Wednesday June 12, 2024

What was the PTI?

By Dr Naazir Mahmood
June 05, 2023

In Pakistan, successful political parties are able to push the content and style of their politics off at a new tangent every time. They are able to reshape their identity and interests without compromising on their basic principles; in fact, their survival depends on this ability. Look at the ANP, JI, PPP, PML-N or even the JUI-F: all have been able to survive and play their roles one way or the other. Will the PTI be able to do so? One tends to respond in a big negative. There are plenty of reasons for that answer. First, the PTI from the very beginning was a party of no principles at all. Its leadership – that revolved around just one man – lacked the essential ingredients of a sound political leadership. The top man was so steeped in self-love and a high degree of narcissism that everything else looked insignificant. Other parties such as the ANP and JI were able to survive because they had well defined principles. The ANP had a clearly left-wing and progressive agenda, the JI was exactly the opposite – but both had some ideological ground to stand on. The PTI never had any clearly defined agenda other than targeting the two largest parties in the country: the PPP and the PML-N. The PTI’s rhetoric against corruption did not target the real corruption in the country; it simply wanted to tarnish nearly all politicians that did not join the good old man.

In the late 1990s – when the PTI was still a fledgling – its founder developed a love for more tribal mores, advocating the jirga system. Parties such as the JI and the JUI also had a soft corner for the Taliban; but these were outright religious parties with no pretension of having a clean-shaved leader who could entice the young generation with his fluent English and handsome looks. In that the PTI was a confused hotchpotch – a Taliban outlook, but still holding leaders such as Shireen Mazari and Zartaj Gul.

Then there was even more confusion about whether it wanted a democratic system in the country or an autocratic one. Other parties such as the PPP and the PML-N have no ambiguity about their democratic credentials as they believe in parliamentary democracy and say so loud and clear. The PTI was always replete with a lot of mumbo-jumbo about its stance on democracy, a moment it claimed to be democratic; soon to contradict itself by pointing out flaws in democracy to prove that an autocratic system would be much better for Pakistan. The same it displayed during the dictatorship of Gen Pervez Musharraf. The PTI initially had a soft corner for Musharraf, which the PPP and PML-N never had. Then the PTI expected Musharraf to coopt its leader as prime minister and facilitate his enthronement. Then it started spewing venom against Musharraf for a while, soon to take a U-turn and condemn Justice Waqar Seth who sentenced Musharraf to an exemplary punishment. The PTI leadership became an expert at U-turns justifying them for their immediate interests, even if they were diametrically opposed to what the PTI claimed to stand for. Rather than developing an achievable agenda for the country, the PTI used hyperbole to promise the moon, especially to a young unsuspecting generation. No other political party made such outlandish claims about its ability to deliver millions of houses and tens of millions of jobs in a jiffy. Other parties were more realistic and down-to-earth, not the PTI. It was flying in the clouds and jumping across the mountains; and its followers loved it. The Pegasus that the PTI displayed was a wax one, but those who craved for quick solutions to deep problems rode it.

Other parties never claimed to have geniuses in their fold, but the PTI was able to sell the idea of having hundreds of geniuses who were ready to push the country on the path of rapid development. By any definition, a genius must be able to communicate and create new possibilities and opportunities, without misleading the audience. The PTI leadership was miscommunicating and misleading their followers in the wrong direction. The party created a make-believe world for its listeners and viewers who started circumambulating the corruption mantra, like whirling dervishes who move in their own world, cut off from their immediate surroundings.

Then there was a willingness to disturb peace and occupy spaces just to make their presence felt and become a nuisance to everyone who did not support them. No other party had this level of cunningness to stage long sit-ins and entertain its followers with repeated cliches. Like most formula films that people still watch to applaud the unbelievable summersaults of their heroes, the PTI kept on staging the same hackneyed performances to mesmerized spectators. Such shows went on and on, no matter whether the party was in power or out. It was never clear if the PTI was for the constitution or against it. Once in power, its leadership expressed dissatisfaction against the 18th Amendment, then objected to the parliamentary system itself. It tried to bypass all parliamentary procedures to make laws through dozens of presidential ordinances that suited it. Its top leadership kept a disgusting disdain for parliament – first by not attending the sessions and then by putting the parliament itself at stake when it used the speaker, the deputy speaker, and the president to circumvent an entirely constitutional and legal vote of no-confidence. No political party in the history of Pakistan had done so in the face of a no-confidence move. No other party jeopardized Pakistan’s relations with other countries the way the PTI leadership repeatedly did without learning any lessons from its past and present errors of judgement. A mocking style at international conferences, a hubris incongruent with diplomatic etiquettes, a lack of vision in nearly all matters – from constitutional and economic to political and social, and a certain way of seeing things and hearing voices, all pushed the nation to the brink of disaster.

A blatant display of arrogance against the courts, state institutions, and against the top office holders in the country including the newly elected prime minister and the outgoing and incoming army chiefs made Pakistan a laughing stock in world media. Be it the requirement to appear before a court or surrendering to the law enforcers, all was resisted to a point when enough was enough. Allegations, blames, conspiracies, controversies hurled at the Election Commission of Pakistan, at the new political and security leadership of the country, and even at the judges who gave any orders against the PTI, became the new normal. Finally, unleashing unbridled crowds and instigation to sabotage as well as provoke violence against state buildings, heritage, memorials and monuments – all now well documented and recorded – nobody can erase from this nation’s memory. The fascist tendencies of the PTI were always there; now they have become evident to everyone. Those who targeted their opponents without any regard to decency and human rights are now unable to defend themselves. The PTI maligned the media, trolled female and male journalists, used filthy language against the Chief Election Commissioner, and questioned the integrity of the army chief – and by doing so it has now finished its arsenal of allegations and misbehaviour. The end of the PTI as an artificial political party is nigh. The artifice is crumbling and exposed, there are not many to buttress it – in fact quite the opposite.