The Charing Cross 'show'

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 04.05.16

In politics, initiatives are important, whether taken in the right direction or the wrong one. On
Sunday, during his speech at the Charing Cross, Lahore, Imran Khan, Chairperson
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) scoffed at Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Minister of Defence in
the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, publicly by calling him names. In
the post-Panama leaks scenario, this can be considered one of the major political
developments that will have long-term consequences for the politics of Pakistan.

Presumably, Khan was responding to a comment tweeted by Asif on Saturday: “Tera kaya
bane ga, Kalia, tere toh dono ATMs offshore niklye” (what will become of you, Kalia, as both
of your ATMs are also offshore). The tweet having the word ‘Kalia’ (borrowed from a line
spoken by Gabbar Singh in the Indian blockbuster Sholay released in 1975) targeted Khan,
while the word ATMs (automated cash machines) was a reference to the PTI’s Aleem Khan
and Jehangir Tareen who have offshore companies functional in the UK. In fact, in this
configuration of words by Asif, the future of the investigation into the Panama leaks — even
if through a judicial enquiry — is concluded before the formation of the judicial commission.
The word Panama itself does not connote anything immoral and does not turn non-Panama
companies into moral. Offshore companies — whether in Panama or somewhere else —
abide by similar aims and objectives, though the difference is on the rates of concession
offered. With that, in essence, the post-Panama leaks crisis is over. The rest is just politics
and point-scoring to woo voters.

In principle, the PTI should not have arranged the Charing Cross rally in the first place or
the PTI should have got it cancelled. If the rally was staged to overawe the PML-N by street
power, the ‘show’ was a letdown; similarly, if the rally was to receive assurances of support
from PTI voters in Lahore, the show was again a disappointment. In the wake of the
association of PTI’s two top politicians with companies in the UK, it seems that the PTI has
lost its own moral credibility to contest the case of the Panama leaks in Pakistan. The tinge
of consequent bitterness-cum-frustration was apparent in the speech of Khan who kept
meandering from one point to another, thereby indicating clearly that he had not consulted
any speech writer to muse over what to say and what not publicly. In the speech, he made a
serious attempt to associate Clinton-Lewinsky crisis in the US politics with the Panama leaks
one ravaging politics in Pakistan. He tested his own memory to reiterate certain select
statistics, and put to test the retentive memory of the crowd to take along the message
couched in statistics. This is why it is said that if one wants to be a good leader, one has to
be a good follower; similarly, if one wants to be a good speaker, one has to be a good
listener. Khan’s speech clearly gave the answer why he took 20 years to make his mark in
the politics in Pakistan. The two reasons thus identified were: he was neither a good
follower nor a good listener.

Indicators abound implying that the PTI is beset with infighting dividing it into two halves
along the line of haves and have-nots. To paper over the cracks, the efforts of Khan are
apparent but the malice runs quite deep. There is an intraparty struggle for having a
decisive say in the party’s affairs. There is no precedent that a political party can fight on
both external and internal fronts simultaneously.

In a way, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is in competition
with the PTI to lash out at the PML-N on the Panama leaks issue. It seems that the PPP is of
the view that this is the last chance to shun the title of a friendly opposition and become a
real opposition without leaving space for the PTI to fill the void. Barrister Aitezaz Ahsan has
proved himself a mentor of young Bilawal who is trying to outclass Khan in raising anti-PML-
N slogans. Currently, Bilawal is the first claimant of the demand of the resignation of Prime
Minister Nawaz Sharif on the Panama leaks issue. The PTI tried to compete with the PPP,
but it is now playing second fiddle to the PPP on this point. Interestingly, the PPP has
approached the PTI not directly but through a middleman, Sheikh Rasheed. On April 27,
the visit of Ahsan and Khursheed Shah to Lal Haveli of Sheikh Rasheed was not to fetch a
better piece of political advice but apparently to foster a relationship that could open a
conduit to the army’s heart to get things modified in Sindh. Politicians are farsighted,
indeed. The PPP does not need the PML-N any more.

Another dimension of the ongoing competition between the PTI and the PPP to disparage
the PML-N is through playing the sentiment card. For instance, on April 10, Khan tried to
stir the masses by playing the ideology card when he addressed the nation from Bani Gala,
and said that Allama Iqbal was the ideological leader of Pakistan, and the PTI wanted to
make the ideological dream of Iqbal come true. This was a portentous call in the wake of
the pro-Mumtaz Qadri sit-in that continued for three days (March 27 to March 29) at D-
Chowk, Islamabad. Similarly, on April 29, Bilawal visited Kotli, Azad Kashmir, and played the
patriotic card by saying that the ‘friend of Modi’ (prime minister of India) had no place in
Pakistan. By saying so, Bilawal attacked Sharif, and probably made another attempt to get
close to the army. In short, the Panama leaks crisis offers more to the PPP than to the PTI
to cash in on.

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