Asif Haroon Raja |
Imran Khan (IK) and senior party leaders were seen consoling one another at Bani Gala in an atmosphere of extreme dejection and disappointment that resulted after the announcement of NA-154 by-election results of Lodhran on the evening of February 12. The most disturbing factor for them was that this seat was lost to PML-N’s little-known candidate Pir Iqbal Shah. It was the hometown of Jahangir Tareen (JT), former secretary general of PTI and right hand man of IK and his ATM, who had managed to win this seat with a margin of 40,000 seats in 2013 elections. On account of his disqualification by the apex court on charges similar to the ones in which Nawaz Sharif (NS) was disqualified, his seat was left vacant and his son Ali Tareen who is studying in Oxford University was fielded to contest the election. However, he was only able to pocket 85,933 votes while the winner Iqbal pocketed 113, 542 votes.
Despite the fact that general elections are 3 months away, the turnout of voters in NA-154 exceeded that of the controversially contested NA-120 in Lahore last year which was won by PML-N. This contest had assumed extraordinary importance for both the rivals. PTI was very overconfident about bagging this seat. The political party wanted to show people that PTI was gaining a footing in Punjab while PML-N was descending into oblivion. Meanwhile, the PPP was also bragging that it will form the next government in Punjab in addition to the governments in the Centre as well as the other three provinces. Zardari was completely humiliated after the PPP candidate only secured 3170 votes.
All along, the PTI has been denouncing the results of June 2013 general elections terming them as rigged and there was no reconciliation even after the Supreme Court judgement of 2015 that revealed that other than irregularities, no state sponsored rigging was done. In spite of the apex court ruling of and successive defeats in the by-elections in Punjab and local bodies elections at the hands of PML-N, PTI leaders continue to mourn about being denied victory due to the wicked intrigues of PML-N.
The segment of nationalists in Baluchistan should stop pursuing a foreign agenda and become patriotic Pakistanis. The military should stay away from politics and focus only on security matters. May Allah keep Pakistan out of the harm of manmade and natural calamities and shower His blessings!
Imran Khan rose to fame after his tsunami in Lahore in 2011. Fed up of democracy, people decided to pin their hopes on Khan leading many to predict his victory in the next elections. They saw in him qualities of a dynamic leader and a go-getter who could rid Pakistan of dynastic and corrupt politics and viewed him as someone that would usher in a new era of politics that would provide justice to the masses. However it had been assessed by independent gallop polls in 2013 that PML-N would win the elections while also declaring the Sharif brothers as the most popular leaders in the country.
This assessment was drawn as a consequence of Shahbaz Sharif’s (SS) good performance in Punjab, which was the only silver lining in the 5-year black rule of PPP-MQM-ANP. The June 2013 election results completely vindicated this assessment. Riding the newfound popularity wave, PTI was the only party which refused to accept the veracity of results despite the fact that its winning leaders took oaths and formed a government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
Read more: India’s dirty war inside Pakistan – Part II
The main reason for this rigidity is the burning ambition of Imran Khan to become the Prime Minister. While there is nothing particularly wrong in aspiring to acquire the coveted seat, the tactics that were used to attain this objective were highly unpalatable. Before the PML-N even completed one year, PTI under IK together with PAT under Tahir-ul-Qadri (TuQ) and Sheikh Rashid sprang into action and jointly embarked upon a grand adventure to unseat Nawaz Sharif through the means of street power and intimidating tactics on the plea of electoral rigging.
The trio has been utilizing all sorts of devices ranging from sit-ins, agitation, defiance, assaults on premier buildings in Islamabad Red Zone and propaganda against the rulers and state institutions minus the military establishment. There has been a widespread belief that the 3rd empire always mentioned by Khan is indicative of the Army being behind PTI and sooner than later they would intervene and raise the finger in their favor.
Once the route of sit-ins failed, PTI resorted to the judicial route on the premise of corruption in an attempt to topple the government. Panama leaks came as a blessing in disguise for Imran Khan to further fuel his ambition. He managed to partly achieve this objective and inevitably came closer to the victory stand after the eminent disqualification of Nawaz Sharif by the 5-member bench of apex court on July 28, 2017 and filing of corruption charges against him and his family and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.
The PTI leadership knows that punishing them might further boost up the sympathy wave and cause the popularity of Nawaz Sharif to further rise enabling the PML-N to sweep the next elections with ease. Imran Khan is also wishfully looking toward Chaudhry Nisar to come to his side which is not likely.
However hopes of mass defection of PML-N legislators both from the federal and Punjab governments after the court’s verdict remained a highly unrealistic fantasy. In fact not a single defection took place, not to mention the fact that the PML-N regime remained intact under Khaqan Abbasi further caused a ripple in the victory wave of PTI.
Nawaz Sharif’s counter offensive to present his case before the people and evoke their sympathies caused his opponents deep dissatisfaction and unnerved them tremendously. Taking advantage of their monopoly over electronic and social media, PTI’s propagandists made fun of Nawaz Sharif’s slogan of ‘Mujhey kyun Nikala’ (why was I ousted) successfully making this statement a household slogan of every PTI member as well as other opponents of Nawaz Sharif.
Nawaz Sharif put the active judiciary on the defensive by staging big rallies in various cities of Punjab, in Peshawar and Muzaffarabad where he lambasted the judges for having disrespected the sanctity of the peoples vote. He also had the audacity to subtly imply that he would correct these judicial flaws if he returned to power. What he meant to say was that he would clip the wings of the insolent judges who had denied him justice.
Realizing that the removal of Punjab government under SS was important in order to seek early elections before the Senate elections that were due in March 2018, a convoluted effort was made to stage a prolonged sit-in at Lahore under the leadership of TuQ but it badly backfired. Senate elections that are due to take place on March 3rd are likely to give majority to PML-N thereby making it easier for Khaqan Abbasi to annul Article 62 and 63, or at least Article 62 (1) (f) under which Nawaz Sharif has been disqualified for life.
All this time, Imran Khan has remained wholly focused towards his mission of unseating Nawaz Sharif while being completely unconcerned with the grave internal and external security threats that gained a more serious dynamic after Trump’s August 22, 2016 speech which was followed by his national security speech in January 2018 coupled with a daily exchange of fire along the LoC in Kashmir and India’s threats to carryout surgical strikes and limited war. Imran Khan was least concerned about the security situation that was worsening with each passing day, or the negative impact of his politics of agitation on the economy and on CPEC. He has also been indifferent about crucial reforms without which no productive change is possible. He has repeatedly mocked the parliament and cursed it while continuing to receive his monthly salary and allowances even though he has hardly attended any parliamentary sessions. Following in his footsteps, Jahangir Tareen has also neglected his home constituency and failed to fulfil his promises for which he has paid a heavy price.
The timing of first sit-in coincided with the visit of President Xi which delayed CPEC by six months. Instead of training his guns and targeting the real enemies of Pakistan, Imran Khan has focused all his energies on Nawaz Sharif and vitiated the atmosphere.
The worldview perpetrated by Imran Khan and his party tries to portray that everything in Pakistan is black and bad and he is the only savior that is capable of pulling Pakistan out from the deep malaise and convert it into a milk-washed Naya Pakistan free of all ailments. No one asked him to show the magic wand that he has hidden up his sleeve with which he claims that he will transform a diseased Pakistan into an Asian tiger without carrying out electoral reforms, or police, bureaucracy, judicial, education and moral reforms. How can he undertake accountability across the board to cure the cancer of corruption without an accountability bill that is duly passed by the parliament and a mechanism of Ehtesab Commission.
Imran Khan stuck to his guns despite the impressive gains that were made by the ruling regime and abating the losses incurred by previous regime. His desire to expedite his rise to power by getting rid of the incumbent government could be comprehensible had Nawaz Sharif pursued his predecessor’s policies and further harmed the economy. He paid absolutely no heed to those advising him that his high-handed tactics were an impediment to development and slowing down the wheels of the economy; and that the promotion of dancing culture propagated at his rallies was corrupting the morals of the youth. Blinded with the ambition of acquiring a quick victory, no one inside or outside his party was successful in making him realize that massive vilification campaigns spearheaded by the PTI media team made no dent in the popularity of Nawaz Sharif or his party. This media campaign was proved to be exceptionally counterproductive particularly after Nawaz Sharif’s ouster with the latter shrewdly playing the victim card to evoke sympathies of the people and being successful.
The main reason why the Nawaz Sharif strategy has worked tremendously in his favor can indisputably be attributed to PML-N’s work performance. Nawaz Sharif and his team have focused all their efforts towards development programs, overcoming the energy crisis and tackling the all-consuming existential threat of terrorism. They have achieved great results in spite of the hurdles that have been placed in their way by their opponents. The other reason for Nawaz Sharif’s success in swinging public opinion in his favor has been his policy of accommodation while refraining from indulging in reactive vengeful and mudslinging tactics which he adamantly pursued till his dismissal. He made no effort to depose PTI government in KP despite Fazlur Rahman’s constant pressure. His post disqualification strategy of restoring the sanctity of the people’s votes has appealed to the senses of the people on a mass scale.
On his part, Imran Khan instead of concentrating on KP in order to make it a role model for others, and strive for the enlargement of PTI’s political space in Karachi where it had bagged 850,000 votes in 2013, and an attempt at gaining political space in Baluchistan where PTI doesn’t have any seat, he has unfortunately wasted all his energies in demonizing Nawaz Sharif in the vain hope that it will help in shrinking the vote bank of PML-N in Punjab.
Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif’s magic campaigning has prevailed along with Iqbal Shah’s good reputation who was sitting in Masjad-e-Nabwi on Election Day. Well known for his piety, he is known to have donated his costliest land to the people of his constituency.
Khan and his cronies live in a fool’s paradise where they imagine that PTI was the real victor in 2013 and victory has been unjustly snatched from them. He never moved past his rigging mantra, completely ignoring the fact that the margin by which PML-N achieved victory was huge and PTI was ranked 3rd after PPP. Bolstered up by the dancing and cheering crowds, he became convinced that berating Nawaz Sharif and his family while censuring development works would make him more popular while simultaneously making Nawaz Sharif unpopular in his early departure. At the peak of his excitement he overlooked the series of victories that were being made by the PML-N candidates while refusing to address the defeats of his party candidates in the by-elections.
This phenomenon worked in his favor till the expulsion of Nawaz Sharif, however things took a downward turn once Nawaz Sharif started playing the victim card and attracted huge crowds that were chanting slogans in his favor. Taking full advantage of their vociferous support, he boldly castigated the judiciary and did not even spare the establishment stating that both were in collusion, joined in their efforts to stunt the growth of democracy. To further substantiate his arguments, he gave the example of General Musharraf who was indicted in several cases but was never arrested and remained free to go abroad. He has declared that his ouster revenge in the name of accountability.
The defeat in Lodhran has finally broken the spell and caused Imran Khan and other party leaders to wake up from their unrealistic dream of grabbing power through extra constitutional and illegal means. What has caused immense pain to the PTI stalwarts is the huge margin of 27000 votes with which the PML-N candidate has won. Distribution of motorcycles by Jahangir Tareen and the holding of a public meeting at Lodhran by Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen just before Election Day did not end up working in their favor. Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif’s magic campaigning has prevailed along with Iqbal Shah’s good reputation who was sitting in Masjad-e-Nabwi on Election Day. Well known for his piety, he is known to have donated his costliest land to the people of his constituency.
Although PTI leaders are trying their best to put up a brave face, it is blatantly obvious that inwardly their morale has been deeply ruptured. It has now become too late for Imran Khan to realize his mistakes and say that “every setback is an opportunity to analyze mistakes”. I wish he had stepped off the dangerous path that he was treading at the right time and had chosen instead to adopt the constitutional path. In fact it is Nawaz Sharif who has managed to transform his setback into an opportunity and so far he has been extremely successful. The success in Lodhran is seen as a vindication of his narrative.
This media campaign was proved to be exceptionally counterproductive particularly after Nawaz Sharif’s ouster with the latter shrewdly playing the victim card to evoke sympathies of the people and being successful.
PTI is also feeling completely out of sorts in the wake of the recent scandals that have been exposed in KP questioning the efficacy of institutions in the province, about which PTI had constantly boasted claiming that their police, education and healthcare systems as well as accountability were superior to other provinces. Imran Khan’s secret marriage with a Peerni in the backdrop of his earlier affairs, broken marriages and the misuse of an official helicopter for private outings are other rumors that have severely damaged his image. The fortified PML-N social media team is also now playing its role.
What is most puzzling is the extraordinary impulsive and impatient desire of Imran Khan to jump into the seat of PM by hook or crook which is what makes him act like an unstable zombie. It is his display of utter madness that has caused many eyebrows to be raised meanwhile creating doubts about his intentions in the minds of the population. His Canada based partner TuQ is working on a foreign agenda to create political chaos in the country and scuttle developments especially CPEC. The timing of first sit-in coincided with the visit of President Xi which delayed CPEC by six months. Instead of training his guns and targeting the real enemies of Pakistan, Imran Khan has focused all his energies on Nawaz Sharif and vitiated the atmosphere.
Read more: Zardari’s call for PPP’s return to power
Logically speaking Imran Khan should have been fully satisfied to catapult his one-seat party to the 3rd largest party with a standing government in one province. He should have taken over as Chief Minister of KP in order to learn the statecraft of a province. Rather than consolidating and expanding his political gains in KP, Karachi and Baluchistan, he has repeatedly shot himself in his foot by vainly trying to grab the whole cake of power through illegitimate means. He has unsuccessfully tried to achieve his objectives through politics of slander, abuses, unsubstantiated allegations and violence.
As things stand today, PTI might even lose KP in next elections where it has lost the support of Sherpao led JWP, has tense relations with JI and other issues that exist within his own party ranks. PML-N and ANP are re-emerging, and above all there is also a strong possibility of reincarnation of MMA that has ruled KP and Baluchistan for six years. In Punjab, the PTI has made no dent in the vote bank of PML-N which in fact might further expand in the wake of sympathy wave in favor of Nawaz Sharif. In Karachi, PTI’s vote bank has shriveled whereas in Baluchistan PTI is absent. The party has lost its original fervor and vision after inducting tainted electables from other parties. There are imminent signs of cracks in the party and even Asad Umar, who is the most trusted associate of Imran Khan has dejectedly remarked that Imran Khan lacks strategic vision. He has been severely criticized for eliminating the principle of merit and awarding the ticket to Jahangir Tareen’s son.
The hopes and dreams of the dejected opponents of Nawaz Sharif are now pinned on the verdict of the accountability courts hearing the three corruption references filed by the apex court, and on the disqualification of several ruling party leaders who are registered in contempt of court cases. They are impatiently anticipating with bated breaths for the verdicts this month, which they are convinced will convict and jail Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and others thus bringing about the much awaited collapse of the ruling party. However the PTI leadership knows that punishing them might further boost up the sympathy wave and cause the popularity of Nawaz Sharif to further rise enabling the PML-N to sweep the next elections with ease. Imran Khan is also wishfully looking toward Chaudhry Nisar to come to his side which is not likely.
He has repeatedly mocked the parliament and cursed it while continuing to receive his monthly salary and allowances even though he has hardly attended any parliamentary sessions. Following in his footsteps, Jahangir Tareen has also neglected his home constituency and failed to fulfil his promises for which he has paid a heavy price.
“Mujhey kyun Nikala” slogan was chanted by Nawaz Sharif to play the victim card and aggravate judicial activism against him. It has helped his cause profoundly since it has managed to generate a strong sympathy wave and his supporters are fully convinced that he was willfully wronged. A slight change in the demeanor of the apex court is discernible which till recently was coming after the Sharifs. A bench under the chief justice is currently hearing a case to determine the period of disqualification of a legislator. Nawaz Sharif is the only case disqualified under Article 62 (1) (f) for life. In case the maximum period is affixed as 5 years, it will pave the way for Nawaz Sharif to contest the next elections. On February 11, the Chief Justice admired the performance of Shahbaz Sharif, and much to the chagrin of IK, he genially expressed his desire to see him as the next Prime Minister.
Read more: MQM in disarray
Although the wind has started blowing in favor of PML-N, complacency may prove fateful since the current time is full of hiccups and anything can happen at any given moment. The PML-N should discourage feudalism and heredity politics and remain wholly committed to the development of the country. PTI should shun politics of negativism and focus only on the coming elections in order to remain in the race. PPP should stop dreaming of recapturing power and focus only on correcting their mishaps in Sindh. MQM should learn their lesson and bid farewell to the politics of fascism and embrace healthy politics. The segment of nationalists in Baluchistan should stop pursuing a foreign agenda and become patriotic Pakistanis. The military should stay away from politics and focus only on security matters. May Allah keep Pakistan out of the harm of manmade and natural calamities and shower His blessings!
The writer is a retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence and security analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre. firstname.lastname@example.org The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.