An objective commentary on Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) would remain inconclusive without an understanding of the environment in which it was formed. Contextual understanding explains that whilst critics see a party at conflict within, it evolved so. Breaking fretters of a political culture plaguing Pakistan for over seven decades is onerous.
It is like a glacier breaking into an ocean with high drama only to settle into a smooth motion. PTI’s internal dynamics are like tectonic plates cutting and crashing like nature’s equilibrium. Like the Himalayas, the party continues to evolve, grow and rise. PTI is a party of future and according to one European diplomat; a party that is as modern and inclusive as the best of those in the west.
In due course it will find the balance between centralization, inclusiveness, and institutionalism; a debate often misunderstood. It is something every political party in the West has been through. In the 90s, parliamentary democracy in Pakistan was marred by corruption and bad governance. Since 1985, no elected government had completed its tenure.
PTI’s internal dynamics are like tectonic plates cutting and crashing like nature’s equilibrium. Like the Himalayas, the party continues to evolve, grow and rise.
Electoral politics was exclusive and hierarchical. Political roots of corruption were getting deeper. The world was shifting from the Cold War to a new equilibrium. Pakistan was in denial and stagnating allowing opportunities to slip away. Despite its lead role in Afghanistan Pakistan was under sanctions.
Economist and analysts were of the view that during the golden period of the 90s, Pakistan had ceded too many opportunities the to a corrupt self-serving political system. Pakistan was losing opportunities to become the business hub of three Asia’s: an opportunity eventually ceded to the UAE.
India recovering from a post-USSR economy had a new roadmap. Bharatiya Janata Party was rising under a centralized Sang Parivar. Central Asia was wide open. Dubai as an economic hub was an idea. Internationally, Nelson Mandela had emerged as a new leader who embodied ethics, pluralism, and forgiveness.
Many political economists felt that Pakistan needed a modern political party to break the stranglehold of an eternally corrupt political mafia tied to constitutional crises since 1956. Pakistan needed a change in politics and a better destiny. The charismatic appeal of Imran Khan could become a precursor to change.
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The Kaptaan as he is called, after the 1992 World Cup Victory had become a national and international celebrity. His campaign for a cancer hospital cut through divides at national and international level. With his no-nonsense attitude, a deep sense of right and ability to undertake the impossible, he was persuaded into politics; crucial to rebooting Pakistan’s electoral landscape.
He was an agent of promise and his party could one day become the party of change. There were some who wanted to use him, but as events proved; Imran Khan was not up for sale.
The inception of PTI’s Politics
In 1996 two new parties were formed to break the shackles of the existing status quo. Millat Party made by late President Leghari to challenge PPP and PML ultimately dissolved into PML-N. The other led by Imran Khan evolved into a political force and is still growing. On 25 April 1996, Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf was formed in Lahore.
Based on principals of social democracy, the party was set on attaining unity, solidarity, social justice, prosperity, egalitarianism and celebrating the cultural and religious diversity into one Pakistani identity. Imran Khan’s concept of an Islamic Democratic Welfare State is based on his study of Caliph Umar, Caliph Umar Bin Abdul Aziz and Ibn Rushd whose philosophy transformed Europe. He termed these as Umar Laws.
Imran Khan was cognizant that his left of center agenda meant a perilous journey confronting entrenched cartels and mafias. The fury against his politics came early and below the belt. The unforgiving political culture labelled his marriage to Anglo-Irish Jemima Goldsmith as a Zionist connection. He was depicted as foreign-sponsored playboy Illuminati. The cost of this label hit his prospects in elections 1997.
PTI became the single largest party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the largest opposition in Punjab. Many new faces won from KPK, Sindh, and Punjab.
The pressure on his spouse accused of smuggling artefacts and working against Pakistan ultimately led to divorce. Events proved that she remains a very honourable and sincere lady. Impatient aspirants and adventurists who had joined the party for a quick fix left to join the status quo. After the military coup of 1999, Imran Khan reckoned he had found a progressive ally in General Pervez Musharraf.
He soon realized this was more of the same. Formation of a military-backed Pakistan Muslim League convinced him that cooperation was futile. In 2002 elections, Imran Khan won his seat and remained a severe critic of the whole system. Thus, began his renewed efforts on a new journey.
In hindsight Imran’s criticism of Pakistan’s involvement in the US imposed war on terror was correct. His criticism resulted in ethnically Pashtun areas of Pakistan emerging as his major support base. In this context, Imran Khan’s biggest contribution was mainstreaming youth and suppressing parochial sub-nationalism. Credibly he built a cognitive construct of nationalism that insulates the country against divisive forces targeting internal cohesion.
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PTI and NRO Politics
Critics term PTI boycotting 2008 elections as a mistake. They argue that participation could have given training to the party in electoral politics. I was amongst those who saw it as a sensible decision. Benazir’s assassination had taken the sting from democracy and election results were premeditated to serve international interests.
Imran Khan knew that consequent to Charter of Democracy, a national reconciliation ordinance under the aegis of USA and UK was being drafted. There were no way elections could be fair. If he had to succeed it was after the two parties had taken turns. Yet the rapid popularity of the party suggested a change in plans.
PTI Emerges as a Credible Alternative
From 2008 to 2013, PTI emerged as the biggest critic of the NRO sponsored governments of Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz. Imran Khan’s decision in 2009 to form a shadow government, appoint choicest spokespersons and reorganization paid immediate dividends. The social media was suddenly abuzz.
Party’s presence in the media grew. Its membership swelled. Pakistanis not previously known for activism began to throng PTI rallies. Within few months, crowds of few thousands swelled to millions. A series of rallies from 2010 onwards resulted in a mammoth gathering at Lahore on 30 October 2011. PTI had come of age but at a cost of absorbing professional politicians.
A change in change had begun. The PTI gathering on 25 December 2011 at Karachi had many new faces. Many politicians from other parties thronged to join PTI. Though most may have joined on genuine conviction, party cadres saw them as children of opportunity lacking ideological moorings that could lower the party at par with traditional parties.
The party trusts Imran Khan but also exercises its right of dissent and criticism. Sometimes, this criticism is very vocal and Imran Khan takes it on the chin.
Deep thinkers saw them as remnants of Unionists. By early 2012, the party constitution had been revised to provide more space to new entrants. The most tragic compromise was that a larger principle of ‘celebrating the cultural and religious diversity into one Pakistani identity’ was sacrificed to cater to wishes of few.
It was a departure from Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s 11 August speech whose original recording was incidentally unearthed by PTI for 30 October gathering. Yet there was unsettlement. A way out to accommodating this top-heavy deluge into an electoral victory had to be found. Chairman decided to have transparent, hassle-free intraparty elections.
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Dynamics of PTI’s Intra-Party Elections
Imran Khan was determined to hold these elections electronically by May 2012. Internal schisms kept delaying elections. The system devised was unprofessional. Yet, he must be credited for holding these elections as a first by any political party. The hastily held elections in April 2013 left very little time for deliberations and reformulation of party structures.
Lack of preparations, failure of the electronic voting system and mismanagement left deep scars. Imran Khan’s accident further complicated matters. The synergy that was deemed an obvious outcome was neutralized by mismanagement. Despite a new organizational structure constituted weeks before the elections, the party still managed to spring surprises.
The results could have been better but for the lack of organization, electoral skills of candidates and leftover of intraparty election rivalries. PTI became the single largest party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the largest opposition in Punjab.
After the military coup of 1999, Imran Khan reckoned he had found a progressive ally in General Pervez Musharraf. He soon realized this was more of the same. Formation of a military-backed Pakistan Muslim League convinced him that cooperation was futile.
Many new faces won from KPK, Sindh, and Punjab. The party emerged as the second largest bagging votes 7,679,954 (19.11%) At a glance the voting pattern was skewed because PMLN bagging 14,874,104 (26.25%) got 214 seats while the remaining 73.75% votes only got 79 seats.
Compared to 2008, PMLN recorded a surge of 3,682,186 votes in Punjab that remain unexplainable. This is where most rigging took place with Punjab showing an unprecedented voter turnout of 60% a 12% increase from 2008. PTI protested in a big way leading to a 126-day sit-in in Islamabad.
The party finally managed to invoke a Judicial Inquiry Commission. But this year-long agitation against rigged elections was betrayed by an inefficient legal team that failed to persuade the inquisitorial jurisdiction of the Judicial Commission even when election irregularities were thought to be as high as 40% there was no appeal. According to legal critics within the party, this was a let-off by post-2011 cadres of the party.
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After the intraparty elections, the National Council was never formed. No meeting of the Central Executive Committee was called. In presence of elected office bearers in center and provinces, an ad-hoc Core Committee without the approval of CEC was taking all the decisions.
The elected central office-bearers finally took the responsibility to draft a new constitution of the party. An exercise in full earnest continued for over a year till Justice Wajih was told that his tribunal appointed by an unconstitutional Core Committee was illegal. Justice Wajih promptly dissolved all offices and resigned from the party.
This was a vacuum that the party could have successfully challenged on legal grounds. Imran Khan and his handpicked team did not stand by the legal position of the elected office bearers. Had they done so, many aberrations that were to occur later could have been nipped in bud.
The threat of PTI’s Election Commission Process to Constituency Politicians
In 2015, it was decided to hold fresh elections within the party. A new election commission was set up on the latest technologies. The election commission was made a private company for this purpose. A modern data center was set up with the best volunteer and paid professionals from the market.
This involved writing new software, algorithms, computer hubs, secure VPNs, firewalls, encryption and a two-way audio communication system. Five telcos, Election Commission of Pakistan and Pakistan Telecom Authority were taken on board. Employing the best professionals, the commission collected its own big data through electronic membership and by November 2015 the verified, communicative membership had swelled to 2.7 million.
The commission was also making plans to link this data through separate servers to social media and profile down to the lowest primaries. The system design went beyond intraparty elections to broadcasting, running online rallies, opinion polls, surveys, selection of candidates from primaries and managing national elections down to polling stations. The system had twenty hotlines through a call center that could be expanded manifold.
Despite a new organizational structure constituted weeks before the elections, the party still managed to spring surprises. The results could have been better but for the lack of organization, electoral skills of candidates and leftover of intraparty election rivalries.
The system rang alarm bells for constituency politicians whose popularity was confined to one or two constituencies. It would bypass their centralized version of intraparty democracy. Rather than being accepted for its synergy, the system became contentious. Imran Khan, from an innovator and inventor of the concept, began to become its critic. In 2016, the commission has lost the Chairman’s confidence resigned on principle.
It was heartbreaking to note that a similar but inferior system developed by Cambridge Analytica won the elections for President Trump the same year. Ever since some discarded technical innovators of the system have become innovative celebrities. The system can still deliver if recommissioned by the same team and kept out of political interference.
No political party in Pakistan strives to exercise intra party democracy more than PTI. Yet like any organization, it is caught between the choices and tradeoffs between a centralized, inclusive or an institutional structure. Adhockery is the obvious consequence. Every setback for the party is also an opportunity to find the right choices and the IT team still has the capability to turn back the clock in time for next general elections.
Contrarian views within the party manifest its robust ideological and inclusive foundations. The debate about the future of the party is healthy and would ultimately lead to a balance between central control, devolution, inclusiveness, and institutionalism.
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Grassroot Politics is the Essence of Democracy
The party trusts Imran Khan but also exercises its right of dissent and criticism. Sometimes, this criticism is very vocal and Imran Khan takes it on the chin. The majority believe that no matter how democratic a central leader maybe, a centralized party allows notables to form a shield between the leader and his people.
Hence the power passes to the elite nobility and party members are left with a very narrow window, something that never existed till 2011. Secondly, most institutional mechanisms in PTI are diluted by very heavy numbers. Consequently, discourse is never possible. A core committee or a CEC is just not manageable. This arrangement suits traditional politicians.
The longer PTI persists with such a system, the more it stands to lose in public appeal. Parties using internally democratic procedures are more likely to select capable and appealing leaders, responsive policies, and greater electoral success. Inclusiveness in a party promotes public participation making notables answerable to the people.
PTI is ideologically opposed to dynasty politics. Therefore building of institutional mechanisms is most important if the party has to flourish beyond its charismatic leader.
They also strengthen democratic culture. If constituency politicians wish to become widely accepted leaders, they have to get in contact with members in every nook and corner of the country. Obviously, they avoid the uphill climb and tend to extend their influence through handpicked nominees.
Right now this is the most heated debate within the party and those who support inclusivity cite repeated by-elections losses when the party failed to build synergy with victory in sight. This debate in the party has drawn clear lines between the group of ambitious compromising and the hardcore that see ambition as defiling and self-promotion an anathema.
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But they are convinced that sticking to ideals and fighting difficulty builds synergy. PTI is ideologically opposed to dynasty politics. Therefore building of institutional mechanisms is most important if the party has to flourish beyond its charismatic leader. Institutionalisation also means strict adherence to traditions and rule of law.
But traditions and conventions take time to take root. Though a perfect system for intraparty democracy, it warrants the development of historic traditions and conventions. This is only possible if the party takes a major leap forward.
The system can still deliver if recommissioned by the same team and kept out of political interference.
The rewards will be immediate. But despite such internal debates, the biggest achievement of PTI has been to bring the Panama Papers to courts through Public Interest Litigation. Unlike the lawyers in Judicial Commission, the Panama team built a case that convinced the Supreme Court to invoke its inquisitorial jurisdiction. It brought awareness on corruption and exposed hidden mechanisms that make political elites richer.
But its rival PMLN despite being guilty is edging out this perception by media management through Cambridge Analytica. So PTI has to find and present fresh narratives beyond Panama. PTI has a decommissioned mechanism that could effectively deliver the counter punch in cyberspace whilst motivated volunteers, writers and opinion makers could back it in print and television.
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Based on empirical research, there is no doubt that PTI offers a third option and the only party that can lead to a self-reliant, communitarian and modern Pakistan. It is the only party that has plans for fast-track national development, tax reforms, robust agriculture, water management, energy, exploitation of resources, education, gender parity, social welfare, health, youth employment through innovative startups, entrepreneurship and mainstreaming of minorities.
Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a retired officer of the Pakistan Army and a military scientist. Currently, he is a news columnist, businessman, and a former military college administrator. Sharaf has also served in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Shadow Cabinet as the Spokesperson for Defense Production. He is a former member of the National Council, a former member of CEC and a former Member of the PTI Election Commission.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.