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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Prime Minister Imran Khan?

Syed Haider Raza Mehdi |

This is a six part article which traces the phenomenal rise of PTI, the disillusionment that set in, internal party struggles, the Panamagate revival, electoral prospects and the challenges Imran and PTI could face if and when they wins the election and form a government at the center.

A possible Prime Minister Imran Khan is perhaps the second most discussed question in Pakistan, after Panamagate. Will he or won’t he?

Will the “Khan” breast the tape, or join the ranks of the heart-achingly “also rans”? An Al Gore, an Asghar Khan, a Hillary Clinton!

Or will he, as he has done several times in the past, overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and emerge victorious, despite the challenges, and quite a few of his own creation, as his detractors and even some supporters say.

Read more: Why Imran Khan must NOT become the Prime Minister of Pakistan

It’s a tough question to answer, given the fickleness of this mistress called “politics.”

So despite my biases, here’s hoping an objective current perspective, also as fickle as the mistress of “politics!”

To try and figure out what’s going on, In addition to my personal insights, I recently spoke to a couple of dozen people connected to Imran; friend and foe, close associates and hardcore enemies, some still close, some silently withdrawn to the sidelines. Some publicly angry, some sulking on the sidelines and a few former die, hard friends, now his mortal political enemies. And of course, I spoke to the Khan himself!

The Rise of PTI and Imran Khan

So this is the story of PTI from a “Tonga Party” in 1996, to becoming arguably Pakistan’s most popular party and Imran its most popular political leader by 2017!

Arguably, I say, because many would disagree! And with much merit in their disagreements.

And it’s not a complete story but a story about things which I think matter.

No juicy tidbits of “clandestine one-night stands” or “midnight meetings with the Army Brass.”

Just plain old stuff!

So what did Imran tap into?

Like Bhutto before him, he tapped into a lot of things.

Read more: Fallout from Imran Khan’s bribery allegations; Hostilities escalate

Imran tapped into a nation, sick and tired of corruption, and desperate to get rid of a system which only benefited the privileged and the rich.

An anger which stemmed from decades of misrule, of military coups gone wrong, of pretentious messiahs with holier than thou demeanors, looting and plundering, victims of their own unbridled and insatiable greed for power, wealth, and power.

Imran tapped into a nation, sick and tired of corruption, and desperate to get rid of a system which only benefited the privileged and the rich.

A system bereft of meritocracy, transparency, and accountability.

A system where the rich and powerful were and are able to hijack a flimsy, tottering electoral process and in the name of “democracy” hoist themselves into power.

A system where all ruling groups, civil and military, through deliberate acts of commission or incompetent omissions, systematically destroyed institutions who could challenge them and stop their loot and plunder or deposing them.

A system which allowed desperate people to think that a military ruler, a dictator, an autocratic ruler would come and cleanse the Augean stables. And each time they found that all these “Messiahs” had feet of clay and all failed, leaving behind a system weaker than before!

But the key thing that he was able to tap into was the nation’s desperation for a political leader who had integrity and was honest. Someone they could trust! Whether today his rating on these attributes are as high as it was earlier is something we’ll address later.

I think several factors contributed to Imran’s political success to date.

Read more: Imran Khan’s Bribery claim adds to allegations of Nawaz’s questionable Modus Operandi!

He was and still is everything a traditional politician is not. He has no political background, no father to son political legacy. He is neither a feudal nor a rich businessman. Just a regular and a trifle privileged, middle-class Zaman Pak/Aitchison College boy, who goes to Oxford, lives the high life in the UK and becomes a cricketing icon.

And finally, catapults to super stardom in cricket-mad Pakistan by leading Pakistan to its first 1992 World Cup Victory. The second win, yesterday with the sweet taste still lingering may perhaps be Divine portents in his favor!

But back to the past. His mother’s passing away a few years earlier sowed the seeds for what was to come later: The Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital. And when he announced the Cancer hospital, people flocked and gave away their life’s savings. Rich and poor, rural and urban, young and old. This roaring success in social philanthropy convinced him that he could make a difference in politics.

And so in 1996, he launched PTI, and for years, aimlessly roamed the harsh and inhospitable wilderness of the baradari driven system called Pakistani politics. Barely winning one seat in 2002. His own!

But it was the open electronic media, kind courtesy of Gen. Musharraf that from 2002 gave him the visibility and lifeblood every politician needs.

By 2007, riding the crest of his anti-drone campaign, the Lawyers Movement against Gen. Musharraf, and the dedication of his supporters, PTI now had nearly 70,000 members.

“For years we didn’t have more than a thousand members and couldn’t even fund our expenses. It was very tough going. But I kept going”! Imran said.

But then in 2008 the party, along with Jamaat-e-Islami, boycotted the elections. The PPP were voted in by a shell-shocked nation riding a wave of sympathy votes following Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. And Asif Zardari, universally acknowledged as Pakistan’s most corrupt politician, became President!

Read more: The summoning of the Sharif family by JIT: Shall we praise the Prime Minister?

Imran continued his relentless call against corruption and misgovernance, and on 30th October 2011, in his famous Lahore Jalsa, he and the party came of age. It seemed as if the prodigal son had arrived.

The Compromise

But success came at a price.

The party ideologues found new entrants from the existing political order now occupying positions of power and authority and influence in the party. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Javed Hashmi and Jehangir Tareen were some of the big names who joined the party from a traditional lot of politicians.

Yet, such was the wave of unquestioned faith and trust in Imran, that the support didn’t waiver, and by the time the 2013 elections came around, he had captured the imagination and support of the vast majority of middle-class urban Pakistanis.

Many of them had till very recently been silent and angry observers of the political process.

And also, by this time, the party had attracted to its ranks, large groups of highly educated professionals, retired public servants, and senior members of the judiciary, senior retired bureaucrats and army officers, many of very high ranks. Young and old, male and female, all flocked to Imran and PTI. All finally convinced that in Imran and the party lay the salvation of Pakistan.

But soon, for many of these new entrants disillusionment with the world of politics and by implication with Imran and PTI, set in.

The vast majority of these people had never participated in politics and were unfamiliar with the cut and thrust of politics. The vicious infighting and groupings shockey them.

They were appalled at the disorganization and ill-discipline of a mass of people, all volunteers who were not encumbered by the discipline of a structured corporate organization or the workings of a government office and especially when people did not fear the consequences of not following orders. And everyone wanted a piece of the pie.

Read more: Will the JIT be able to handle PML-N’s pressure?

The new guard or the quasi-new guard on the party now occupied the front seats and was now more visible. Javed Hashmi, Jehangir Tareen, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Asad Umar, and Aleem Khan vs the old order symbolized by Saifullah Niazi.

Why did you do this? I asked Imran.

“No one’s walked my political journey. No politician, no military leader, no wadera, no nobody. I have made many mistakes and have learned many from them” he asserts, as I questioned him about the “questionable people joining the party.” The Mustafa Khar’s, the Liaquat Jatoi’s, and the Firdous Ashiq Awan’s etc (Nazar Gondal and Imtiaz Waraich hadn’t yet joined).

“I have seen nearly every possible aspect of politics in Pakistan. From starting a party from scratch with no political background to breaking the hold of an entrenched two-party system of the PML and the PPP. A feat quite impossible, even in highly educated and democratically evolved societies in Europe and North America. People say I don’t understand politics especially constituency politics. What they forget is how I carved out my own constituency in Mianwali, which is as close to the Wild West you can get in Pakistan.

Mianwali is a very difficult constituency because it is subdivided even below the baradaris into small “dharras” who flock and vote together. I challenge any of these so called politicians to go into a rural heartland with zero political backgrounds and carve out a constituency for themselves.”

But, while that is all well and good and extremely laudable and impressive, why was he now trucking with the same kind of people he was so critical of – the traditional electable?

“Politics is a Marathon and you have to be in it for the long haul, despite the many obstacles one comes across”, says Imran.

“Several types of people join politics. The traditional politicians, from the rural heartlands, who have to participate or lose their power, influence, and clout. Not all are corrupt. But for them, politics is about survival. It’s not about public service but to remain relevant. In this process, they use their power and influence to keep themselves in play, continue to exercise their decades and or centuries of hold on the rural peasantry and deliver public service, not a value but as a favor for their constituents. The traditional Thana Kutchery politics is their lifeblood.

Read more: Week 4 of the JIT; What do we know so far?

Then is the lot which comes in purely to make money through corrupt means. People like Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari and the others who hitch their wagons to these politicians. It is this category which us destroying Pakistan.

The third category, come into politics with the hope of changing the system. People like me and others to take back Pakistan from the stranglehold of the hold corrupt politicians, like Nawaz Sharif and Zardari.

And this category, though very large, is unable to run the Marathon and in my 21 years, I can barely count a handful who have managed to stay the course. And they are all good people who came with sincere intentions and make effective contributions. PTI and I owe them an immense debt of gratitude for their support and insight. And I don’t blame them as they leave.

In all fairness to them, politics is a hard and harsh reality. And even harsher is the political victimization that the governing clique imposes on its political opponents. Not many can withstand the personal, professional and financial victimization that you are put under. And it is a full-time job. You can’t do it part time.

And it’s a very strange Marathon. You can run long and hard and suddenly find yourself having to start all over again. It’s very tiring, very frustrating, very challenging and it drains one of hope and patience and strength. So one has to be very resilient, very tough, mentally and emotionally to keep going!

And then, of course, I hear people who sit on the sidelines and give advice. People who have no idea of what politics is about. No idea of the challenges of breaking into an entrenched system of political cronyism, centuries-old feudal culture. I also thought I could do it by bringing in new people, fresh faces. People who were not traditional politicians. But I realized it wasn’t that easy. And over the years I realized that I have to leverage the same system to come into power if I had to bring about change!

Read more: Will judicial activism enable JIT to get accountability?

But many didn’t understand these realities. And many of my colleagues would bombard me with free advice all the time, but when it came to implementing, very few stand up. I tried my best and am continuing to do so. To bring in fresh and new faces. But it’s a big challenge

Internal Party Struggles and the 2013 Elections

By 2011, the party mushroomed, literally overnight and its membership grew to the hundreds of thousands and then into the millions. Everyone flocked to join the party. By 2012, membership stood at 2.3 million voters.

“We were all taken by complete surprise and overwhelmed.”

So riding this new wave of unprecedented popularity and support, Imran was convinced that a political party which didn’t hold open, free and fair intra-party elections was not worthy of participating in the political process and hence intra-party elections commenced in 2012.

These were a disaster and nearly destroyed the party!

An exercise supposed to finish in 3 months dragged on for nearly a year and pitted party leaders and workers leaders against each other in an internecine battle.

Jehangir Tareen, now a nominated Secretary General, was involved in a free for all with Saifullah Niazi, the additional Secretary General. Despite his best efforts, Saifullah Niazi was perhaps overwhelmed by a party which had grown to mammoth proportions and now required a degree of organizational skills he may have been lacking. But he was a diehard ideologue, very close to Imran and opposed to the new entrants and the change taking place. Factions and groups emerged. Everyone, smelling victory, desperately vied for party office and by implication, party tickets. Ticket allocation was a total disaster, done in haste and, in many cases, given to undeserving candidates.

Read more: JIT summons PM, Captain Safdar’s asset details for scrutiny

Imran had learned a bitter lesson, but the party was fated to repeat another fiasco a few years later and finally to the “tick box” election held a few days back on June 12th, 2017.

But despite this mess, the “new urban voter” still stayed by him. The infighting was not as visible to the average person. People from overseas came by the planeloads to vote in the 2013 elections. As did I with my two sons on a day trip from Dubai to vote and return the next day! The party came through with 30 odd seats and the stench of a stolen election but the consolation prize of being the largest party in KPK!

Imran, his party, and supporters were incensed!

They thought they had won the election. Or, at a minimum, if not won, had been cheated out of 30 to 40 seats giving them a 60 to 70 seat strength in parliament and maybe a coalition partner’s shot at the Center.

We knocked every door: parliament, the election commission, the courts, demanding a probe into electoral rigging in four constituencies as a litmus test for the rest of the election process. We published a 2100 page white paper on the rigging. A former member of the election commission disclosed how poll rigging was carried out. Finally, the Supreme Court took notice but dismissed our petition, citing not enough “proof beyond reasonable doubt” of a systematic and planned rigging of the polls.

“I realized that going to the people was the only answer”

This then leads to the now famous or infamous, depending on one’s sympathies or political affiliation, ‘Islamabad Dharna”, lasting 126 days from May 2014 to December 2014.

For 126 days, the party was headline news every day. It was the ultimate 9 ‘0’ clock news!

For many, the ‘Dharna” changed the landscape of Pakistani politics and created an unprecedented level of awareness about the corruption and misrule of Pakistan’s political masters.

To others, it was a colossal waste of time, money and resources and a desperate attempt by Imran to goad the Army into deposing Nawaz and holding elections.

Read more: Panama JIT reviews the questionable history of the Sharif family

Wherever one stands on the issue, one thing everyone agrees. It was the single biggest and longest political event, ever, in the history of Pakistan!

While it brought Imran some great political capital, it also cast some dark shadows! Javed Hashmi’s allegations of back channels with the Army brought up past visions of conspiracies with the Army to depose a legally elected government. Javed Hashmi subsequently left the party in a huff, himself under a cloud of allegations of having taken money in exchange for allocating tickets in the 2013 elections.

The Army Public School tragedy finally brought it to an abrupt close.

I think the 2013 Election Campaign and the Dharna tested Imran’s energies to the limit. It was a superhuman effort to keep going non-stop for nearly 2 years and the tremendous toll it took on him, physically, emotionally and mentally.

And Jehangir Tareen seemed to be the perfect answer, at least in Imran’s mind, to help him.

Hate him or love him, no one can deny that Jehangir Tareen possesses incredible organizational ability and management competence.

From being called a “control freak”, to a Shahbaz Sharif blue eyed boy and a mole planted in PTI to destroy the party, to Musharraf’s most successful cabinet member to an “aastheen ka saanp”, Jehangir Tareen or JKT, as he’s referred to in the party, has been called pretty much everything in the book.

For Imran, he’s a godsend. Someone who takes care of the day-to-day affairs of the party and frees him up to do what he does best. Politicking. Jalsas. Talk shows. Meetings. Traveling across the country and by God, the plane helps!

Read more: Quaid-e-Awam vs Kaptaan: ‘Andhi’ can only come from Lahore!

But Imran’s also paid some serious political price in his unwavering support of JKT, especially within his party, and outside as well.

Many, most, in fact, let’s be honest, every person I’ve spoken to, whether a close Imran personal friend, senior party leader, close advisors, mid-level leaders, members, supporters, detractors and of course mortal enemies, universally say two things about JKT.

1) That he is incredibly bright, organized, has amazing management skills and takes the load of Imran and takes care of all the details.

2) As a consequence he has leveraged his seeming indispensability and 24/7 access to Imran to progressively acquire increasing power and influence within the party, create his own group of loyalists, and in the process, ruthlessly crushing anyone and everyone who opposes him or stands in his way.

For JKT, it’s either his way or the highway. Byzantine politics at their best. Or so is a general perception!

And in the process, he has turned everybody off and is perhaps the most disliked person in the party, followed closely by his sidekick, Aleem Khan!

There is a fairly commonly held view that JKT would not get elected as the party Secretary General in an open, fair and free party election. And this would, therefore, leave Imran without JKT.

My sense is, that in Imran’s view, JKT’s strength and benefits to the party and Imran outweigh JKT’s challenges. I think he is fully aware of the mood about JKT. So when I shared these concerns with him, and that he’s perhaps being manipulated and used, his answer was emphatic.

Read more: Bhutto and Khan: A fair comparison?

Absolute nonsense. I’ve never been used nor allowed myself to be used by anybody in my life. While I consult everybody, but I take my own decisions. My answer to these people who criticize me is to bring me a better person than JKT or come and do the job better than he can. As I said before it’s easy to criticize and offer free advice. But when it comes to taking responsibility these same critics are nowhere to be seen.”

Then came the 2015 intra-party elections, with Tasnim Noorani, the ex-Secretary Interior, as party election commissioner.

Tasnim Noorani, was and is an exemplary person, and worked diligently to put in place a strong and robust framework. Working with a three-member election commission, they attempted to use the latest technology to access the entire party voter base. Voter lists were updated. But quickly dissent arose. The technology, the commission recommended for voting became questionable. And finally, after a lot of debate, discussion, and serious infighting, the elections were canceled.

This again cast a shadow on Imran’s own democratic credentials.

The question is. Did Imran actually compromise on his democratic credentials or did he have valid reasons to support the dissolution?

There are two views within the party. One. That Tasnim Noorani and the election commission may have overstepped their role, which was limited to conducting elections. It was not to determine which positions should be up for elections or for the direct nomination.

The other, was that it was their mandate to advice on both, “the what and the how” of these elections. Tasnim Noorani resigned and Imran and PTI suffered another knock.

As an outsider, one can understand the reality of elections being a hard nut to swallow especially when the results are contrary to desire. Hence, perhaps an option for the party is to create nominated vs. elected roles which give Imran the flexibility and authority to nominate people like JKT, and not create the perception that he’s compromising his principles. Easier said than done, but an option to consider.

Read more: Pakistan suffers: The corrupts are made heroes

And finally, the June 2017 intra-party elections. These were clearly, for want of a better word, “khana poori” to fulfill the Pakistan Election Commission’s requirements of holding party elections and obtain the party’s election symbol.

So not much to discuss on that. It’s perhaps “realpolitik” to an uncomfortable degree of compromise. But Imran hasn’t made any bones about why they were held in the manner they were.

The Revival and Panamagate

In April 2016, fate delivered Panamagate! Perhaps one of the most important events in Pakistan.

It is being seen as an opportunity of a lifetime for Pakistan to rid itself of a terrible lot of corrupt politicians and also bring them to justice.

For the party and Imran, it is a godsend and given the party, which had been a bit at sea since the Supreme Court decision rejecting their election petition, a golden opportunity to go after Nawaz Sharif.

For Nawaz Sharif, it was and continues to be a never ending nightmare! His reputation in tatters. His family exposed. Both within and outside the country! And no place to hide!

To many, Imran’s continuous charges against Nawaz Sharif stand justified.

As one very senior party, PMLN insider said, Panamagate leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind about the corruption of Nawaz Sharif and his family and his cronies.

As one very senior party, PMLN insider said, Panamagate leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind about the corruption of Nawaz Sharif and his family and his cronies.

They have used large scale infrastructure projects to take massive kickbacks, and then through the kind courtesy and great skills of his Samdhi, Consigliere Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, ensured that funds are siphoned off via deeply hidden off-shore companies and then used to purchase properties and businesses across the globe in the name of their children.

Read more: Has PTI’s ‘change’ been killed by ‘corporatisation’?

For the uninitiated, a Consigliere is a position within the leadership structure of Sicilian, Calabrian and American Mafia, popularized by the novel The Godfather, and in Pakistan by Justice Khosa. This person is an advisor or counselor to the Godfather with the additional responsibility of representing the Godfather in important meetings both within the Godfather’s crime family and with other crime families.

“This description fits Finance Minister Ishaq Dar perfectly”, says the senior PMLN leader.

“Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s real job is to launder the Nawaz billions, directly supported by another Nawaz crony, Saifur Rahman, who ensures that massive projects are given to Nawaz Sharif’s business partners in Qatar. The same “Prince” who authored the infamous Qatari letter. As well as foot soldiers like the current National Bank President, Saeed Qureshi, and many other “unsung and unknown foot soldiers” working for Don Nawaz.”

These are not my words but of the PMLN leader, I spoke to.

“So why don’t you leave Nawaz?” I asked this PMLN leader. “I will and so will many others. We are just waiting for the right time.”

I pressed further, but this was all I could get out of him!

In summary, Panamagate has provided Imran the opportunity to do what he does best. A clear target and objective to attack with the single-minded determination and uncompromising ferocity of a Bull Terrier. And whether we like him or hate him, the entire and single-handed credit for keeping Panamagate alive and the center stage goes only to Imran Khan.

And also the credit of the unique sight of a Supreme Court-mandated Joint Investigation team, summoning and questioning PM Nawaz, his two sons, his brother, CM Shahbaz Sharif, his Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Saeed Qureshi, President of Pakistan’s largest bank, National Bank, on charges of embezzlement, corruption, money laundering, tax evasion and lying under oath.

Read more: Public forced resignation: Has the PM left us with no choice?

Will Panamagate be Nawaz Sharif’s Waterloo or his Dunkirk?

Will it be Imran Khan’s finest hour or another failed attempt to bringing a corrupt Prime Minister to book? This only time will tell! But Panamagate gave the Imran and the party new vigor and a fresh lease of life

Electoral Prospects – 2018

And now to the question. Prime Minister Imran Khan?

For starters, he has to win the election which depends on his electoral strategy to get the magic 172 seats for a majority at the Center or as one party leader told me, about 120+ seats and some coalition partners to be able to form a government at the center.

So what is Imran’s electoral strategy?

Will he continue with his previous strategy of trying to bring new faces in both urban and rural seats and hope that a tidal wave of support will get him the magic numbers?

Or has he decided that the only way to win is by;

  1. Increasing his tally of seats from KPK, based on the Party’s track record and also retain the Province.
  2. Winning Punjab both at the center and province through traditional electables in the rural constituencies and his new faces in the big cities. Hence Khar and the PPP politicians who’ve joined!
  3. Grabbing a dozen or so seats in Sindh. Some in Karachi and some through electables in rural Sind. Hence Liaquat Jatoi
  4. Riding the crest of his KPK success, getting more seats in the Pashtun belt in Baluchistan and a few from the Baloch areas.

My sense is that he has opted for strategy 2 above.

Read more: Titanic of Pakistani Politics: PTI & PMLN; Upper Deck & Lower deck

The success of this strategy, despite the use of electables, also depends, in my opinion, on the public perception of the extent to which Imran has compromised his pristine call for an end to corruption.

The moral high ground, to which millions flocked, starry-eyed and full of hope, and which is now attracting elements of that same decrepit system.

It also depends on the perception of the damage the party suffered because of its internal electoral challenges.

Will JKT with all his qualities prove to be a millstone around Imran’s neck?

Or will he prove people wrong and deliver Punjab to PTI through people like the clearly unsavory Aleem Khan? And at what price?

Has Imran outsourced his party’s operational management to JKT and his group to such an extent that he is now less accessible to the voices of the die-hard party ideologues, the rank, and file, the backbenchers, the very people who form the backbone and strength of any political party?

This approach has implications for activities leading up to election day.

On that day it’s the ability of a party’s feet on the street to get the voters out and be ready to check rigging or poll fraud. Theoretically, a party contesting all 272 seats requires a highly motivated and supercharged electoral engine of millions on the ground. This according to Saifullah Niazi, the now estranged PTI leader, and someone who has driven the length and breadth of Pakistan with Imran and others. “The party needs about 15 people per polling station and given about 80,000 polling stations across Pakistan, we would require 1.2 million dedicated, motivated party activists on the ground!

“Why 15”? I asked.

Read more: Pakistan’s Tragedy: From Rule of Ballot to Rule of Thana!

“2 to 3 per polling booth. 2 to 3 to do last minute canvassing and about 8 to 10 for “muscle” in case things get ugly! And this is not counting those who are bringing people to the polling stations to vote. It’s a massive exercise” explained Saifullah Niazi, who I have a feeling will be back in the party folds, soon.

So the question is, given this need, to what extent has Imran outsourced this effort to the newly joined “electables”, ignoring those who have stood by him through thick and thin?

And hopefully still stick by him when the going gets tough and the political nights turn cold, and the fairweather flock away, as is inevitably fated to happen in politics?

And how much damage has Imran and PTI’s purist ideology suffered from the recent induction of PPP electables? And importantly, its impact on the ballot box?

And the deduction, that despite the damage, this is, perhaps, a considered and calculated risk of using the old guard to bring in the new guard.

Will the charges of also owning an offshore company, Niazi Enterprises, stick?

Will the issues of Bani Gala purchase and foreign funding stick?

And even if they don’t, will it affect people’s choice at the polls and to what extent?

And in the final analysis, his chances of winning a majority or a significant number of seats depends on who gets tickets.

Does the party (Imran) have a robust and rigorous enough process to ensure that the most deserving candidate gets the ticket, irrespective of which internal party group he belongs to?

Read more: Corruption in the guise of development funds: Any accountability?

And deserving means the candidate with the greatest probability of winning, irrespective whether they belong to the JKT group or the Shah Mahmood Qureshi group. Both, desperately vying for the Punjab Chief Minister’s slot, were PTI to win Punjab, and both trying to get their preferred candidates the party ticket.

Does the party have a transparent process to ensure the above doesn’t happen and the voice of the on ground “constituents” heard?

And then the biggest unsaid elephant in the room!

How does the army leadership view Imran? This is an unfortunate but real part of our political environment.

Do they see him as a threat? Unmanageable or someone they can do business with?

My personal opinion is that the Army should have nothing, absolutely nothing to do with politics or interfere and influence election results and outcomes.

If anything at all, they should ensure fair and free elections.

Ensure that the election commission stays on the straight and narrow.

Support the Supreme Court, given the Godfather-like Mafia’s stranglehold over the system, to ensure that caretaker governments are not stuffed with Nawaz, Shahbaz and Zardari cronies, who can “rig and steal” the election.

Unfortunately many say, that ultimately and sadly, it all depends on whether the establishment, which really means how the Army and in this particular case, in whose favor the Army Chief casts his lot and supports! Albeit with a wink and a nod, but enough to get the message across. A sad reality but a reality!

And why, is a question for another time.

Read more: Pakistan in the last decade: Democracy, Corruption, or Development?

Perhaps, many say, the army wants compromised people in power so they can influence them and continue to extend the boundaries of their influence much beyond their constitutionally mandated role and not be held accountable!

Whatever the reason, if the Army Chief, decides to cast his lot with the old decrepit system and help Nawaz get re-elected, if by some miracle or “hidden hand” he escapes the JIT investigation, then let me say it clearly.

General Saheb, you will not have a country anymore. But a land devastated by civil war and total anarchy. So choose wisely!

And the choice is obvious!

A nation ruled by a Mafia-like Godfather or someone who has struggled for over 21 years for a better Pakistan?

Post-election Governance

But, and it’s a big but, winning the election is perhaps the smaller of Imran’s two challenges.

Not that this will not be a challenge but the bigger question is whether he will be able to govern effectively and deliver on his promises when and if he wins.

The answer lies somewhere between PTI’s governance of KPK to prove beyond a “reasonable doubt” that the party and Imran can deliver at the Federal level.

And whether Imran has been successful in controlling traditional politicians, symbolized in the likes of Pervez Khattak and others and delivered significant value.

Read more: Pakistan: Nexus between Corruption, Terrorism and Democracy

And whether Imran is still the same person who has rallied the millions behind him.

If the answer is, that despite all the challenge he has been able to deliver in KPK, then his claim, that with the right leadership on top, he will be able to control all those, who misgovern, misrule and dip their hands in the gravy train of corruption.

Not only the new electables joining him, but those who even today, stand clearly and seriously compromised, especially in his inner circle, such as Aleem Khan!

For an unbiased assessment, is this 8th June 2017, article in The Economist, on PTI’s governance of KPK titled “Imran Khan Party improves services in Pakistan’s wildest province”

And If he is still the same Imran, and despite all the compromises he has made and the damage to his puritanism, then the probability that he will deliver what he promised, perhaps not immediately in 90 days, as he states, a trifle superficially and carelessly, but over the 5 years of PTI rule, rings true!

Then we can certainly hope that he will successfully bring in a system of across the board accountability, meritocracy, and considerably reduce the current levels of unbridled and galloping corruption, especially by people holding positions of power at the highest offices of government!

Then we have hope that he will be able to build and strengthen public institutions.

And perhaps most importantly deliver for the deprived and poor people of Pakistan in our three most important areas. Education. Healthcare and Employment opportunities.

And pursue a foreign policy, based on our national Interests, and not be beholden to the personal relationships of a Prime Minister with foreign rulers who gave him safe haven in another country!

So that is why I submit that his much bigger challenge will be post-election governance.

Read more: Imran Khan Rejects Judicial Commission on Panama Corruption Case & Demands a Five Member Supreme Court Bench

His ability to control the many tainted people who have become part of what they think is a “winning bandwagon.”

And this may just turn into a waterfall, if the JIT disqualifies Nawaz Sharif and the PMLN crumbles, as it did in 1999 and as the PMLQ did in 2013, and starts an exodus from PMLN to PTI.

And then, of course, the huge challenges to work with the same bureaucracy, especially at the Federal and Punjab, stuffed with Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif toadies!

He clearly has big challenges and I don’t have the answers. But I do have a perspective.

In my opinion, Imran Khan is still the best bet and the best option to lead Pakistan.

This I say despite all that I’ve said above, of the challenges he has and the compromises he has made and the serious risks in adopting the electables electoral strategy.

In his mind, he believes that once in power, corruption by people who joined his bandwagon will be addressed not as much by him directly, as much by the independent accountability institutions he will create!

And only time will tell if an Aleem Khan or a Firdous Ashiq Awan will face the guillotine of uncompromising accountability under Prime Minister Imran Khan’s watch!

I genuinely believe, Imran holds hope for Pakistan.

Not a guarantee but a much better hope than Nawaz and Zardari and what they represent.

And certainly much better hope than a military takeover.

And so one can see how the forces of status quo and vested interests are hammering away at Imran’s biggest strength. His honesty.

If they can break or even crack this citadel, the blow could be lethal.

Read more: Is political instability rocking the Pakistani Boat?

The lunacy of a man being questioned for “bringing money into Pakistan” vs the outrageous loot and plunder of the corruption of Nawaz Sharif, now out in the open via Panamagate, or that of Zardari, who decided that running away is the better part of valour and sitting quietly in Dubai, is mind boggling.

I think, in the daily madness of the idiot box and the pontificating anchors and armchair analysts (I being one at the head of the line) we lose sight of the big thing. And the big thing is about the choice between Nawaz Sharif, Zardari and Imran.

But the manner in which his actions are being dissected to the minutest detail by people, smugly sitting on the sidelines or philosophizing and criticizing, never having walked his walk, or talked his talk.

Many with nothing at stake, except their ego driven desire to criticize a person much more accomplished than themselves and attempt to elevate themselves to his level. Happy in their sarcastic one-liners and tweets and their pretentiousness.

And despite all this, he still manages to collect more money for Shaukat Khanum every year. Because people still trust him. Which means his honesty is unimpeachable!

We forget that Imran isn’t in politics for the money or fame.

We forget that he sacrificed his personal life at the altar of his politics!

We forget his philanthropy and his ability to create institutions and then let professionals run them.

We forget that he, perhaps more than anybody else, knows his limitations and challenges.

We forget that he came from nowhere 21 years ago to create, arguably the most popular party in Pakistan and broke the back of an entrenched two-party system.

Read more: Institutional mismanagement in Pakistan: Who will expose the culprits?

We forget that despite seemingly insurmountable odds he has triumphed.

And hence for the sake of this wretched country and its dismal dark future, I think Pakistan deserves a chance under Imran!

Otherwise, as I’ve said many times before, it’s back to the stench and vomit of the Sharifs and the Zardaris.

And worse, civil war and anarchy as their loot and plunder destroy whatever little is left!

Call me an anarchist or an alarmist, but I’ve got a pretty good track record for seeing these kinds of things.

And a piece of unsolicited advice for you, Imran.

Get a dozen or so, clean and non-controversial faces around you. People whose reputations will balance the electables. And they don’t have to be politicians. In fact, they shouldn’t be. But people with major accomplishments and achievements, especially in addressing and helping reform Pakistan’s broken institutions.

And other experts and specialists who can offer much to reform the system. People who otherwise do not have the inclination or the capacity or the temperament to be actively involved in political activities, but have great practical expertise to offer. I’m out lest someone thinks this is a personal plug. Too many skeletons and no expertise.

Please start being a government in waiting. Formulate public policy and communicate it at two levels. By your party experts to other experts in Pakistan. And in a much more simplified form to the common man, spelling out the benefits to them and how it will impact and better their day to day lives.

Read more: Political elites of Pakistan: Promoting or subverting democracy?

And perhaps most importantly, reconnect with your party rank and file.

Especially the silent majority and the back benchers, the committed ideologues and the old guard, who still believe in you, and who have, and will, always stand by you. For they will help you win the election.

Create a two way communication forum with them. Especially share and dialogue with them along with your leadership team, openly and transparently, your ticket allocation criteria, methodology and process. For it is they who will provide the most authentic honest and candid feedback about the best candidate in each constituency, above anyone’s selfish interests!

Nominating the right people is what will get you successfully past the finish line.

Good luck. Prime Minister!

Haider Mehdi is the current Convenor of The Strategy Study Group, founded by the late Col. S. G. Mehdi M. C, former Group Commander of Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (SSG). Haider is a former Pakistan Army officer, corporate leader, management consultant, business trainer, and serial entrepreneur.