The name is Khan, Gohar Khan

April 21, 2024

As PTI’s chairman, Barrister Gohar Khan has his work cut out for him

The name is Khan, Gohar Khan


hat can be the biggest challenges for Barrister Gohar Ali Khan? He started his political journey as a Pakistan Peoples Party supporter. For 14 years, he remained loyal to the party. In 2022, for the first time, he showed an inclination towards the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. As fate would have it, he is now its chairman.

Imran Khan, the PTI founder and former prime minister, is an unusual kind of politician. Unlike some other politicians who have been in similar situations, he did not nominate his spouse to take over the party. Many within and outside the party have questioned his choice, wondering why some ‘true’ PTI workers such as Shaharyar Afridi, Ali Muhammad Khan or Yasmin Rashid not get the nod. Imran Khan had his reasons. Most of the senior PTI leaders, including those mentioned, faced arrests and prosecution. Many were either in jail or in hiding.

Hailing from Buner in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gohar Khan first won the trust of the jailed PTI founder by representing him in the Toshakhana and Election Commission contempt cases. Even though court verdicts in the cases were against him, Imran Khan was satisfied with his representation.

Many in the PTI believe that Gohar Ali Khan has been given the charge to keep the chairman’s seat ‘warm.’ He can be readily replaced whenever Imran Khan wishes. Gohar can be counted upon to make no fuss. Like several other lawyers who came to the fore in the party after the PTI’s legal challenges multiplied, he has not been targeted by the establishment.

Then there’s the fact that apart from family members, lawyers are the only people who have access to Imran Khan and can have regular meetings with him. Since Imran Khan’s legal ordeals are far from over, he will always need access to his legal besties such as Gohar Ali Khan. Thus, Gohar has become a sort of conduit between Imran Khan and the party.

Many have questioned: so why not Hamid Khan, who has a long association with the PTI? For one thing, he has no PPP past. The fact that Hamid Khan was interested, could have secured the chairmanship and may have worked against himself. Imran Khan did not tilt in his favour. One of the reasons for this may be that in some situations Hamid Khan may have acted independently and taken some decisions on his own, without consulting senior party leaders.

His biggest challenge as party head is to ensure that the incarcerated party leaders are released and to bridge the divisions within the party. He has said that he plans to strengthen the party’s structure and reach out to new voters.

There are those who compare Gohar Ali Khan’s selection with Imran Khan’s disastrous decision to pick Sardar Usman Buzdar as Punjab chief minister despite widespread opposition. However, most party members say Gohar Khan is much too refined and qualified to merit the comparison with Buzdar. In fact, Gohar Khan has acted quite like a mature leader. Holding a law degree from the University of Wolverhampton, UK, and an LLM from University of Washington School of Law, US, he is said to be ‘authentic’ and politically wise.

Gohar has previously held the position of PTI’s chief election commissioner. He was elected party chairman in December 2023. He did not have much time then to prepare for some of the biggest challenges for his party, including the February 8 general elections and the loss of the party symbol. However, the party did quite well in the polls despite fears to the contrary. Gohar, too, was elected to the National Assembly from NA-10, Buner.

His challenges continue, however.

His biggest challenge as party head is to ensure that the incarcerated party leaders are released soon. Also, he has to bridge the divisions within the party. He has said that he plans to strengthen the party’s structure and reach out to new voters.

Gohar Khan’s rise may mean a shift within the PTI towards a more legalistic and potentially moderate stance. Of course, the party will still be overshadowed by Imran Khan’s influence and popularity. This is reflected in the PTI’s restrained reaction to the alleged rigging. They had initially announced a protest campaign to be launched in Ramazan but then put it off until after Eid. The plan for street protests has since become a six-party-opposition-alliance activity rather than a PTI sole show.

A virtual political novice, Gohar Khan has his work cut out for him. Not only does he have to keep his party’s popularity in tact but also to overcome the legal challenges.

In terms of political activity, he has to keep the cauldron boiling in the streets and the parliamentary forums. There is a view in the PTI that it can’t afford to lose its aggressive momentum, set by Imran Khan. The party is already seen losing steam as far as putting across its narrative and giving direction to its workers is concerned.

The PTI has decided well in choosing to take the opposition benches in the parliament. This involves questioning the government, holding it accountable and raising matters of public importance on the floor of the parliamentary houses rather than in the streets.

The day Gohar Khan manages to hand back the party in one piece to Imran Khan will be the day one can say that he has done his job and well.

The writer, a journalist for 33 years, has been an editor at the BBC in Pakistan for over two decades. Currently, he is the managing editor at Independent Urdu

The name is Khan, Gohar Khan