By Hazir Jalees
With a single stroke, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf’s successful jalsa at Minar-i-Pakistan last Sunday changed Pakistan’s political landscape. To begin with, it is no longer possible for Imran Khan’s detractors to dismiss him as a talk-show leader with no mass following among voters. What he says on national issues carries more weight now and the challenge posed by PTI to the entrenched political parties will have to be taken more seriously. Other than giving a definitive boost to the party, the massive public meeting also made waves in the stagnating pool of democracy that had begun to lose its appeal to a large number of citizens and seemed to be stuck in the same old groove of partisan mudslinging and pointless point scoring. Those who attended the jalsa came back impressed not just by the number, but also the diversity and enthusiasm of the participants. So, where does PTI go from here?
It is obvious now that the buzz about PTI’s rising popularity is real and not just a wishful figment of its supporters’ imagination. It is also obvious that the growing number of people joining the PTI crowd are not star-struck simpletons who want to ‘see’ Imran Khan. The comments by participants at the recent jalsa showed that they are listening to their leader, understand what he’s talking about and are committed to the political ideals he articulates. He’s struck a chord that they would like to hear, and whether his opponents like it or not, people believe in him as well. Other than his personal credentials, he’s helped by the fact that he’s never been in a position of power. Public confidence in the tried and tested political parties and their leaders has sharply eroded under the present dispensation, and the entrenched political players are seen by an increasing number of citizens as members of a power club only concerned about promoting their petty political or financial interests. And given the dynamics of democracy that we’ve witnessed in recent years, you can’t blame the people for that perception.
Given this context, the PTI jalsa not only won converts to the party, but also renewed the electorate’s faith in the democratic process, as a means of bringing about change. And going by Imran’s speech at Minar-i-Pakistan, he’s talking about changing a lot. His speech started with words that instilled confidence in the nation, something that should not be too much to expect from any national leader, but something that we never hear them say. Isn’t it strange that our entrenched political stalwarts seem to have taken upon themselves the task to convince us of our poverty, dependence and hopeless situation? Aren’t leaders supposed to make us feel good about ourselves and give us hope? Aren’t they supposed to motivate us to turn things around, rather than preparing us to be buried under the debris of their misgovernance? By talking about the richness of our land and the potential of our people, by forecasting a prosperous future and a life of dignity for Pakistanis, Imran surely started on the right note.
The rest of his speech demonstrated that he wasn’t talking in the air and giving false hope to garner votes: He does have a plan, or at least the seeds of one. Though his team will have to work hard to fill in the details, the outline of his plan presented at the jalsa points in the right direction: An independent foreign policy that is not subservient to the US interests and an economy that is not hostage to foreign aid and loans by international financial institutions, an end to army operations and opening of dialogue with dissident groups, utilising available and better options for energy, depoliticising the police and creating institutional checks on corruption, ending the thana and patwari culture, educating women, reaching out to disgruntled people in Balochistan, embracing the Kashmir struggle and decentralisation to the community level. So, he has an idea about how he would make his Pakistan dream come true. That is not enough, though. The PTI will have to do much more.
To begin with, the party will have to do the hard work of building upon these ideas and coming up with detailed blueprints on each one of them. That is where the leader will have to take a backseat and bring in the experts and technocrats, who understand and agree with the PTI goals. Economists whose understanding goes beyond IMF tranches and World Bank loans must prepare a comprehensive strategy to deal with the withdrawal systems that will set in once these drips come off. Similarly, foreign policy experts must be ready with a diplomacy-strategy to deal with the consequences of saying goodbye to the global bully, who doesn’t know how to take no for an answer and who is most likely to create problems for us when we decide to walk away. What PTI needs are comprehensive plans and strategies complete with details and not just slogans about its policy direction. And the time to do it is now. The PTI leadership should not wait till it achieves its goal of forming the government.
The party must focus on translating its popular support into electoral success by creating a crop of trained political workers, who could take on the entrenched political parties in elections, matching their knowledge of the electoral process and with the ability to counter the many tricks they have perfected to steal elections. The PTI has done useful groundwork by exposing the bogus votes on electoral lists, and it must strengthen its efforts to make the electoral process free and fair. Other than pushing for the reform of the process, a political cadre well-versed in the ins and outs of elections is essential to achieve that goal. With Imran Khan’s towering personality leading the show, there is danger of PTI becoming another personality cult. This calls for democracy within the party and inculcating the spirit of collective leadership whereby decisions are taken within a consultative and democratically elected institutionalised party structure.
The writer is an independent columnist.