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Opinion

April 25, 2016

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Twenty years of the PTI: the road to glory

Twenty years of the PTI: the road to glory

There is a reason for all of us to celebrate the PTI’s 20th founding anniversary. Pakistan’s youngest political party is no more a teenager, at least chronologically, and we can demand it to act its age.

The party has also many reasons to rejoice. Starting with a lone-wolf former sportsman calling himself a party, it has turned into a popular movement and one of the largest political parties in the country, though it still remains synonymous with its founder chairperson and manifests his strengths, weaknesses and contradictions. Here, I try to analyse the origins of the party, the personality of its founder, its internal dynamics, and the social and political winds that fill its sails. I must warn the reader that such an undertaking can never be totally objective and unbiased.

Although the PTI was formally founded in 1996, its origin can be traced back, in the period after Imran Khan and his team won the Cricket World Cup for Pakistan in 1992. After turning 40 in that year of glory, the ageing cricketer was noticeably going through what we can term a midlife crisis. I am using this term in a positive sense, as it has been used by Carl Gustav Jung to describe the most crucial phase of maturation in human personality that carries the promise of turning us into wise old men and women.

Khan had just become a born-again Muslim and was trying to shed away his earlier playboy image. With the zeal of a new convert, he wanted everyone – the whole country in fact – to convert with him. The same year, a girl named Tyrian Jade was born to Imran Khan’s friend, Sita White. And two years after winning the World Cup, he was able to realise his other dream of establishing Pakistan’s first world class cancer hospital that could cater to the rich and poor alike. The hospital’s inauguration in 1994 turned him into a philanthropist second only to Abdul Sattar Edhi.

At this juncture, Imran Khan had also developed some rudimentary ideas about politics. He believed that his exposure to the West had enabled him to understand what was wrong with the Pakistani society and if his advice was heeded, Pakistan and its people could solve all of their problems. However, there was one problem – Imran Khan hated the word politician and did not want this title for himself. Due to his statements, though, millions of his fans expected him to enter into the political arena and were waiting for an announcement with bated breath.

In late 1994, a friend told me that all arrangements had been made to launch a ‘pressure group’, tnot a full-fledged party, led by Imran Khan – and I could be given a scoop, if the news magazine for which I worked could promise a cover story. A tentative understanding was made and I was given a chance to interview Imran Khan and his two comrades – General Hamid Gul, who had retired but claimed to articulate the ‘ideology’ of the establishment and enjoyed enduring links with the deep state, and Mohammad Ali Durrani who, having staged a rebellion in the Jamaat-e-Islami, had run away with its youth wing, Pasban, which he headed.

At this stage Imran Khan was enamoured of General Gul and his ideas. He said: “I developed a great linking for him… he (has) played a great role in Afghanistan – I called him a mujahid.” Imran Khan had found the roots of Pakistan’s problems in the psychology of its people and he wanted to rid the country of its inferiority complexes and save it from ravages of the brown sahib mentality. He appeared to have developed a contempt against the social elite (to which he himself belonged) as they were “secular, atheists with imported ideas” and “if they (the West) call Hekmatyar a fundamentalist tomorrow, they too will call him a fundamentalist”.

All three appeared to have immense hatred against the ruling elite – and by the ruling elite they meant only politicians. They wanted the middle class to get politicised and take charge of the nation’s affairs. The group, however, did not materialise. A few months later when I met General Gul, using the pigeon-racing terminology, he commented in his jovial manner that due to the magazine story he had lost all his pigeons. Perhaps, Imran Khan had realised the cost of being too close to General Gul. He had told me in the interview: “After forming a link with Hamid Gul, everyone thinks that I am some sort of puppet ... being led by a string and I am doing what Hamid Gul asks me to do.”

Imran Khan married Jemima Goldsmith, the 22-year-old daughter of a British billionaire, in May 1995 in Paris and a year later he founded the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf on April 25, 1996, finally joining the hated tribe of politicians. Only a year later, the party entered into electoral politics with much fanfare. Expectations for the success of the new party were so high that the PML-N offered to support PTI candidates in 30 constituencies in exchange for forming an electoral alliance. Imran Khan spurned the offer and the party could not win a single seat. The PTI barely bagged 1.7 percent votes, compared to 46 percent votes for the PML-N and 22 percent for the PPP.

The two leaders who had dominated Pakistan’s politics in 1990s were forced into exile after Musharraf’s coup in the 1999, emptying the arena for Imran Khan who also happened to be one of Musharraf’s favourite politicians; and this liking was by no means one-sided. Imran Khan supported Musharraf’s rigged referendum and, according to Musharraf, he expected to be made prime minister by the military regime. However, when Musharraf’s government held elections in 2002, he chose to rely on a group of electables, most herded through NAB under the banner of the PML-Q.

This time the PTI performed even worse; with 0.7 percent votes, it stood at 10th position, while the PML-Q and PPP bagged 25.7 and 25.8 percent votes respectively. Even the PML-N was able to get 9.4 percent votes. Imran Khan, however, was able to win a seat for himself in the National Assembly from his ancestral city, Mianwali, not on the basis of his political message but mainly due to his personal appeal and clan affiliations.

We do not know where the PTI stood in 2008 elections, though we can safely assume that it had not turned the corner yet. The PPP was able to form a government at centre with 30.7 percent votes while the PML-Q still remained a force to reckon with by gaining of 23 percent votes – a reminder that these elections were held under Musharraf, who was still in uniform and was the president of Pakistan. Perhaps, the most important aspect of these elections was the return of the PML-N, which secured 19.6 percent votes and formed a coalition government in Punjab.

Though the PPP had returned to power, having lost Benazir Bhutto, it was a headless chicken constantly hounded by the establishment and the courts alike. In the five years of the PPP, the political winds shifted and Imran Khan was finally able find the glory he had waited for so patiently.

The writer is a social anthropologist and development professional.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @zaighamkhan

 

 

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