What do you call a person who remains fixated on one particular issue and never lets it go: A ‘broken record’, or if you belong to Pakistan: Imran Khan. Mr. Khan has a history of championing particular causes and spending considerable energies on them. When he was a young medium-paced bowler at Oxford, it was racism that irked him and transformed him into the best all-rounder in the cricketing world. In the late 1980s, it was the Cancer Hospital, followed by a shift to ‘corruption’ and the latest flavor is ‘Electoral Rigging’. In the sporting world, it is believed that a person’s biggest strengths are also his/her biggest weaknesses. This is true for the real world as well. Mr. Khan’s persistence and perseverance in cricket made him a legend, while the same attributes in the political arena are about to make him redundant. A brief look at the political history of Imran Khan and his party will be useful to understand the scenario.

Following the timely demise of General Zia, the PPP won the national elections held in 1988 and formed a government at the federal level. Due to excessive involvement of Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies in affairs of the state, the democratic government faced multiple hurdles and buckled under the pressure. The President of Pakistan at the time dismissed the government on charges of corruption and nepotism. Elections in 1990 brought a military-backed alliance to power. Leader of the alliance, Mian Nawaz Sharif, tried to bite off more than he could chew, and he was also sent packing after repeated confrontations with the military in 1992. The reasons for Mr. Sharif’s dismissal were described as nepotism and corruption. In 1993, Peoples’ Party was voted into power for the second time. In 1996, the government was dismissed again, amidst a deteriorating law and order situation and corruption charges. Pakistan Muslim League (N) formed government in 1997 after receiving an overwhelming majority in national elections.

The 1990s were a decade of strife, sectarian warfare, ethno-linguistic turf wars, rampant corruption, nepotism and economic decadence. The rule of law was an alien concept during the decade and police officials as well as judges used to be deputed according to party affiliations. Pakistan was in the throes of economic crisis and external debt from the IMF and World Bank was required to keep the country solvent.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) or the Party for Justice in Pakistan, was unveiled on 25th April, 1996, in Lahore, under the leadership of Imran Khan. According to well-informed sources, this ‘third’ option was brought forward by Intelligence agencies to challenge the hegemony of the two major political parties. It consisted of previously apolitical but respected professionals including journalists, businessmen and educationists. Badar Alam, editor of a respected magazine, wrote, “When he [Imran Khan] started off in 1996, his catchphrases were Brown Sahib, VIP culture, political corruption, accountability before election, fatal dependence on foreign loans and subservience to the United States. The basic premise of the PTI was that all politicians are bad. This idea appealed to the urban, professional class that has increased considerably since 1996.”

National Elections were held on 3rd February, 1997. PTI contested election on 48 national assembly seats, with Imran Khan himself competing on 8 seats. Mr. Khan had never cast a vote before those elections. PTI failed to win even a single seat in its first attempt to compete at the national level. According to results, PTI was able to get around three hundred thousand votes across Pakistan. Mr. Khan had vowed to stay away from making any alliance with either PML(N) or PPP but ended up as part of ‘Grand Democratic Alliance’ with parties including PPP in 1999. In October 1999, the military took over the reins of power on the heels of Mr. Shareef appointing a loyal general as Chief of Army Staff. Imran Khan, along with other politicians such as Benazir Bhutto, welcomed the military intervention.

General Pervaiz Musharraf arranged a referendum to rubber-stamp his authority in 2002. Mr. Khan supported this venture wholeheartedly, in the hopes of becoming Musharraf’s blue-eyed boy. Contrary to his estimates, Musharraf chose proven political players- the Chaudrys of Gujrat- as his political partners. Imran withdrew his support for Musharraf and contested the 2002 national election against the ‘King’s party.’ PTI contested 42 electoral seats across Pakistan, with Imran Khan himself contesting on five different national assembly seats. Mr. Khan won a solitary seat-from Mianwali and was beaten comprehensively from Lahore by Ayaz Sadiq.

Things had changed considerably in 2008 when the next elections took place, but PTI boycotted the polls because they were held under Musharraf. In 2011, Imran Khan’s party organized a historic Jalsa in Lahore, announcing its arrival on the political scene, fifteen years after its inception. During the election campaign, PTI’s main focus was on gaining seats in urban Punjab, areas with a significant “educated professional” class. With its anti status-quo and anti-American rhetoric, PTI expected to gain at least 80 seats in the National elections in 2013. Imran Khan toured the whole country before the elections, until he was hospitalized after falling from a fork-lift at a political gathering. Donations poured in from expatriate Pakistanis and previously apolitical youth were excited by the prospect of ‘change’.

Most observers expected the PTI to do well in the elections and to play a major role in determining the political future of Pakistan. When the count finished late at night after the elections (on 11th May, 2013), the tables had been turned on the PTI. Imran Khan’s party had failed to win even 35 seats in the National Assembly (the current count is 23, after by-elections). PTI failed to win urban seats in most of Punjab and its saving grace was the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) where it gained a majority in the provincial assembly.

Imran Khan himself was defeated in Lahore by Ayaz Sadiq (history repeating itself) while other stalwarts also lost to PML(N) candidates. Since the elections, Imran and his party have been throwing tantrums and are still in denial about their performance. Instead of focusing on governance in KPK, the PTI chose, at exactly the time it should have been under one-year review, to hold demonstrations in the capital. The one trick pony is at it again.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.

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