In my last week’s column, I just made an attempt to explain how Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has moved away from its founding ideology over a period of time. And how this party started relying on political pragmatism after apparently abandoning its political idealism by resorting to some traditional tools of realpolitik. However, it should be more worrisome for PTI leaders and followers that this party has yet not succeeded in properly and effectively adhering to the prevailing principles of political pragmatism either. In my book, PTI is currently neither a idealist or a pragmatic political party at all. Indeed, a political strategy based on the so-called political pragmatism essentially involves a number of people-centered plans and popular slogans primarily aiming at ensuring an electoral victory. Therefore, a pragmatic political party always tries to present an alluring manifesto before the elections keeping in view some popular trends and public sentiments. Moreover, this sort of party is generally also capable of effectively mobilizing people to translate its political narrative into some concrete electoral accomplishments.
PTI has yet not devise any pro-active political strategy to defeat its opponents in the electoral battlefield. Nor has it ever presented any appealing or tempting election manifesto containing any pro-people future plan to minimize the sufferings and hardships of the ordinary Pakistanis or otherwise uplift their socio-economic status. At present, the PTI’s ‘pragmatic political strategy’ is just revolving around inducting political heavy-weights from other parties in addition to undermine the political strength and relevance of PML-N in Pakistan by hook or by crook. Its current manifesto comprises some ambiguous, ambitious and rather impractical plans to instantly make a ‘Naya Pakistan’. Coming into power appears to be an end for PTI rather than a mean to an end. So, things will improve in Pakistan overnight if PTI succeeds in forming its government in Pakistan. In the absence any pragmatic political plan, PTI has resorted to some political rhetoric to expand its political support base in the country. It is currently holding Nawaz Sharif responsible for the country’s underlying problems, and portraying Imran khan as a ‘saviour of the nation’ who will alone set things right if he gets elected to lead Pakistan.
PTI, as a political party, is popular largely among the educated middle class, and people living in the urban areas in Pakistan. It has only a meager presence in the rural areas. So far, it has also failed in significantly appealing or influencing the uneducated people and the poor in the country. This trend is certainly disadvantageous to PTI as two-third of the country’s population lives in the rural areas, and more than half of this population lives below the poverty line. And about 60% Pakistanis are simply illiterate. Similarly, PTI does also not appeal to the conservative and religious sections of the society. Unfortunately, PTI didn’t make any seriously endavour to expand its political support base in the country in last five years. Most of this time, it has been trying to dislodge Nawaz Sharif, firstly, on the basis of electoral rigging allegations, and, afterwards, on the Panamagate issue.
At present, there are only dim prospects that PTI would be able to make a significant breakthrough in the upcoming general elections. PTI has currently focused on Punjab which is the stronghold of PML-N. Despite its five-year long anti-PML-N political maneuvering, PTI couldn’t marginalize PML-N in Punjab. One can’t precisely predict the political future of PML-N in case Nawaz Sharif and other members of Sharif family are convicted in any of corruption references being heard by the Accountability Courts in Pakistan. However, at the moment, PML-N appears to be the most popular political party in Punjab. Moreover, PTI has also no significant presence in the province of Sindh and Baluchistan. It certainly has a sizeable political following in Karachi but Imran khan has long been ignoring Karachi owing to his prolonged anti-Nawaz campaign. In fact, now the politics in Pakistan are more or less a zero-sum game. So, the political success of PTI just depends on the failure of PML-N as a political party. But if PML-N survives the current political crisis, it would be hard for PTI to sweep the forthcoming general elections.
PTI has been ruling the KP province for the last five years. The performance of this PTI-led KP government is not highly commendable either if not crticiseable. It couldn’t take some drastic measures to substantially uplift the socio-economic status of the deprived and downtrodden masses in the province. So, most of the time, PTI leaders just boast about the improved state of the KP police and other government departments besides its projects like the ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’ etc. This government has also failed in introducing any effective accountability regime in the province while the corruption scandals involving various KP ministers have continuously been surfacing. Therefore, just like other ruling political parties in the country, PTI would also have to face some sorts of anti-incumbency public sentiments in the next polls as far as the province of KP is concerned.
An active and ambitious political party is generally prescribed to devise its political strategy by combining some effective tools of both idealist and pragmatic politics. In Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto is considered a political success story. He essentially relied on both political idealism and pragmatism to defeat the political status quo in Pakistan in the late 1960’s. The political Ideology of Mr. Bhutto was found on the principle of ‘popular sovereignty’ (rule by the people). But, indeed, he chose to garnish this ideology with a pragmatic political plan involving a promise to provide some bare necessities of life to the masses by raising the slogan of “Roti, Kapra aur Makan” to expand his party’s political support base. PTI leaders has yet not succeeded in offering any alluring future plan to the common man in order to win public support. On the other hand, PML-N leaders are often seen highlighting a number of public sector infrastructural projects, poverty reduction plans, and job creation schemes conceived and initiated by them over a period of time. Recently, the ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif also announced a similar mass housing scheme for the poorest of the poor in the country.
It is also worth mentioning that the political struggle of Mr. Bhutto and its newly-formed political party (PPP) was against the then military establishment in Pakistan. They had to face no significant resistance from any political party in the erstwhile West Pakistan. Therefore, PPP succeeded in seeping the 1970 General Elections merely on the basis of its public appeal and popularity. In fact, the nature and magnitude of the political challenge currently faced by PTI is entirely different from that of PPP in 1960’s. Unlike the PPP, PTI will have to defeat the so-called status quo political parties, which have a considerable vote-bank across the country, to come into power. These political parties, especially PML-N, are politically active and have a strong grassroot-level presence. Therefore, PTI can hardly defeat these parties without properly organizing it at the grassroots level.
PTI has been extensively using the mass and social media as an important tool of its political strategy. But unfortunately, it never seriously tried to improve its dilapidated state and organizational structure at the grassroots level. There are no proper party offices in small cities and rural areas. Making things worse, PTI has also yet not finalized its party candidates to contest the forthcoming general elections. In the absence of an organized party structure, an early selection of these candidates could help PTI mobilize people on the eve of general elections in the country. Comprising some diehard political activists and supporters, a strong party hierarchy essentially determines the fate of a political party in any electoral exercise. These die-hard party activists and workers motivate and mobilize party’s voters on the election day.
The mass and social media can certainly help a party propagate its political narrative. But, during the elections, only an organized and vibrant political party can translate this narrative into an electoral success. It is rather a now-or-never situation for PTI in Pakistan. PTI would considerably lose its charm and political relevance in the country if it fails to defeat the so-called status quo political parties in the forthcoming general elections. This time, the disillusioned Pakistanis would hardly be interested in listening to the PTI’s rigging rhetoric once again.
The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.