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Tuesday May 21, 2024

Which way the PTI?

PTI has managed to carve out a tough-to-defeat position in Pakistan’s politics and polity both

By Editorial Board
April 18, 2024
Members of the PTI hoist their party flags at a public gathering in this undated picture. — AFP/File
Members of the PTI hoist their party flags at a public gathering in this undated picture. — AFP/File

There seems to be some serious disconnect within the PTI – though that does little to dampen the enthusiasm within both the party stalwarts and the party’s supporters. In that sense, the PTI has managed to carve out a tough-to-defeat position in Pakistan’s politics and polity both. But first the latest in what is now becoming an ongoing series of near-comic internal PTI confusion. The rather infamous Sher Afzal Marwat has, true to form, made some startling ‘revelations’ in a talk show recently where he said that Saudi Arabia acted as a ‘conduit’ in the ousting of PTI founder Imran Khan’s government in April 2022, that both the US and Saudi Arabia were behind the ‘regime change’, and that Saudi Arabia was acting as the ‘sidekick’ of US President Joe Biden. This is the first time Saudi Arabia’s name has been taken by any PTI leader in this capacity. Imran Khan had originally blamed the US for his ouster using the cipher conspiracy. Now Marwat has opened another Pandora’s Box by bringing in Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. His allegations coincided with the very important visit of a high-level Saudi delegation led by Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, which landed on Monday for a two-day visit to Pakistan.

Needless to say, Marwat’s allegations have placed the PTI in a bit of an awkward position, leading to not just several PTI leaders denying his allegations but an official statement also saying that Imran Khan and Prince Mohammed bin Salman share a relationship based on mutual respect, trust and brotherhood. The party spokesperson has distanced the PTI from these allegations, saying that these may be Marwat’s personal views, but the party does not endorse any such views. That may be all well and good but the fact is that Sher Afzal Marwat is a senior party leader and this is not the first time something like this has happened. As Imran Khan remains incarcerated, his party seems to be struggling to put together a cohesive message. Is this a ‘leaderless’ party at the moment? Is this why ‘newcomers’ like Marwat and others say whatever comes to their mind without thinking twice about the consequences for the PTI as a whole?

Alleging that an ally like Saudi Arabia would be complicit in such a serious matter should ideally have led to a very serious internal inquiry by the party. That somehow this doesn’t seem to happen has also led some to think that this is all a purposeful ‘good cop, bad cop’ policy by the party – exert pressure on the government via such remarks and also maintain a distance by issuing clarifications. This is the same Marwat who was specifically tasked by Imran Khan to organize public rallies in Punjab before the forthcoming by-elections on April 21. The PTI has also announced that it will stage countrywide political rallies before the by-polls and Marwat has said that the party will soon stage a sit-in for the release of Imran Khan in Islamabad. The messaging from within the party is a chaotic mess of contradictions. On Wednesday, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur lambasted JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman for looking to "set his price" amid the PTI’s attempts to secure support for its protest movement. These remarks come days after the PTI and JUI-F "agreed on increasing party-level contacts" following Asad Qaiser’s telephonic conversation with Fazl. How it helps the PTI’s cause to alienate those it can ally with is beyond understanding. A party in freefall going into protests the aim of which is as yet unclear is a message that is confusing at best. The PTI does not want new elections but wants to be given ‘back’ its ‘stolen mandate’. How is this supposed to happen? This is something no PTI leader has an answer to. After missing an opportunity to form the federal government with the PPP, the PTI has since lost its reserved seats and does not look like it has any comprehensive policy in place. Protests may work to create more instability but what is the end game here?