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Monday, July 15, 2024

PTI- The Storm That Blew Away

The author explores the rise and fall of PTI, its unrealistic ambitions, and the potential consequences of its collapse for Pakistan's political landscape and stability.

“Good men of calm judgement, looking at the course of events, have seriously feared that our government was rapidly becoming a kakistocracy – a rule of the worst by the worst people”

-Fredric Faber

Imran Khan, the creator and the leader of the PTI, the author of its ideology, is an earnest man – an honest, upright man, sincere and committed to the cause he has defined for his political party. Educated in the West, he has a profound sense of confidence that he can awaken the populace of Pakistan to the Westminster style of democracy, where matters are debated through logic, reason, and a moral base.

Khan’s confidence is further boosted by his experience in leading his cricket team to victory in the World Cup at Melbourne in 1992; that has given him that exaggerated sense of being a ‘never-give-up guy’; but at times, confusing rigidity with resolve. A Born-Again-Muslim, he quotes from Islam with a condescending note of a prophet, displaying a self-righteous sense of propriety. He sometimes appears to suffer from delusions of being favored by divinity as opposed to other lesser mortals whom he generally treats with arrogance and near contempt – not having the patience to suffer fools.

PTI’s Promise- Change and Popular Appeal

IK introduced a breath of fresh air, breaking away from traditional dynastic politics and presenting the possibility of the common man being empowered and given a voice of his own. His slogans against corruption and following the rule of law were music to the disenfranchised majority, who now found a voice with which they could win back their space and relevance in Pakistani politics.

The theory was simple: shun dynastic politics, say no to corruption, everyone was equal in the eyes of the law, welfare for the poor, and constitutional functionality. The appeal was powerful, it was new, it was different, and it touched everyone. PTI’s following grew over the years, and they finally set up the government in 2018 – but having failed to live up to some of their declared promises, they lost substantial ground, and their popularity declined.

PTI’s Political Maneuvers

The political maneuvers of the time exploited PTI’s decline and wrongly de-seated them prematurely and illegally through a manipulated vote of no confidence in April 2022, which the people have refused to accept. PTI cashed in on their expulsion from the government by playing the victim-card and, having managed to acquire 75% popularity amongst the masses, found themselves in a credible position to threaten the Coalition Government in Chair.

The Peculiarities of Pakistani Politics

Politics in Pakistan is just that – politics in Pakistan and not Westminster. It has its own peculiar character based on the baradari system, nepotism, and parochialism. Corruption is a way of life, and the nature of political interaction is based on give and take. A man is respected far more for breaking the law rather than following it. Such a political system is focused on area/regional-based agendas and not on any national causes or strategy.

As a result, matters such as the Kashmir Issue, Sir Creek, Water Scarcity, or the 1971 War are never the primary focus of politics. National matters are limited to institutions such as the Military, the Intelligence Agencies, the Finance Department, the Foreign Office, and the Ministry of Interior. The overarching influence connecting all these institutions is that of the military, more by default than design, and it retains an influential role in almost all matters. Politics has nothing to do with these crucial matters, and the people are not relevant to such national-level developments.

PTI’s Evolutionary Approach

No political party ever presents a manifesto, nor sees the need to do so, and there are no defined ideologies other than empty rhetoric, slogans devoid of substance, and pompous clichés. This is not presented as an acceptable or preferred method of governance, but stated as a fact – this is how it is, and it is what goes for government at the local, regional, and national levels.

PTI, deliberately or inadvertently, tried to change this status quo, which was what everyone was waiting for and was looking for someone to do this change; they finally saw an opportunity through the slogan – ‘Naya Pakistan’. This had the potential to rid the country of a political arrangement imposed upon the State since inception that was essentially feudal/elitist in nature and exploitative in character. The PTI stand was aggressive, bellicose, belligerent, and loud as it set out to dismantle the established order.

Read More: The Islamic Republic of Pakistan: A Nation Betraying Its Name—Lt Gen (Retd) Tariq Khan

However, in the processes that exist everywhere, political systems are changed regularly by popular movements, but there is always a method and a means to bring about such change. The standard convention in bringing about a change in a political order, the initiator, in this case, the PTI – must always possess the means to implement such a change, which is either evolutionary or revolutionary – change cannot just be a desire or a wish where speeches, rallies, and talk shows can do the trick.

Limitations of a Revolutionary Approach: PTI’s Pitfalls

In the evolutionary method, the initiator must have his own print mechanism, social media, at least one or two TV channels so that their objectives/manifestos, etc. can be efficiently spread, as well as opinions shaped. PTI had none of these, and their only claim to fame were mostly Twitter accounts. Though there was an unprecedented swell in the PTI following, most of it was based on superficial crowds who would arrive at a rally more for its entertainment value than its political objectives.

Great musical shows and inspirational speeches would follow, leading to extraordinary crowds who all desired a ‘New Pakistan’ but who never had the individual or collective capacity/capability to see such a promise through. Most of the people were moved by their rejection of the existing system far more than their infatuation with the new system on offer, and as such, they lacked the political will to implement what they wanted.

Then again, in any evolutionary method, one tries to secure as many seats in federal and provincial governments and, having done that, influence the political environment through the presence in the assemblies. Here the PTI effectively removed itself from any political process by resigning their seats from all assemblies. Having made themselves irrelevant to the political process, the evolutionary method to change was no longer possible, and a revolutionary posture on the streets had to be adopted by default, for which the PTI was woefully not equipped or resourced.

For a revolutionary posture, one needs people on the street that can rattle the government and force them to accommodate one’s demands. This is usually by shutting down businesses, transport, logistics, routine work and day to day functioning with a view to forcing the government to negotiate. The government has its own resources such as the police and other law enforcement agencies to confront and contain such a challenge, enforcing their own writ. This confrontation is what leads to a revolution which is usually violent, bloody, and destructive.

Read More: PDM’s Panic Peaks: Asif, Bilawal, Nawaz Meet in Dubai

The protestors should be aware of the danger they put themselves in and should be prepared to take on the challenge: this is either by responding with even greater violence or then generating more and more popular mass resistance thereby overwhelming the government and forcing them to compromise by the sheer humanity on the streets.

PTI did not have the depth, stamina, or the will to challenge the government and were confident that the mere masses of singing and dancing youth would make the difference. They were neither prepared nor did they anticipate that they would be beaten into submission and their great public outcry would fall on deaf ears.

The Illusion of Numbers: PTI’s Misguided Confidence

The PTI, comprising gullible youth led to believe that they were the instrument of change and that the time for change had finally arrived, poured into the streets nationwide. Confident that their numbers mattered and the sheer volume of the crowds would be a game changer, the PTI youth mistakenly believed that numbers alone would do the trick. They never do – it’s always political muscle that does.

Political depth and presence in the police, the intelligence system, the bureaucracy, and the government at all levels is what will always matter in Pakistan, and PTI had no such representation anywhere. The government, by showing a tentative hand at first, over the months inadvertently allowed a sense of false confidence to build within the PTI, who thought that with multitudes of humanity on the streets, the government would succumb to their demands.

Dismantling of PTI

PTI, developing a narrative from Twitter accounts and making plans in city centers and drawing rooms, tried to challenge traditional offices that held the supremacy of power. These offices retaliated unilaterally; with no such authority in place to hold them back, the judiciary was sidelined to irrelevancy, with no constitutional restraints, human rights ignored, and individual dignity violated with impunity. PTI neither saw this coming nor had a suitable response for it and was forced to whimper into submission.

Mass resignation of the PTI leadership was secured after having jailed them, their families, and relatives. This is politics for you in Pakistan, this is how it’s played and always has been in varying degrees, and this is how it should be recognized for it is.

However, if this is what one sets out to transform and proffers an alternative system, then one must come equipped to contest this very convention in the manner it will be played – not as in Westminster. The government effectively dismantled the PTI, which was structured on an unrealistic, superficial edifice with utopian dreams but no plans.

Imran Khan, sold his charisma to the youth who could never believe that their flamboyant leader could ever be wrong in his undertakings – giving him a status of a prophet. The ‘Azadi March’, was the clarion cry and the masses followed Imran down the garden path into oblivion. He played his new revolutionary tunes into the breeze like the pied piper, mesmerizing foolish followers.

PTI’s Dependence on Rhetoric and Morality

Imran Khan, PTI’s very own Don Quixote, brazenly challenged everyone; it was an exhilarating moment and an exciting time – taking on the Government, the Establishment, the Army, and the Political Coalition, all at the same time; confronting the Americans, staring down the West – it sounded so good, one could even get addicted to it. His followers did, so did I. Yet there was no substance or any real matter that could constitute the basis of such a confrontational attitude or provide sustainable strength to display such a posture. There was only rhetoric, prose, and poetry that had no practical manifestation on the ground.

PTI’s stance, bearing, and posture remained totally dependent on moral appeal and ethical promises – politics is never about morality; it’s always about pragmatism, it’s rarely about rigid positions but always about compromises.

PTI’s Rude Awakening: The Aftermath of May 9

On 9th May, the country saw violent protests and narratives were constructed, intelligence pictures were evolved implicating PTI into serious and heinous crimes against the State – some perceived and some real, many exaggerated but even more invented. Inquiries are ongoing but conclusions have already been drawn. PTIs leaders were arrested on one charge or the other, its cohesion was disrupted, banned from the media and not allowed public access, the party was doomed to a pariah status. For PTI it must have been a rude awakening, ushering them into the real world as opposed to the fairy-land they had become accustomed to.

The Future

PTI leaders must have realized by now that they were neither equipped for a revolution nor did they understand the process of a political evolution – Pakistani politics can never emulate Westminster. Confronting all, threatening some, insulting everyone and twiddling their thumb at every authority – PTI, was looking for a contest and a fight – they got one, a consequence of which they have now have been cut down to size.

Will PTI survive this debacle and will they ever recover from it? Time will tell, but IK is 70 years old and may not have the time to re-invent PTI, nevertheless, with his resilience, perseverance, and determined attitude, he may yet overcome the limitations of old age and apply himself with even greater vigor and dynamism to re-emerge as a leader on the National Platform once again. Only time can tell.

Read More: Waging War on Ourselves – Lt Gen (Retd) Tariq Khan

In the aftermath of this political contest, between the new and the old – convention and the unorthodox, we the people are left to pitifully limp through the debris of conflict, embracing the little sense of civility, decorum, and dignity we are allowed. In the wake of the PTI tsunami, where there was a glimmer of hope, only despair stares all in the face, where there were moments of elation that a change was in the offing, it is back to where this saga began – going nowhere, and stuck in place in a time standing still – waiting for a saviour or some divine intervention.

Yet more than this, the unintended consequences of the PTI collapse are far-reaching, with a greater fallout. The powers that be, in their need to galvanize popular support have once again dragged out proscribed groups into the mainstream and as such we can expect higher levels of extremism, greater violence, and intolerance with intense sectarian strife in the future.

Instability and Challenges

The unstable situation in KP may allow expansion of no-go areas or at least an attempt to expand them allowing space to the TTP. The KP population have not accepted a PTI downfall as yet and are already organizing themselves into a political confrontation in the coming days – it too may be eventually quelled. Nevertheless, militancy and terrorism will be given a boost within the province.

In Baluchistan, seeing a weak federal government, the separatist movement may accelerate and will be supported by India. Kashmir will be further relegated to a non-issue status from the back-burner it already was on. GB will witness protests and unrests as their CM is put into house-arrest illegally. The national economy will continue to flounder for some time, taking us to the brink of a default situation as we grovel before the IMF. The CPEC will come to a standstill and its projects further delayed. Foreign policy will lack credibility without a credible policy, and it will be open season on Pakistan as far as India is concerned.

Abandoned to Oscillate: Resentment and the Potential Blow-back

Now that we have been abandoned to oscillate meaninglessly at the mercy of the PDM, it will not do; there will be huge resentment. Forced resignations from the PTI, the misuse of State apparatus coercing, cajoling, and intimidating people into line, has not gone unnoticed. A blow-back will come, maybe not in the way of a popular revolution because our people are not made of such stuff. But more from gradual acts of intrusion by outside hostile agencies, who would have seen the vacuum and where it exists and would exploit these grievances and complaints.

The State can never be stable with charlatans like the PDM where the focus remains only on their own personal well-being and not the economy or the people of this country. They remain the principal beneficiaries of every legislation they do, every distortion of the constitution they quote from, and every violation of the law that they manipulate.

A Bleak Future

As we wander amidst the ruins of our own political structure, searching within the wreckage of what is now a divided society and a near failed-state, hoping to discover some semblance of logic to a broken future – we shall only find disappointment, despair, and hopelessness. The menace of wide deprivation shall prevail, hunger will plague communities while society as a whole would wallow in misery, disenfranchisement, and irrelevance. The PDM can never be an alternative and must never be the solution to the problems this country faces for a host of reasons; that limited space here does not permit for further elaboration.

The question is where do we go from here. A long time ago, I had concluded that Pakistani society, the political system, tradition, and culture do not lend itself to a conventional western-style democratic system, and that we would have to develop a home-grown democratic order.

Building a New Political Order: Call for a Technocrat Government

One had always pointed out that the leadership thrown up by the skewed system we lived under was either corrupt, obliged, or compromised. That a new political order was needed and that such an order should not merely document but be empowered to implement and uphold civil and human rights as well as individual and collective dignity. Where the rule of law would be recognized as the single most important factor in developing a social order free of prejudice, religious bigotry, and cultural/ethnic chauvinism. However, it was recognized that this was not a possibility without widespread reforms which included judicial reforms, depoliticization of the police, meritocracy, education and economic reforms, rewriting the constitution, removing religion from politics, accountability across the board, developing more provinces and administrative areas amongst many other matters, covering many other areas.

For such a thing to happen, a technocrat government had to be put into place for a period of 5 to 7 years, after which a conscious decision was to be made through a referendum, recognizing, what would be a majority preference, in the structure – Presidential or Parliamentary form of government.

Once all the checks and balances were put in place, we should be all set to embark on our journey down the democratic road. Such precedence exists all around us, it has been done, and nations have significantly benefitted by such reforms – why not us? However, there was widespread objections to my proposals and it was generally opposed by the public at large.

The people enamored by the IK appeal, felt that I was trying to deny IK in setting up a popular government, where such reforms were possible with a 2/3rd majority under his watch. I was accused of speaking on behalf of the Establishment and as such my recommendations had limited credibility, though they had been made public as early as in 2016. I too succumbed to the larger public appeal, for the moment – not because I agreed with it but because if that is what the people wanted then that is what it ought to be. I put my theory on hold and watched how things would turn out. On the other hand, I too was caught up in the moment and I too had high expectations when I saw the meteoric rise of Imran Khan’s popularity. Being essentially apolitical and not a party worker, nevertheless, I placed my bets on PTI – here was the party that would make the difference and change the political system from the status quo in which it was stuck.

There was hope, there was a promise, there were illusions of grandeur and there light at the end of a 75-year-old tunnel. It all came to naught, though I would still not put it past IK to return with an even bigger bang, wiser, and more focused.

For now, I strongly recommend a technocrat government established by the judiciary and the establishment. It could be in the form of the national Security Council being expanded or a separate body – it is for the powers that be, to decide. However, the underlying reality of the situation is, that having brought the country to where it lies now, it must not, under any circumstances, be left to the PDM to forge the future of this nation and continue to misgovern this country – that would be an unmitigated disaster; one that we will not survive.

“Real humility is graceful power, not a mandate to be victimised and abused”

-Bryant McGill


Lt. Gen (retd) Tariq Khan retired as head of Pakistan’s Central Command and has led Frontier Corps to victory against TTP. He has written and lectured extensively on the issues related to Afghanistan, the United States, and the Taliban. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.