It was a perfect Minar-e-Pakistan setting on the historic March 23 Pakistan Day to formally launch the reenergized Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) with true democratic credentials. It was a new look PTI that beamed with greater unity, confidence and pride, having emerged from the recently hard fought and bitterly contested intra-party elections.
If October 30 was the harbinger of change in Pakistan’s politics, March 23 presented Imran Khan led PTI as the country’s new political force. While October 30 kindled the candle of hope for Pakistan’s future, March 23 lighted the flame of a ‘Naya Pakistan’. On both occasions, Imran Khan displayed vision of a statesman and a national leader.
Those PTI opponents who tried to attribute the party’s successful October 30, 2011, Minar-e- Pakistan rally to ISI’s covert funding and support would be shell shocked after the even larger March 23 turnout at the same venue. Like October 30 they came by the lakhs, including men and women, from all segments of society, some even on wheel chairs with youth and middle aged dominating the show.
They came not under any duress or coercion but by the force of their commitment to change Pakistan’s destiny and to realize Iqbal and Jinnah’s dream of a truly democratic, progressive and modern Islamic welfare state. It was a charged and emotional crowd that braved the tsunami that nature unleashed from the skies and responded vociferously to the vows and promises of their genuinely elected party leader.
There were some moving sights, too. A few ‘special’ teenagers waved PTI flags as if to thank Imran Khan for caring about the handicapped / disabled in PTI’s latest policy on special persons. A middle aged PTI supporter with crutches and his right leg in splints was seen pleading police officers to let him climb the staircase to have a glimpse of his leader on the stage.
The leadership is all about setting examples of personal integrity and character. It takes courage to speak the truth. Pakistanis will trust and be ready for any sacrifice if they know their leaders are truthful. The Pakistani elite in past barring odd exceptions excelled in lying to their countrymen. They cheated in matters related to their personal wealth, assets in country/ abroad, educational qualifications and taxes paid.
When the then PML-N government froze foreign currency accounts of common Pakistanis in the wake of crippling US sanctions after Pakistan’s May 1998 nuclear tests, many of those in power who had prior knowledge of this decision reportedly got their hefty dollar accounts transferred abroad overnight.
Imran Khan’s first of the six ‘vows’ to always speak the truth got a spontaneous and rousing response from the electrified audience. His other pledges not to follow dynastic politics, keep all wealth within the country, not to get loans written off, spend public money wisely, not take undue advantage of political position and protect the rights of Pakistani expatriates were equally lauded. The leader and the led connected admirably.
For Imran Khan, the timing of party’s turnaround may be just ideal. But he and his party will, henceforth, be under close scrutiny by the still undecided millions observing PTI’s actions from the sidelines. If PTI deviates from its declared path its credibility as mature political party will be at stake.
With few weeks left for polls, the PTI needs to consolidate its achieved political space and translate its rising popularity graph into sound electoral gains at the ballot box. The party’s organizational structure with 80,000 office bearers down to tehsil/ union council levels should specially focus on mobilizing masses in rural areas to vote for ‘change’ on May 11.
The PTI must establish an effective communication mechanism that allows speedy two way link between the top party leadership and the lower tiers. In no way should red tapism block access of junior leadership to the party leader and vice versa. Imran Khan must transform his party workers and office bearers into a well knit and cohesive team that can challenge other well established and organized political parties.
Imran Khan faces his first real test in the party’s selection of prospective candidates for allotment of party tickets. He has set unmatchable precedence by holding intra-party elections and taken the high moral ground of restricting his party’s chairman ship to two tenures. The people expect PTI’s candidates to be the cleanest who should put other parties’ choices to shame.
The Khan must take the lead and show courage by not allowing any bank loan defaulter, tax evader, fake degree holder, dual national or ill reputed person to contest elections from PTI’s platform. Those sincere and honest party workers/ earlier office bearers who stood by Imran Khan through thick and thin but somehow lost in party elections still remain the party’s asset. They should not be ignored and considered on merit for award of party tickets.
Imran Khan should not only rely on his inner circle for strategic counselling and advice but also listen to sincere suggestions of other PTI veterans and well wishers. He must also not let himself become hostage to any bureaucratic mindset within the top party echelons. The party’s media team needs to be reinforced to manage and exploit the full potential of electronic media in election campaign.
To what extent will March 23 swing the pendulum in PTI’s favour would depend on the momentum of party’s public rallies in both urban and rural Punjab/Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in coming weeks. But until Imran Khan captures the heart of Sindhis and balochs and makes meaningful political inroads in these provinces, the PTI may not make sufficient electoral gains to clinch a definite majority on May 11.
Just like the 1992 world cup, Imran Khan will have to lead his team from the front to beat his opponents. For Imran Khan, who is seen as the flag bearer of genuine change, March 23 marked the beginning of his ultimate battle with the status quo.