Following the disqualification of Mian Nawaz Sharif in the Panamagate case in July last year, It was being widely predicated and speculated that PML-N would soon disintegrate and disappear from the country’s political scene. However, contrary to these predictions and speculations, not only has PML-N saved itself from being disintegrated but also it has somehow succeeded in retaining its public popularity and political relevance in the country. Notwithstanding the Panama-leaks scandal which first surfaced in April 2016, PML-N has constantly been emerging victorious in most of the electoral battles, ranging from the local bodies elections to the by-elections. Similarly, PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif is also pulling large public crowd wherever he is holding or addressing any public rally across the country. So, PTI, which is considered a major political opponent and competitor of PML-N, has apparently failed in vanishing or otherwise significantly weakening the ruling political party through its multi-prong strategy, involving extensive propaganda, massive street agitation and a long legal battle in the apex court.

Nawaz Sharif by no means stands for any transcendental political ideology or a revolutionary agenda. He simply represents the political status quo in country. PML-N is largely viewed as a ‘family limited company’ which is being run by the Sharif family. Now Nawaz Sharif and many other members of Sharif family are also facing multiple corruption charges in various Accountability Courts. Nevertheless, PTI, which is a protagonist of change and political reforms, has yet not succeeded in outshining the PML-N politically. To me, it doesn’t mean the forces which represent the political status quo in Pakistan are too mighty to be defeated. But, instead, the competing political forces of the ‘change’ are too feeble to beat this status quo. PTI has yet not succeeded in forcefully pushed forward its so-called counter-narrative vis-à-vis the prevailing political milieu in the country. At present, a sizeable segment of the population doesn’t consider PTI a viable political alternative. Consequently, Nawaz Sharif is artfully advancing his political narrative in the name of preserving the ‘sanctity of the vote’ and establishing the civilian supremacy after pretending to be a miserable victim of the perceived military-judiciary nexus in the country. And it is a fact that a lot of Pakistanis are readily buying this narrative too.

PTI is founded on “Imraniat”, an ideology essentially based on the political thought of Imran Khan. In fact, this ideology simply aims at achieving an ambitious political goal through a number of complex, inconsistent and conflicting means. It stands for a political change. But at the same time, it also adopts the very tools which have been the hallmarks of the political status quo. It also depends and looks towards the complimentary and supplementary components of the status quo to break the same. Naturally, these components are supposed to act to preserve or reinforce this status quo. PTI has been unnecessarily relying on the military establishment to end political status quo in the country, ignoring the fact that it only intervenes to protect its institutional interests. Over a period of time, PTI has visibly switched from the political idealism to the political pragmatism. It is currently actively employing various tools of the realpolitik to achieve its cherished political goals.

Soon after successfully holding its famous public rally in Lahore on October 30, 2011, PTI started inducting political heavyweights who have long been associated with the so-called status quo political parties in Pakistan. However, these ‘electables’ couldn’t make a significant dent in the PML-N’s vote-bank in the country, especially in Punjab, in the 2013 General Elections. So, the defeated PTI decided to adopt a conventional political strategy to come into the corridors of powers. This political strategy involved seeking support from the military establishment in addition to launch a massive agitation movement to make the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif step down. In fact, these sorts of tactics have frequently been used by the opposition political parties in the past. In 2014, PTI staged a 126-day sit-in in Islamabad against the PML-N government while constantly asking the so-called Third Umpire to intervene to oust Nawaz Sharif on the basis of unsubstantiated electoral rigging allegations. This sit-in has been instrumental in evolving a political culture in Pakistan which can hardly be called a healthy or positive one.

Ironically, PTI leaders frequently talk high of reviving the state institutions in Pakistan but they have yet not succeeded in making PTI a political institution. Just like the other political parties, the cults of personality have also gripped PTI too. Now this party is just revolving around its Chairman Imran khan. So, PTI has no identity or existence independent of Imran Khan. During the public rallies, PTI leaders mostly try to highlight the extra-ordinary leadership traits and political struggle of Imran Khan rather than explaining the party’s ideology or its political agenda. Similarly, the party’s campaign songs just reinforced their contentions about Imran Khan by portraying him as the greatest and only ‘saviour of the nation’ who will alone create a ‘Naya Pakistan’.

It is also a paradoxical situation that PTI leaders often pledge to introduce a real democracy, the rule of law and a merit-based order in Pakistan but these things are still missing in their party’s organizational structure and day-to-day affairs. There is a general perception that Imran khan calls all the shots in party. He exclusively makes crucial political decisions and devises the party’s future plans. Similarly, it is also believed that only IK’s blue-eyed persons can hold key positions in the party. In this respect, a notorious term ‘ATM’ has also been coined. PTI has also been reluctant in freely holding its intraparty elections. In June last year, PTI eventually held its long-delayed intraparty elections. These elections were panel-based in which Imran Khan-led ‘Insaf panel’ swept the party polls. So, instead of allowing individuals within the party to be independently elected on the basis of their personal abilities and popularity, Imran khan only selected his ‘nearest and dearest’ to hold key positions in party by placing them on his own panel. This panel was obvious to win these intraparty polls. This practice is certainly neither politically appropriate nor appreciable.

Regrettably, PTI has been instrumental in giving rise to a political culture which can hardly be the basis of a better political order. This political culture is not conducive for the smooth functioning of democracy in Pakistan. We can just predict that the opposition parties would give a tough time to the future government as PTI has been doing during the last few years. Therefore, it is very likely that the political uncertainty and turmoil would continue to grip Pakistan in the future too.

In fact, a vibrant political party is generally a precursor to a political change in any country. Therefore, the greatest political service that IK could do to this country is to make a ‘Naya Pakistan’ by first evolving an ideology of change, and then organizing a dynamic and disciplined political party to translate this ideology into a political reality. Being an active political party, PTI can certainly adhere to the political pragmatism to achieve its broader political objectives. However, while doing so, it shouldn’t let the very ideological pedestal crumble upon which its ‘politics of change’ rests.


The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.