Monday May 29, 2023

Rise of Imran Khan

July 31, 2017

“Dream has no timeframe,” Imran Khan once said when his ex-wife Jemima asked how long he would keep pursuing politics without success and at what point would decide it was futile. It took him 21 years to reach this position where his biggest challenger former prime minister Nawaz Sharif been disqualified, apparently for life from parliamentary politics by the Supreme Court. Maybe premature but he sees a landslide victory for his party in the next elections.

His party has a test in NA-120, Lahore – Nawaz Sharif’s strong seat which is now vacant. Can the PTI upset the PML-N? It will not be just a by-election but a test for the ruling party as well as the opposition in the post-SC verdict scenario.

There is still a long a way to go and despite the worst ever SC verdict for Nawaz Sharif and his family, the former prime minister is out from politics but not down as he is determined to fight back.

There is little doubt that if one man who should be given credit to the fall of Sharif, it is Imran Khan. But he and his far more experienced colleagues in politics knows that PML-N still very strong and quite capable of come back.

What Khan and his party need to learn is respect for criticism and critics. In democracy, it is criticism which often makes leaders and parties to correct themselves. Khan too is facing a disqualification case in the Supreme Court, but, at the moment, he is in a mood to celebrate political ouster of his arch political rival whom he always considered the main in getting close to his dream of leading Pakistan as captain – to become Prime Minister of Pakistan – and as he pledged to make the country a true Islamic welfare state.

The PTI held a big show at the historic Parade Ground, the venue of his 126-day dharna. Khan once disclosed the secret of his success in his book ‘Imran Khan Pakistan’."I had developed through sports, the more you challenge yourself, the more you discover greater reserves of strength within you. The moment you relax and stop pushing yourself is the moment you start going downhill.”

He went on to say, “I first strove to play cricket for Pakistan, then my goal became to be my country's best all-rounder, then best fast bowler, then the best all rounder in the world. When I became the Captain, I wanted Pakistan to be the best team in the world. And once the cancer hospital after the memory of my mother became a success, I set about building two more. I am also building the knowledge city on the pattern of Oxford University in Mianwali, first private University in the rural areas. After one goal has been achieved, there are always more to conquer.”

Khan played cricket for over 20 years. It took him a decade to enter into Pakistan cricket and never looked back till he led country to its greatest achievement, the victory in 1992 World Cup.

Retired from cricket in 1993, Khan had no desire to join politics and had twice rejected the offer to become federal minister, one made by late Gen Ziaul Haq in 1988 after he dismissed the government of Muhammad Khan Junejo and again by interim PM late Moin Qureshi.

It was in 1996 at his Zaman Park residence, his close and some new friends decided to form a political party. They named it 'Justice Party' which was later named as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Among the founding members who remained with Imran since the first day includes Hamid Khan (the founder of PTI’s constitution), Dr Arif Alvi, Naeemul Haq and over a dozen others.

Today, it is the second largest political party in the country and the one whom many considered as possible alternate to the PML-N while he is already far ahead of the PPP since the 2013 elections. The PPP, one of the most experienced political parties, has been in and out of power politics, fighting hard to recover since the loss of its leader Benazir Bhutto.

If 2002 elections were worst for Imran’s politics when despite a massive campaign he could win his lone National Assembly seat from his home constituency, Mianwali, 2013 polls gave him new a height after he boycotted the 2008 elections.

The last elections were the turning point in his politics, when his party swept polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and completely wiped out both JUI-F – a religious party – and secular-cum-nationalist Awami National Party. In Punjab, the PPP vote bank switched to PTI, showing a silent dissent against the party policies and lack of interest in the party after BB's assassination. In Khan, they saw someone who could challenge the mighty Sharif.

Both PML-N and PPP badly misjudged Imran's popular wave which took a new height on October 30th, 2011, when almost half a million people attended a public meeting at Minar-e-Pakistan, the biggest show of strength since Benazir Bhutto's April 10th, 1986 return from exile.

Khan always looked towards Mian Bashir, the old man he always go for advice when he is down. He said, "When my party was down in the dump and had hit rock bottom, I called on my old and most loyal friend Goldie (Omar Farooq) and Mian Bashir who was not feeling well. The party was going through its most difficult phase and fighting for survival. Goldie was losing hope and asked Mian Bashir when will our party come into power? He closed his eyes and opened it after five minutes, looked towards me and said ‘when you are ready to take the responsibility’.”

Today, Khan believes that he and his party are ready to take the responsibility to take Pakistan out of crisis. "I feel Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is the idea whose time has come.”

Why I say it is still a long way to go because politics is not cricket and though from anti-status quo, Khan has learnt the dynamics of Pakistan politics, he still has to get a comfortable majority in the next general elections to win the Political World Cup in 2018, for which he has to defeat his arch political rival in Punjab, PML-N, still led by the Sharifs.

It is also the time for PML-N and PPP to accept Khan as the biggest potential challenger and not just a glamour, which they used to consider him till his Minar-e-Pakistan show. He has created his own vote bank and brought families to the polling stations. Still inexperienced to understand political manoeuvring, many Pakistanis now look towards him as a possible alternate and untested. Only the time and his politics will tell whether they are right or wrong.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang.

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO