It was 1967 in Lahore. I stood face to face with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) at the YMCA hall on the Mall. Clad in a French suit, General Ayub’s dashing ex-foreign minister posed a question to the audience. “Awami?” he asked, “or Sarkari?” The over whelming response from the packed hall was “Awami!” There was no looking back; the General’s days were now numbered, and the Awami movement under ZAB had started. Instead of playing table tennis that day, I rushed home to watch the evening news. For a 14 year old, it was the experience of a life time, something to be remembered for ever.

Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) was the first anti-establishment Awami Party with its roots in the Punjab. Pakistan Socialist Party and its democratic socialists all joined in to fight for social equality in the county. Pakistan Muslim League (Convention), the B-team of the establishment, was totally cornered by the A-team of the people. A-teams are formed by leaders who lead from the front, whereas B-teams are created for a purpose and then made subservient. Since then, several B-teams were formed but one by one, they all perished (IJI, MMA, PNA, PPP (Patriots) Millat Party, PML (convention), PML (Haq parast) etc.)

It is widely speculated that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) will now become the B-team of the infamous establishment. After PTI’s Lahore Jalsa on October 30, 2011, real tremors were felt and the age old philosophy of, ‘If you cannot beat them, join them,’ was adopted. Political stalwarts of the establishment came in droves to invade PTI and its important leadership positions. The rank and file of the party refuses to be a B-team of the establishment.

Recently, a senior PML (N) leader talked about Siasi Yateem; the orphans of politics. But the parentage of most orphans is known. Only in cases of illegitimate birth, either the parentage is concealed or unknown, and the PML(N) falls into this category. The original B-team was formed under Junejo Sahib with Nawaz Sharif as Chief Minister, Punjab. When the PM decided to establish civilian authority, Mian Sahib supported the usurper and PML(N) came into being. Zia the tyrant created an illegitimate party which then gave birth to another illegitimacy. Being the A-team of the people, the PPP however, remains a force to be reckoned with. Its ‘jiyala’ networks remain unmatched until today. The party has won five elections and it is in power in Sindh despite a lack lustre performance in the 2013 elections. The rank and file is currently disillusioned with the party leadership. Under Asif Zardari, the party lost its progressive character.

PML(N) started as a B-team of the establishment, but found a special niche of wealth generation. The party is now a money making machine, from plots to projects to patronage- the entire ambit is covered. Currently, the focus of the party is on loans and mega projects with no priority, it seems, on human development. Health, education, water resources and agriculture have been neglected to the point of no recovery.

On the other hand, Imran Khan Niazi, who led the Pakistan Cricket team to world cup victory and established hospitals and a university, has earned credibility and the trust of his people. He has ably led the PTI to be a political force to be reckoned with. After all these achievements, he cannot be labeled a party playing on the B-team. However, it must be said, that most political parties in the country (including the PTI), are infested with elements against true democracy that refuse to perish or get out of the way for change to occur. From 1967-1977, in a time span of ten years, ZAB was able to change the political scenario; the unanimous 1973 constitution of course, is a hallmark of the era. After this, he was ambushed by B-teams and B-team players who infiltrate the party’s progressive dogma with agendas of their own. One can only hope that Imran Khan will not fall in the same trap. He has created and led a true A-team thus far, and must continue to side with the players on the right side of history. B-team players can only survive when matches are fixed. With his track record, those who felt the tremors of the Awami movement in a packed hall a generation ago can feel them once again; the Kaptaan must prevail on merit alone.

 The writer is ex-chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation.