Imran Khan’s politics – What went wrong?

By Mansoor Ali Khan.

It was in a cold evening of October 30 2011, when Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf had emerged as a big political force in Pakistan for the first time in 16 years of an untiring struggle. Imran Khan addressed a huge gathering at Minar-e-Pakistan and introduced a unique slogan of ‘Change’ which was aimed at getting rid of traditional and so called ‘Status-Quo’ parties. It was by that time Political pundits started taking Imran Khan seriously and sensed the emergence of a third major political force. A lot of prominent names in Pakistani politics which were sidelined by their respective parties, and some seasonal birds who always looked for someone’s shoulders had started joining his party.

Just in a few months Imran Khan addressed huge gatherings all over Pakistan. With youth attending his processions in large numbers, Imran Khan was convinced that he would be the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. He ran an aggressive and competitive campaign, drew huge crowds and during his speeches, and whole nation held his breath watching him live in front of their television sets. Many compared him with India’s Arvind Kejrewal and Aam Aadmi Party which itself was a new emerging political force.

What went wrong then? Why Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf wasn’t able to sweep 2013 elections just as it had thought? What made Imran Khan so desperate that he joined non-entities like Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri & Sheikh Rasheed to become a part a game plane which was prepared somewhere else? Despite of the fact that Imran Khan is an honest, passionate & hardworking sportsman who never likes to lose, he has so many weaknesses. He is too gullible and he never accepts his defeat. He couldn’t realize that there was a big difference in addressing huge public gatherings and contesting elections. Imran Khan forgot that 70% of Pakistanis in Punjab and Sindh had lived in rural areas, where electoral politics is utterly different. He spoke against Status-quo and traditional political parties, but he didn’t have to offer anything new. He had all those notorious old faces standing at his left and right who always drew their support from the umbrella of Pakistani military establishment.

Tahir-ul-Qadri (left) joins hands with Imran Khan during a protest near prime minister's residence

Tahir-ul-Qadri, leader of Pakistan Awami Tehreek and Imran Khan during the anti-government protests near prime minister’s residence.

Imran Khan was so desperate that he was willing to do anything to get rid of Nawaz Sharif. With all those notorious characters which had joined him for their personal gains, Imran Khan was convinced that there was no democratic way other than invading the capital to throw the PM out. He was told by his ‘Pseudo’ advisors that military establishment wasn’t happy with Nawaz Sharif and they were looking for an opportunity to take over, this was probably the reason why Sheikh Rasheed who was once very hateful suddenly became his darling, and Allam Tahir-ul-Qadri became his political cousin.

The Gullible Imran Khan was convinced that Nawaz Government would be toppled before his long march enters the capital. Instead of pushing PML-N for electoral reforms in the parliament, he invaded the capital with all those notorious characters and announced a sit-in which was to continue until PM’s resignation. In his speeches from a luxury container, his blatantly repeated messages of New Pakistan did appeal to people but he really tested his supporters’ by assuring them about PM’s resignation in a short interval. To avoid frustration, he started to lecture them about how the western democratic states had developed and what actually is a “Model Welfare State”.  In their efforts to delegitimize the government, they debased democracy, politics and fellow politicians, and did not even spare judges and media persons. Promoting a culture of abuse and self-righteousness among the youth, the PTI set a poor example for them to follow.

PTI protestors

PTI workers protesting during sit in Islamabad.

There was a time when Nawaz Sharif was under intense pressure, and he was willing to offer almost everything except his resignation. But Gullible Imran Khan was firm on his stance on PM’s resignation. In the meanwhile Nawaz Sharif turned his face towards the military establishment and offered to surrender his “powers” to run the country’s Foreign and Security policy. Imran Khan kept repeating those stanzas for 4 months and soon he realized that neither the PM nor the Generals sitting in Rawalpindi were interested anymore. Why would they? They had achieved the purpose for what naive politicians have always been used. Imran Khan was more frustrated than disappointed; he needed an opportunity to call off his Dharna, which he got after APS massacre on December 16, 2014.

What were the outcomes of that movement? What did Imran Khan achieve? What he did is made this already struggling civilian set up even weaker. The electrified educated urban youth, which was well politicized and which could have been used for better is badly demoralized. They are now convinced that change is not possible through electoral democracy. Many of them consider military take over as the only solution to the problem of this country. Ironically majority of them were around mid-adolescence at the time of Elections 2008. They aren’t fully aware of the debacles of military regimes. They haven’t been told the actual events of Pakistani and world history. They have been told false stories of so called economic development in military regimes, which was completely based on “foreign aid” as a reward to fight proxy wars in this region.

This could be the reason why they had not voted in the recently held Local Body Elections. The low turnout suggested that PTI voters were not interested in casting their votes. As a result, Local body polls were another debacle for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.

These are the testing times for Imran Khan’s leadership and probably the deciding moments for Pakistan’s future. PTI is still the single party that is not in dynastic politics, and their leader has no allegations of financial corruption. But his approach towards certain events is immature and naive. It is the time for him to review his blunders and remobilize this demoralized youth. They need to learn how to respect the political differences with grace, and they need to be told about the horrors of military regimes. The performance of KP government will be closely watched, especially how the party improves the lot of common people. Imran Khan needs to be more pragmatic, and he can still retain the lost ground through his performance in KP province.

Writer is television producer with a news channel based in Islamabad.

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