Understanding Imran Khan's politics

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 20.08.14

The fate of the azaadi (independence) march (begun on August 14 from Lahore) instigated
by Imran Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), was decided in fact in
Gujranwala. The city of Gujranwala was not important because the followers of the Pakistan
Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) attacked the PTI’s convoy but because the dreams of the
PTI’s leadership to replicate the results of the long march conducted by Nawaz Sharif for
the restoration of the deposed judiciary were frustrated.

Gujranwala, a hub of the PML-N, is the first major city along the Grand Trunk Road en
route to Islamabad. In March 2009, when Sharif’s convoy reached Gujranwala, Aitzaz
Ahsan, accompanying Sharif, received a phone call from the then chief of army staff to call
off the march because the government had succumbed to the demand of the protestors to
restore the judges. On August 15, 2014, the PTI’s convoy spent several hours in
Gujranwala in the hopes of receiving a similar phone call from the current chief of army
staff. Interestingly, while in Gujranwala, Sheikh Rasheed, accompanying Khan, even made
a frustrated public appeal to the army to intervene before the PTI’s convoy left the city.
Unfortunately, not even a
subedar from the army called Rasheed to stop the march.
Gujranwala must have disillusioned Khan about the march’s fate.

On the evening of August 17, while delivering the “most important speech” of his life, Khan
revealed that he was doing politics just for the public otherwise he was not short of anything
(whether wealth or fame) in his life. That was an impressive statement. Nevertheless, if such
were the case, Khan would not have asked his voters to ensure the victory of Sheikh
Rasheed in NA-55, Rawalpindi in the 2013 elections. The question is, why can Khan not
serve the public without Rasheed? If Rasheed were such a gem, the PML-N would not have
denied him a ticket. How to ridicule an opponent publicly is a skill Rasheed has mastered.
Khan has also learnt somehow the politics of ridiculing his opponents. Another advantage
of Rasheed is that he can arrange a mob from Rawalpindi on short notice, as he did this
time to swell the sit-in. Rasheed not only remained a go-between for Khan and Dr Tahirul
Qadri but he also utilised his experience to cajole both Khan and Qadri into bringing their
agendas closer and announcing a common date to overrun Islamabad. Ridiculing the Sharif
brothers was an agenda shared by both Khan and Rasheed.

The second dimension of politics that now seems to be a part of Khan’s personality is the
politics of revenge. Khan is now hell bent on settling scores with the Sharif brothers. The
politics of revenge also suit Rasheed who tried several times to rejoin the PML-N after
being labelled a turncoat but was shunned every time. The case of Rasheed is different
from other deserters such as Akhtar Rasool who secured a ticket for the provincial
assembly in the 2013 elections but lost the election to Mian Aslam Iqbal of the PTI in
Lahore. Unlike Rasheed, Rasool did not ridicule the Sharif brothers during his days spent
under the auspices of General Pervez Musharraf. Asking (clandestinely) and reinforcing Dr
Qadri’s agenda to stage a parallel demonstration in Islamabad increased the impact of
revenge manifold.

Khan and his party have also mastered another kind of politics: the politics of agitation.
Much of the credit for this goes to ex-members of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). These members,
such as Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed and Ejaz Ahmed Chaudhry in Lahore, and Fayyazul
Hassan Chohan in Rawalpindi, laden with the skills of (street) agitation, were disappointed
with the JI and joined the ranks of the PTI to seek a new, moderate face. The PTI’s politics
of agitation are reinforced by those lawyers who earlier were part of the lawyers’ movement
to restore the judiciary. Hamid Khan, Ahmed Awais and Justice (retired) Wajeehuddin are
just a few. These lawyers think that in the revival of democracy and in the jettisoning of
General Musharraf from Pakistan, they played a vital role and hence the fruits of
democracy should also be yielded to them on one political platform or another. Taken
together, the presence of ex-JI members and lawyers in the upper hierarchy of the PTI
influences the kind of goals set and the style of strategy adopted by the PTI to meet its

The show staged by Khan in Islamabad has dented the reputation of the government
substantially and has turned the attention of all towards the fragility of the country’s political
and judicial systems. Certainly, the system is rife with flaws, exploited by the rich and
powerful to the disadvantage of the weak and dispossessed. Ad hoc judges are appointed
to get favourable decisions. Merit is violated and financial crimes are committed while
offenders hide behind the system and get away with it. The political system is monopolised
by a few and refuses entry to the many. The electoral system militates against the spirit of
true public representation.

Khan has dared to challenge the system at the cost of his own embarrassment and he has
shown that there is a lot of space available in the country for the emergence of a third
political party. Secondly, despite exposing his political immaturity, Khan has shown that the
system is in dire need of reform. Third, regardless of committing all types of political
blunders and follies, Khan has shown that he and his party cannot be written off. Finally,
the process of democratic evolution in Pakistan has still to travel a long distance to come
out of the politics of cult behaviour.

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