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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Pakistani Americans buried Opposition’s “Selected Prime Minister”?

Pakistani Americans that thronged Capital One Arena in Washington's China town came to catch a glimpse of the leader that had inspired them for years. But in the process they ended destroying a powerful narrative Pakistani opposition had worked hard to build.

News Analysis|

Have Pakistani Americans unwittingly demolished Pakistani opposition’s rhetoric of “Selected Prime Minister” that was long in making? If this has happened it was never the intention of United State’s Pakistani diaspora. It just happened. It was no one’s conspiracy, it was no one’s plan. Many things just happen.

On Sunday, 21st July, United State’s Capital Washington DC was suffering from a heat wave. Temperatures soared above 38 degree centigrade or well above 100 degree F. But Capital One Arena, in China town area, was jam packed to its capacity and there were hundreds more lined outside. They all had gathered to listen to Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan.

Working level Meetings with Trump team

Khan had arrived in Washington on invitation of US President, Donald Trump. It was a three day trip that involved a working level meeting with the US president and his team. In Pakistan opposition was crying hoarse that “Selected Prime Minister” is meeting American president along with his military chief and other generals. “It has never happened before” many opposition leaders from PMLN and PPP claimed. “What better can you expect from a selected prime minister” another key leader commented on a tv program.

It was often ignored that meeting in White House was not a usual state visit but was a working level lunch meeting with its sole focus on Afghanistan. And US Presidential team wanted to talk face to face with the Pakistani military and intelligence chiefs to enquire and assess as to how they can help the United States in its strategic withdrawal from Afghanistan. This explained the extension of invitation to Army Chief, Gen. Bajwa and DG ISI, Gen. Faiz Hameed. But many things in politics have to be said for other reasons.

Immediately after being defeated by Khan’s PTI, in July 2018 elections, the main opposition parties (PPP & PMLN) started crying that elections were not fair; they argued that elections were massively rigged by the establishment especially in Punjab to let Khan’s PTI won. Though no one ever bothered to offer the slightest of the proof, no one identified precisely which constituencies were target of this rigging and hardly any one came forward to challenge results in his or her constituency.

Read more: Imran Khan: Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown – Dr. Moeed Pirzada

There was no organized protest; there was no white paper, there was never any data to substantiate anything and there was no recourse to courts by PPP or PMLN to prove rigging – unlike what Imran Khan had done after the 2013 elections. Yet, thanks to Pakistan’s uncritical TV channels, gradually a narrative was shaped that Imran Khan did not win the election but was made to win, and has been artificially placed on Pakistan by the military.

PPP is the party that has been seen winning more seats from Sindh than it could ever win on its own. Though its performance has been dismal, national political wind was blowing against it, and there was serious resistance in the interior Sindh, yet PPP won more seats in 2018 than it had won in 2013 general elections. There were suspicions that something happened that needed explanation. Many silently wondered if PPP struck a faustian bargain with country’s establishment to secure its hold on Sindh. To this day there is no answer to PPP’s mysterious “exaggerated victory” in 2018 elections.

Selected Prime Minister: How a Joke turned into a narrative? 

Blaming election loss on rigging is Pakistan’s normal standard political rhetoric. It means nothing but face saving. It is usually understood as such. So when some PPP leaders started teasing Imran Khan as “Selected Prime Minister” it was merely a joke. However as NAB started to crack down on both PMLN and PPP, and political polarization sharply increased, it gave way to anger to uncontrolled frustration. The joke of “selected prime minister” gradually became a political narrative. By July 2019 it had assumed a life of its own. It was a term that was repeated daily, every hour on television ad nauseam by hundreds of opposition politicians and thousands of trolls on social media.

On 21st July, thousands of Pakistani Americans, that thronged Washington from distant cities of American east coast, suddenly buried the term. Yet they did not plan it; they had no idea that they were about to change Pakistani politics for next few years to come. They did not know that they were burying the narrative PMLN, PPP, Maryam, Bilawal and Maulana Fazal ur Rehman had invested 11 months of their political struggle to invent and market.

An American journalist told GVS that she was shocked to see that Capital One Arena was packed to capacity. “Only seats empty were the seats security had stopped people to sit upon” She described huge crowds lined outside to catch a glimpse of Imran Khan, to hear a word of his speech. Capital One Arena was opened to public in 2007; its a huge indoor arena in the China town area of Washington and considered part of gentrification of old pestering China town. It has a capacity of 20,000 plus – on 21st July, in Washington’s scorching heat it was jam packed and hundreds stood outside to catch a glimpse or hear a word.

Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director Asia Program at Wilson Center while talking with Dr. Moeed Pirzada, TV Anchor at 92 News, on 22nd July, described that there was at least a crowd of 20,000 plus people in and around Capital One Arena. Kugelman, like many others, thought that this had very positive effect on the political optics of Khan’s trip. On 22nd July, during the brief press talk, President Trump described Imran Khan as “Pakistan’s most popular prime minister”

Gulf News and other publications, political observers and commentators across the world noted that never before has a Pakistani leader pulled more bigger crowds in the United Sates. Large gatherings had been hotel room meeting (like Musharraf did) with  200 to 300 guests. Nawaz Sharif in his post-Panama visit had talked to his own delegation and few invitees (around 30 or so) in a small hotel room.

Imran Khan had done something totally different, almost magical. His charisma attracted free citizens of United States to his welcome. In Pakistan governments and political parties collect crowds with the help of police or agencies, or powerful notables assemble poor people, mostly young men. They are hauled in trucks, buses, lorries and tractors and promised food or money at the venue.

But in the United States, a country of individuals, citizens travelled from large distances on their own. And these were doctors, engineers, professionals, businessmen and entrepreneurs. They came with their families. They had their wives, daughters, sisters and mothers with them. They carried their young children. It was an organic slice of a full society. It was a microcosm of educated middle class Pakistan. Khan achieved that miracle in Pakistan many times – in Karachi, in Lahore and Islamabad. But in Pakistan narrative can be shaped against the truth, to defeat the reality. Free citizens of Untied States did something in their passion for a new Pakistan that has changed narrative in Pakistan. Anger of opposition trolls – especially of PMLN was obvious on social media. Twitter was alive with the moments that demonized and berated the Pakistani Americans.

But narrative has been changed. Pakistani Americans have buried the “Selected Prime Minister” for ever. Whatever else comes out of Imran Khan’s Washington trip remains to be seen, but Washington has legitimized Khan in an odd unexpected way.