The October 30, 2011 Lahore pubic meeting heralded hope for a new Pakistan. The massive public show of support was a clear manifestation of the PTI perception created after years of toil to dump once and for all, the politics of corruption, patronage, and vested interests. The PTI is arguably the first political party after ZA Bhutto’s PPP that caught the imagination of an entire generation that had come of age. Even the depoliticised segments of society came out on the streets to wave the PTI flag and later stood in long lines to cast their vote for a new Pakistan.
With popularity comes responsibility. After peaking in late 2011, the PTI finds itself in a downward spiral and is fast turning into another conventional political party. How and why did the PTI lose its direction and what would it take to revive the fast fading hopes of millions that flocked to the PTI call of ‘Change?’
As the PTI’s popularity grew so was the surge of ‘rental politicians’ to en-cash its political capital. There are few instances in political history that a party at its populist peak was commandeered by its ‘founder-in-chief’ into the hands of political pirates whose morality compass rotates with self-interests.
A party perked at a high moral pedestal of transparency and accountability should have traveled the extra mile to practice what it had preached. Instead, despite mountains of evidence, it has failed to hold its party and public office holders accountable for alleged massive corruption. Instead of setting examples of the corrupt, the PTI has made examples of those trying to hold the corrupt accountable. From the fate of the PTI Election Tribunal Orders to its refusal to allow ECP scrutiny of its accounts; from forcing the KP Ehtesab chief to resign instead of holding the PTI CM and senior ministers accountable to refusing to hold credible intra party elections; the list is long of PTI publicly disowning its self-professed standards of change.
As a consequence of the wasted opportunity to develop a model of change in one province, there is growing consensus that the performance of the PTI KP government is, at best, in hot pursuit of previous governments’ poor governance.
The failure of PTI to put its house in order at a time of serious internal and external challenges has national implications as well. For example, in 2013, the PTI was ideally placed to fill the political vacuum created by wayward MQM politics partially driven by external interests. Instead of organising itself into a credible and serious political alternative, the PTI relied on mere rhetoric. As a result, it has all but vanquished from Karachi politics at a critical time when the MQM leadership in London has shown its true colours to openly side with its foreign patrons to open a new urban front in Pakistan that could be used as a bargaining chip in any future Indo-Pakistan negotiations to offset Pakistan’s support to the raging Kashmir freedom movement. Such is its present state of political bankruptcy that a party that stood at the threshold of changing society today finds itself aligned with political icons of corruption ironically to mobilise support for its faltering ‘Tehreek-e-Ehtesab.’
The majority of the hardcore PTI rank and file that set the foundations of the party is in disarray. Foundations of any structure are seldom visible, but remove the foundations and no structure can stand. Without the foundations on which PTI rested, its fate will be no different.
The dire internal party situation propelled the need to hold a national conference next Sunday in Islamabad under the banner of PTI (Founders Group) formed to put the party back on its original ideology of change. The conference would not only debate why PTI has deviated from its core values and principles but it would also evolve a strategy to force the incumbent PTI leadership to either make way for change or fade away for good.
The only silver lining in the present dismal state of affairs is the intensity of PTI members’ resolve to save PTI from becoming another conventional political party whose ‘never say die approach’ is best described in the words of TS Eliot ‘only those who will risk going too far can find out and understand how far one can go.’
The PTI is without doubt in a ‘Do or Die’ situation. If it does not do what it was meant to do, it dies. Any hope of its revival can only come to fruition if words of counsel do not fall on deaf ears, where criticism is no longer considered equal to treachery, when foul is not considered fair, when personal loyalties do not override more overriding national loyalties, and when self does not overwhelm ourselves.
The writer is founding member, founding president PTI Balochistan, former central information secretary, former central vice president, information and media management