwani. Pervaiz Khattak is Chief Minister KP. Ironically ideologists like Arif Alvi, Hamid Khan, Shirin Mazari and Fauzia Kasuri are mostly at second tiers or outlier rim. These are few examples. Factually List is long. It left deep scars on ideological depth and face of the party however, so far PTI is lucky to escape real backlash. Pendulum of luck could tumble, if PTI continues to flirt with its ideological rank and file.
With political obituary of PPP in Punjab/KP and forthcoming general elections, seasonal birds are in wings to find another political nest and greener pasture. For host of reasons, they see an avenue in PTI. PTI is also avid to take their services. Both have logic of their own. Recently PTI has gleefully accepted Firdous Awan, Noor Alam and Nazar Gondal; PPP bigwigs/beneficiaries of its misdeeds. News about other stalwarts is also in air. PTI says that it could not shut its doors on anyone desirous of joining their party. Big name is no disqualification. Only good repute is the consideration. New entrant comes into PTI on their ideology after abandoning his past. It also tries to underplay their alleged corruption on plea that it would be decided by courts of law.
Recent big case in point is of Gondal who is widely alleged for committing corruption as federal minister. He is also accused of getting his brother appointed as Chairman EOBI who is under investigation for causing loss of Rs 44 Billion to national exchequer. These people also try to justify their change of hearts on grounds that they were sidelined within their party because of their loyal opposition. Finding no way out, they had to switch paths. Point of both looks to be devoid of political creed. It is a marriage of convenience and mutual accommodation. Recent episodes have once again raised serious questions about PTI’s ideological credentials and its impacts on their political pursuits.
Probably PTI is taking these lotas as known in common parlance to counter electoral manoeuvring/jugglery of their main rival PML (N) which has excelled in the art. PML (N) does not fight elections merely on this artful strength. They also harness strength of external and internal stakeholders and managers in their support before taking the field. It makes them a formidable foe. PTI is unlikely to match them on this pitch despite taking these people on their orbit. In 2013 elections, PTI bagged about 79 lakhs votes, not because of traditional voters. It was due to new voters. Instead of sitting at home as previously, they came out in large numbers to vote for change. Imran Khan was the symbol. It was second time in history of Pakistan when people went to polling booths, riding on a popular wave. First time it was in 1970 when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto swept the elections.
In 1977 elections, surprisingly he changed the mode. Instead of masses, he placed greater reliance on so called influential figures and cut short his appeal. It would be damaging blunder of PTI if it pins hope excessively on these phony personalities. It has yet to go a long way in its fight against status quo. Key in fight is their ideologists and youth, not rent seekers who only fare in fair weather. Youth is quick to hope but equally prone to disillusion. PTI to take utmost care to avoid such pitfall. Its track record on this score is dismal. Consequently, its street power has declined regardless of its claim to the contrary. It is an essential when battle comes at Knock out stage.
Notwithstanding wishful thinking within PTI, it has few jobs to do before next elections. One, taking ongoing legal battle against Sharif family to its logical end. Legal recourse is a soft option. Historically it is the hard ball which dislodges so old and strong forces of status quo. Two, a belief among its real supporters/sympathizers that next elections would be fair and transparent. In its absence, they may choose to sit at home on polling day. Third, an ability to undo rigged elections if so. Fourth, strengthening of its organizational structure and preparations for final showdown which looks nearly inevitable. These are uphill tasks and could only be undertaken by those who are committed to its ideology. Lotas have no history of such chemistry. PTI needs to keep ascendency of its ideological cadre within as it is the rule for an ideological party. Name of Imran Khan alone may not suffice. Contrarily, it would be on its own pearl.
— The writer, retired Lt Col, is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.