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- Friday, May 25, 2012 - From Print Edition

Imran is not a stranger to us. He became a public figure at the age of twenty-four. We have seen him as a sportsman, social worker and politician. And there are some things we have come to understand about him.

The man has unimpeachable integrity, he has a propensity to set seemingly impossible goals, and he has a fierce determination to reach them.Although I love cricket and the world cup triumph ranks as a glorious moment in my cricket following life, the story that I find most illustrative of the man is about the Shaukat Khanum Hospital.

All the experts told him it couldn’t be done. Building a dedicated cancer hospital they said is virtually impossible. When he said that not only would he do it but also treat seventy percent patients free, they threw up their hands. One American expert said that the hospital would close in three months.It is still open and does treat over seventy percent patients free.

This is the essence of the man. He will reach for what seems impossible. Among other things, my friend Mohammad Malick in his column has questioned Imran’s decision to hold party elections after a massive membership campaign. His comment is that this will leave the party unprepared for the general election.

Before we go into timelines, let us look at this decision itself. No party has ever really done it before. What passes for party elections here are actually nominations through consensus or most often outright dictatorial fiat of the party leader.

Imran has decided to take the more difficult, some say impossible, route. He wants real elections at all levels in the party. The wizened political pros are not happy, the cynics are predicting party collapse, and our media friends are shaking their head, telling us to stop even at this late stage.

Real genuine party elections are not easy. The modalities themselves to say the least are daunting. We are hoping to enrol between five to ten million members. Getting all of them to the polls with limited party resources to directly elect district level party leaders is going to be some task.

But, then, this is what Imran is. Always going for the seemingly impossible. His vision is that the party can never become an institution until it establishes a culture of real elections at all levels. They may be messy and not everything will work out exactly as planned but it is a journey in the right direction.

This is the approach that guides his politics. Go in the right direction even if the obstacles seem daunting. One such objective that raises the dander up among some very good people, who in essence like Imran, is his determination to bring everyone, all schools of thought together.

In particular, they find it difficult to stomach the party sending a representative to some Difa-e-Pakistan (DPC) rallies. The rationale has been given again and again but some people still refuse to accept it. The PTI wants to engage with all schools of thought in the country. Going to these rallies does not mean endorsing their point of view. It is reflective of a process of engagement.

Actually not going of mainstream parties to their rallies is more dangerous. It would mean isolating the forty odd parties in the DPC and pushing them out of the political process into greater radicalism. Imran believes that we must engage with them, ask them to propagate their point of view within the political process, and urge them to participate in elections rather than using other means.

Let us look at this from another angle. These forty odd parties let us assume have half a million active supporters if not more in a country of one hundred and eighty million. In the general population, those subscribing to their deeply conservative point of view could be at least ten percent given the kind of curriculum taught in most madrassahs.

So, what should we do with these parties and their sizeable number of supporters in the country, if not engage with them? If we shun them and do not get them into the political process what would their reaction be?

Cajoling people into democratic participation and towards pushing their agendas politically versus isolating them and getting them to use other means to get what they want is actually a no brainer. It is just that people find it impossible to transcend their dislike for the political and social views of these parties.

While the PTI too does not agree with their views, it is ready to see the problem holistically and act in the larger national interest. And national interest is that all points of view must flow within the political stream.

Just to put this thinking in perspective, let us look at another set of people. The so-called Baloch Liberation Army and other separatist groups that have been committing horrendous acts of violence. Some of them are actually involved in ethnic cleansing.

Yet, the very same people who say that we should shun parties propagating extremist views with a religious tinge would tell you to negotiate with the BLA/other separatists and bring them into the mainstream.

Imran Khan is neither a religious ideologue nor a conservative or liberal. These categories in our context have frankly changed beyond recognition. While ‘liberals’ all over the world are against wars, violence etc, some among us who claim to be liberals want every religious fanatic or Taliban type to be bombed into oblivion.

So let us leave these categories aside. Imran Khan is a nationalist who wants to take this country forward by uniting it in a common cause to fight poverty, disease, hunger, ignorance and much more.

And just for the record since friend Malick asked, he believes in all the fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution and the UN Charter. He has clearly stated that state security is only possible if rule of law prevails. He has condemned any illegal and unlawful action allegedly committed by state security agencies.

He has raised his voice repeatedly against violence against women, has urged for them to get equal property rights and indeed believes in equality for women in all spheres of life. In PTI women hold prominent positions not only in the Women Wing but also in the main party.

And lastly, the party is diligently preparing the details of its agenda of change. Two aspects have been unveiled; energy and local government and others will be soon. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is conscious that as the most popular party in the country according to the latest IRI survey, we have to be ready.

The writer is information secretary of the PTI. Email: [email protected]