Imran Khan managed to draw massive crowds at protest rallies around the 2013 General Elections but that support could not be translated into the numbers game in the National Parliament. His dream to become Pakistan’s Prime Minister still remains unfulfilled after over two decades of active politics. With new General Elections looming, the PTI party machinery needs to revamp its strategies and policy postures as it seems like the popular momentum and passionate zeal of 2013 is fading away - giving way to a group of disgruntled supporters, who, are either becoming disillusioned with the democratic system as a whole, or parting ways with what they perceive to be inflexible political opportunism of the party chief. People had actual hope in Imran, and no matter how short-sighted Imran’s pledge to end corruption in 90 days was, or his shambolic decisions to suggest that police would be handed over to the local government or the jirga system restored, his supporters, actually believed, in 2013, that Imran could do it all. Fact is, it was not going to happen overnight. It reflected a massive misreading of the culture of politics in the Pakistani landscape. PTI workers were dancing mindlessly to the tunes of the cricket analogies of Imran Khan expecting a Boom Boom Afridi-esque sexy sixer solution to be the antidote for Pakistan - what they missed out on was that Pakistan might be better served through a patient Misbah-esque approach that would carefully steer the ship. Beneath the superficial revolutionary gloss of Imran’s narrative of ‘change’ was a political program where revolution was stripped off to its bare bones - there was no real plan, no humble understanding of the institutional means required to endure such radical changes, as Imran’s cult of “honest personality” was supposed to fix it all. PTI’s young workers, unable to absorb the nuances of Pakistan’s political landscape as they were experiencing practical politics for the first time in their lives, were not ready for the disillusionment that, inevitably, accompanies such an exercise.

Imran Khan’s short sighted narrative did a huge disservice to the nascent democratic process in Pakistan by creating a new class of politically immature crusaders who uncritically took their version of the gospel too seriously. Imran created a class of nouveau riche urbanites who started believing that it was moral to negotiate with hardened militants just because they resisted US imperial advances. Imran’s supporters were excited at the idea of the creation of an office for the Taliban in the national capital and it was only after devastating effects of the APS tragedy that Imran was forced to take a u-turn in the dharna in a face saving exercise and realize that even the military establishment had switched its disastrous policy of appeasing the good Taliban. Imran’s political opportunism cynically obfuscated the issue of religious extremism by conflating Karachi’s gang wars with religious militancy. In his desperate attempts to win a seat or two in affluent parts of Karachi, Imran’s MQM and PPP hatred ensued that he equated workers from both parties to religious extremists, and come election day – the people of Karachi did not pay much heed to his narrative. The massive failure in the local bodies election, and the subsequent election of MQM’s mayor in Karachi put a massive dent to that devious foray by the PTI.

Imran also misled his supporters by suggesting that the Pakistani state had the agency to stop NATO supplies from moving through Pakistan –neutral political commentators warned that such a step would not only be an exercise in futility, it would actually weaken Pakistan’s case in the international arena – in a setting where the Pakistani state is, often, dependent, due to the imperatives of economic and cultural capital. But the PTI electoral machinery was hell bent on projecting Imran as a lone savior no matter what the cost. Either Imran secretly convinced his party advisors that he possessed some supernatural powers or they were so lost in his charisma that they forgot the reality that if America could intervene unilaterally in Iraq, irrespective of France, Germany and Russia’s refusal to partake in the exercise, getting things done in Pakistan was mere child’s play. When Donald Trump did not include Pakistan in the list of banned nations in his deeply racist immigration policy, Imran Khan publicly articulated his displeasure that Pakistan was not on the list. With Mehmood Kasuri and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, both potent ex-foreign ministers of Pakistan within the party ranks, how could Imran end up saying something so drastic, and retrospectively foolish? Does he listen to his advisors? Can they challenge his whims? Did he forget about the support and funds he receives from the expatriate community in the States? Or the students who work hard to win merit scholarships to US educational institutes to achieve upward social mobility with dignity? Or the consequences such a policy step could have for business in a country like Pakistan that struggles to attract foreign investment and enhance exports. His racist outburst against PSL players and demeaning the league and the success of the PSL also had very obvious anti-PML-N and Najam Sethi motives. Are only PTI-led projects morally defensible in Imran Khan’s eyes?

In increasingly complex times, events can assume their own rationalities and completely debunk and lay bare the limits of initial policy steps. Political parties must have the capacity to readjust stances which do not dent their legitimacy too much. And that involves a process of serious self-reflection within party ranks to operationalize a genuine learning experience. Once parties are able to appreciate their mistakes from the past, they are able to positively resolve blunders from the past. But for the PTI’s brand of short-cut sixer politics, that seems like a mighty difficult task to do. PTI’s supporters are hell bent on dehumanizing and otherizing PML(N) and PPP as “mere mafias” and their supporters as “irrational barbarians.” When confronted with evidence to the contrary, they religiously resort to base ad hominem attacks. In such a setting, will a reformed and flexible Imran Khan be acceptable to his support base when he engages in boring institutional talk about long term gradualism, incrementalism and slow, but meaningful change? Or will he be testing the patience of his keyboard jihadists he created in the first place? The fast track speedy justice approach did not deliver premiership due to a severe lack of ideological clarity. Something’s got to give from within. The domestic umpire’s finger cannot do the dirty work unilaterally in an increasingly digital age, anymore. Home umpires do not adjudicate local test matches anymore, anyway.

 

n             The writer is an M.Phil. Political Science student. His research interests include

Max Weber, critical theory and the eastern classical music tradition.