Through Ebbs & Flows: The Political Journey of PTI & Its Current Challenges

Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation and PTI stalwart probes into the inspirational political vision of PTI, and how it transformed over the past 24 years as the party came out of the wilderness. He explains the real challenge for PTI will be in-house cleaning once the outside political arena has been cleansed of its fabricated leadership.

PTI's PTI

No one could have thought that a cricketer’s party would become the largest party to govern Pakistan. It was October 2011 when PTI showcased its popularity in Lahore Jalsa at Minar-e-Pakistan. PTI became popular in Lahore after Imran Khan’s robust stance on Raymond Davis which proved to be a turning point. The party used social media to spread its message across the country as young people started to join it. Dr. Farid A. Malik who was part of PTI’s shadow cabinet guides us through its journey as the party seems more divided today than at any other point of its history.

Witnessing History

My journey of political activism started a bit early. At the age of five years, in October 1958, I stood with my father, a worker of the Pakistan Movement, to receive the long march led by Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan. We stood near Kim’s Gun on the Mall, in Lahore.

Our wait was stretched till the Zamima (supplement)— the then printed form of breaking news came out. We learnt: the country had come under martial law; Khan sahib had been arrested at the Ravi bridge and taken to the dungeons of Lahore Fort.

After a few days, a compromise was announced. Khan sahib was released and allowed to go home on the condition that he would retire from politics. We went to see him; my father wanted him to fight back.

Words of praise were showered over him; “you have been a soldier of the Quaid, prominent Muslim League leader, the force behind the NWFP referendum victory, the most effective Chief Minister”. His reply was surprising: “the era of decent politics is over, there is a great difference between the jails of the British and the locals”.

The New Politics

Ayub Khan thus single-handedly dismantled the Muslim League, and all prominent leaders were sent home. He then launched his own political outfit called Muslim League (Convention), and the era of pseudo, fabricated political leadership started. The Chaudhry’s of Gujrat, Wattoos of Okara, Khwajas of Sialkot, etc. were introduced with great fanfare.

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Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was a member of the Iskander Mirza cabinet and continued in the Ayub Khan government as a very popular Foreign Minister. When the dictator fell from popularity after the 1965 war debacle and the Tashkent Accord, Bhutto revolted. In November 1967, he launched the first real political party of the country, which he named the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Incidentally, I was there, at the YMCA, that day. The launch was an unforgettable experience. Clad in a white, double-breasted suit, Bhutto asked the charged crowd if they wanted “awami” or “sarkari”. The unanimous response was “awami”, and the concept of “awami hakumat” (government of people) emerged.

Emergence of a fledgling PTI

In 1996, two more ‘real’ national political parties were launched, one led by the captain of the cricket World Cup-winning team, Imran Khan, and the other, the Millat Party, by former President Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari. The Millat Party didn’t last long, and after the 2002 elections merged with the Musharraf-created Muslim League (Quaid).

Though Imran Khan started with high hopes, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) remained in the wilderness for many years, mainly because of a lack of grass-roots party organization. PTI was unable to secure a single seat in the elections that followed in 1997. In the 2002 elections, Imran Khan managed to win his home constituency seat in Mianwali, where the Niazi clan commands respect and support.

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His father Ikramullah Khan Niazi, a foreign-qualified civil engineer, had stood up to the pressure of the Nawab of Kalabagh, arguably the most powerful figure in West Pakistan during Ayub’s regime. Niazi had eventually retired as a superintending engineer and began a consultancy in Lahore.

In the year 2006, Imran Khan requested Comrade Ahsan Rashid, a founding member of the party to return to his motherland and build the party at the grass-root level. Becoming the President of PTI Punjab— Ahsan sahib played a key role in building the party that he had initially founded with Imran Khan. He was indeed the ‘Chou En-Lai’ of the party, while Imran Khan became the leadership equivalent of ‘Mao Tse Tung’.

Read more: Imran Khan: Facing the World at UNGA

PTI played a key role in the Lawyers’ Movement of 2007. Comrade Ahsan led the party from the front., Zaman Park, where comrade Aitzaz Ahsan was held under house arrest. The nucleus of protest-organization was not too far from Imran Khan’s family house.

Last Supper: Goodbye to the old guard?

The PTI boycotted the elections in 2008. Sensing an opportunity for change, several activists—including myself—actively joined the movement against the fourth khaki dictator. Even amidst the 2010 floods, the party played an effective role in aiding the victims— whilst the two mainstream political parties, PML-N and PPP, were nowhere to be seen.

On May 1, 2010, PTI announced a sixteen-member shadow cabinet, which included six experts with Ph.D. degrees. I was given the portfolio of Science and Technology and the task of coordinating four think-tanks—Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, and Overseas—under the guidance of Comrade Ahsan Rashid. Dr. Arif Alvi, as secretary-general, monitored the work of this shadow cabinet.

Ahsan sahib had later arranged a dinner at the Sheraton for the ‘old guard’ and newcomers to break bread. It was the proverbial ‘last supper’

Policy papers were prepared by the think-tanks and presentations were arranged for the Chairman. A first 100 Days plan was also prepared and approved after a day-long marathon session on July 8, 2011. Contrary to popular belief, the party was well-prepared to take on the mantle of leadership.

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. The mammoth gathering at Minar-e-Pakistan on October 20, 2011, derailed the momentum and planning that preceded it. Exactly fifty-six days later, on December 25, 2011, ideologues were replaced by the electable at the Mazar-e-Quaid jalsa in Karachi. Ahsan sahib had later arranged a dinner at the Sheraton for the ‘old guard’ and newcomers to break bread. It was the proverbial ‘last supper’.

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The shadow cabinet, think-tanks, 100 Day Plan—all those years of hard work and effort, all became obsolete. Even the welfare state framework that had been discussed and defined was re-opened. Three areas of state responsibility had been identified: education, health, and employment.

Everyone in the age group of five-to-fifteen years was to be provided with the necessary skills and education needed for employability. Major agriculture and water management reforms had also been proposed.

The PPP had been established as a genuine political party, whereas PML-N was contrived. The difference between the two is that instead of an ideology, the latter is built around personal interests. Instead of political activists, it consists of bounty-hoarders whose assets continue to multiply with their political careers. The lethal menace of the PML-N was underestimated by PTI election planners.

Read more: Imran Khan: From “Man on Container” to Prime Minister

In the elections of 2013, PTI was robbed of a victory at the national level. The protests that erupted, on the eve of the 2013 elections, were spontaneous- voters felt disenfranchised and cheated, and blocked ‘Lalik Chowk’ in Lahore. Ahsan Sahib was quick to arrive on the scene after I phoned him, and in spite of his poor health, he spent the night sleeping on the road with the protesters.

Backstage of ‘Dharna 2014’

Imran Khan was incapacitated and hospitalized. Ahsan sahib desired to initiate a protest movement as he too felt cheated; of an election victory by the PML-N, that stole the elections with its old tricks. The tricks were euphemized as ‘irregularities’, even though all four winners of the disputed constituencies were subsequently un-seated by the Election Commission. The planned Dharna in August 2014 was too late and with limited impact.

As a seasoned activist, I arrived at Zaman Park at the noon of the fourteenth, to find a considerable lack of preparation. I decided to venture forth on my own outside of the procession. All entry points leading to Islamabad were blocked for the first time in the history of the country—even G.T Road was cordoned off outside Ayub Park.

I reached the gathering point on Kashmir Highway with great difficulty. However, there were no arrangements for a jalsa, not even a prepared stage. It clearly showed that the organizers were first-time marchers. The caravan finally departed from Lahore for Islamabad at 4 p.m. A little further, near Gujranwala, the convoy came under attack from PML-N goons.

Imran Khan can also deliver ‘Naya Pakistan’ with untainted new leadership, leaving the old political vultures behind in the pavilion. Those who have played for themselves, should not be allowed to bat again, thus bringing back the era of decent politics

Only the interceding influence of Javed Hashmi, who recognized his old party members, saved the day. Imran Khan’s container finally arrived early in the morning of the 15th Aug. By then, the marchers were half-dead with exhaustion, and only Imran Khan could rally them.

After short speeches, the stage party left, leaving marchers to spend the night out in the open. A light drizzle further contributed to the dismay. Albeit, the protestors from KP stayed, braving all these difficulties. When compared to the Lawyers’ Long March of 2007, this dharna clearly did not have a clear strategy or objectives – it only relied upon Imran Khan’s grit, and determination.

Year of Victory

In the 2018 elections, the army was called in to neutralize the PML-N electoral manipulation – conveniently termed election-day dynamics. The police were kept out of the voting areas, as were the patwaris. Imran Khan prevailed over Khwaja Saad Rafique for the Lahore seat—finally, Takht-e-Lahore was claimed. Gujranwala and Faisalabad were also championed by the PTI. Although some tickets were wasted on the precious electable— PTI managed to form governments in Punjab, the Centre, and KPK.

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The leadership capacity of Imran Khan is not in question. He has charisma, character, honesty of purpose and strength, but the party without its Chou-en Lai cannot manage change. In his inaugural address, Imran Khan mentioned the contribution of two-party leaders subsequently lost—Ahsan Rashid and Ms. Saloni Bukhari.

The recent passing of Naeem-ul-Haq has made the PTI lose another stalwart. As President, Dr. Arif Alvi is performing well. Some youngsters continue to show promise, but without mentorship, there will be nobody who can reach Imran Khan’s stature. Ahsan Sahib and other senior comrades in the party provided guidance by spending quality time with the members of Insaf Students Wing, organized by Hassan Niazi.

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

Hassan, a nephew of Imran Khan, is a barrister by profession and has the Niazi spark. If able to complete his term, Imran Khan will at least cleanse the political arena of the corrupt and fabricated leadership. The next challenge for the party will be an in-house cleansing.

The so-called electables have not proven their worth; as a vast majority of them lost their seats. Internal rivalries are also not helpful. As of now, there is no one within the party to assume the leadership role Imran Khan occupies, but there is ample room for good managers who can deliver by serving the people.

Reflection

The post-July 1977 era has to be brought to a close. Like the People’s Party, the Tehreek-e-Insaf was also not created to take, but to give. Bhutto succeeded in building the ‘awami hakumat’ – he had promised in 1967. Imran Khan can also deliver ‘Naya Pakistan’ with untainted new leadership, leaving the old political vultures behind in the pavilion. Those who have played for themselves, should not be allowed to bat again, thus bringing back the era of decent politics.

Dr. Farid A.Malik is the Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. (Fr. General Manager PITAC, Process Engineering Manager Intel Corporation Engineering and Management Consultant). An expert on mining and energy, currently working on developing clean Coal Technologies for Thar Deposit. He was a Shadow Minister PTI and Co-Ordinator of the PTI Think Tank where the framework of the Welfare State was developed. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy. 


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