Thursday June 08, 2023

Change in plan?

By Editorial Board
August 15, 2022

Imran Khan and the PTI appear to be carefully altering their ‘foreign conspiracy’ narrative, with Imran – who till now has been speaking of a conspiracy hatched in the US and by the US to oust his government through a successful no-confidence move – saying he never meant not to engage in relations with the US provided that these relations are built on equality and not on ‘slavery’. At his well-attended rally in Lahore on Saturday night, Imran read from much the same script, albeit with a significantly toned-down version of the conspiracy narrative. This comes just days after it was revealed that the PTI had hired a lobbying firm at $25000 a month to look after its interests in the US. This is an alteration from the PTI’s strategy in the past, although it has been made clear that the firm is not linked directly to PTI Pakistan but to PTI USA. There had also been reports – denied by the PTI – of the PTI chief being in touch with US Ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome.

On other matters though Imran is sticking to the conspiracy angle, saying that the Toshakhana case and the foreign funding case are both manouverings targeting him and his party. While these are matters which will need to be settled in court, analysts believe that the arrest of Shahbaz Gill may be leading to a bit of a reset in the way the PTI has been relaying its message. Imran’s Saturday rally came a day after President Alvi and the PTI chief both signalled they were ready for ‘talks’ with the PDM government. The catch though remains the same: we will talk, but only if fresh elections are announced. While the mere agreement to talk – on the part of Imran Khan – may be a huge departure from his earlier position that he’d rather talk to the outlawed TTP than to the ‘thieves and crooks’ of the PDM, the precondition of early elections makes little sense at a time when the coalition government has managed to finally get the economy to at least head towards some semblance of sanity.

At a time when the country needed economic stability and was on the verge of default, the PTI government had announced a petroleum subsidy due to political expediency. After the ouster, despite knowing the precarious situation of the economy, the PTI continued to politicize the issue. Now that the economy is in a somewhat better position after the coalition government has had to take tough economic decisions and also paid a political price for it in the shape of the Punjab by-polls, Imran being ‘ready’ to talk to the government – with a precondition – will hardly be hailed by Islamabad. To some, this is reflective of the general PTI stance: which seems to prefer a ‘burn it all down’ approach when it doesn’t get its way. What the party is missing in all this is that eventually for any kind of reform, they will need to sit with the government to chart out a path for the way forward. Parties like the PPP and the PML-N, along with others like JUI-F, MQM, ANP have learned the hard way that they may not agree with each other ideologically or politically on many issues and will continue to fight their political battles, but in politics ally-ship – ephemeral though it may be – can actually serve the democratic process. The PTI would do well to remember that politics at the cost of the state is no politics. By staying out of parliament, the party may have earned some ‘revolutionary’ accolades that populism thrives on but the reality is that it is still outside parliament, the one space it could have used far more effectively to lobby for early elections. At the moment, its only plan – going by Saturday’s rally – is to revert to ‘power shows’ on the streets and get the government to buckle on the election issue while also using its government in Punjab to go after PDM leaders. By most analysis, any possibility of early elections now seems a stretch. Perhaps the PTI and its leaders, who seem to be already headed back to the drawing board, need to realize that petulance is not politics.