Thursday March 23, 2023

The return of the guerrilla

March 18, 2023

Imran Khan’s reputation as some sort of a guerrilla leader far preceded his recognition as the most determined and most popular political leader in Pakistan. That legend was born in the cricket grounds where Khan fought like a (cornered) tiger, using all the tactics from intimidation, bluff and waylaying of opponents to secure victory. The man has just proved that he can wear the same mantle even when he has to balance it off for a disinclined audience with his lectures on democracy and rule of law.

Is the balancing act convincing enough? Does Imran Khan, who in his own words, has been there for Pakistanis to see and judge for fifty years, do a good job of shedding the guerrilla fatigue and slipping back into a democrat’s skin? There is no dearth of evidence to cite for those who would be partial to answering these questions with a rigorous shake of the head.

It has been a while since the PTI established itself as a political party. Indeed many a moon has passed from the day when the PTI developed into a distinct political party with widespread popular support. What its leaders now must be congratulated upon is the very meaningful and active existence of the PTI’s militant wing which has just displayed in Lahore a will and an ability to protect its leader against raiders.

The very charismatic Imran Khan has scored another first in the history of the country. He has managed to achieve where the infamous nationalists, with ‘proven’ links to the country’s detractors abroad, had failed. The old guerrilla has also left the mullahs – the Jamiat and the Jamaat, et al – far behind and he has made the notorious Al- Zulfikar appear as an organization unfit for a place in the Pakistani hall of fame for organizations prone to physically taking on the ill-intended authorities.

Perhaps some of you may find the mention of Al-Zulfikar here distasteful since it amounts to likening the PTI’s fight for a just cause here with the doings of a hard-core terrorist organizations. However, I find the comparison inevitable given just how many times the abbreviation ‘PPP’ has been referred to during the PTI’s battle against the law-enforcers at Lahore’s border with Zaman Park. It has been said, and with much logic, that the PTI has effectively snatched the resistance badge from the PPP at a time when Asif Zardari and his son go on philosophizing in public about the benefits of having good relations with national and international establishment.

People cannot but help draw parallels between the PPP then and the PTI now when it comes to having large passionate cadres standing by their leaders, the PML-N and other factions offering an object of contrast here. The PTI could move a step ahead and claim distinction on the basis of clear facts. It can boast that, while the sentimental PPP jiyalas made so much noise, it is the Imran loyalists in Zaman Park who have actually succeeded in protecting their leader from being taken away by the police and what worse scenarios Khan says he would have been subjected to. The lame jiyalas could not save the leaders they vowed to protect. The best they could do was to sacrifice their own lives, as if in shame over their failure to do the job.

That is one count where the PTI warriors have been shown to stand apart and there are yet other angles to the story that have been applied to understand the rise of the Khan jannisaran in the old Sharif hometown. Not the least dangerous but not entirely surprising is the theory that blames the ‘act of defiance’ at the Khan residence to the presence there of men transported from outside the province. Let us not shy away from it…the insinuation is consistent with the fear of some of those who forever talk about how the city of Lahore has been time and again sacked by invaders from the northwest.

This is a very sensitive subject. The unease has been there, felt among the blue-blooded Lahoris since even before the logic was used to come up with an ethnic profile of those who so proudly built this defence around Imran Khan. No attempt has so far been made to dispel the tendency to readily give ethnic colour to anything perceived as a threat and men speaking a particular language and coming from a certain region were routinely picked up as suspects in the Punjab capital during the country’s long war against terror.

Lahore needs to sort this one out urgently, just as it sends other significant messages that can shape the politics in the country in the current crucial phase. The most vital message is about the seeming invincibility of Imran Khan in his fight to secure power – an overwhelming majority in the elections and no less, he says, he is looking for.

The Kaptaan has demonstrated how far he can go in case the results do not conform to his own assessment of his standing, and he has shown he can stick to a position. Simply put, we do not need a general election here to end this horrifying chaos in Pakistan. Let there be no doubt that what we are in an urgent need of is an election that brings in Imran Khan as a most powerful head of government.

The writer is a senior journalist.