Thoughts by Bahadar Ali

April 5, 2013

Imran Khan: Myth and Reality

Filed under: Political — bkhan @ 12:35 pm


In any normal democratic country, it may be a normal process, but a history is being made in Pakistan where one democratic government completed its tenure and transitional government is going to hold new elections. It is a milestone that our portioning partner India had achieved 60 years ago resulting in rock-solid democratic process, stable institutions and matured political parties. Unfortunately Pakistan went through a continued turbulence and ever competing institutions to hold grip on power. Resulting in a sustained chaos and lack of clear vision for the state. The civilian hold up on power, as it is granted in established democracies, has remained extremely weak in Pakistan. Various military generals in almost every decade of Pakistani history staged coup against the civil governments or put the civil governments under their tight checks, if ever reluctantly given power. This resulted in weak political parties, decay of party ideology and birth of a whole new breed of opportunists who would find no qualms in switching their loyalties equally to any ruler military or civilian government.

Insipte of all the short comings, Pakistani political horizon has never remained barren for long. Pakistan has seen very big names and tall stature political leadership who were never short of capacity and charisma. People like Liaqauat Ali Khan, Khawja Nazimud Din, A K Fazl-e-Haq, Hussain Shaheed Suhrwardy, Maulana Bhashani, Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman, Mufti Mehmood, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Each of these have their own respective admirers and critics, however, each of these could move the public which they actually did. A new addition to this roll of honour is cricketer-turned-politician Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi, popular as Imran Khan.

Imran Khan entry into politician scene is not a new one. He is on the scene for last over 15 years but couldn’t make his presence felt. Until recently no political analyst considered him a serious political contender. But all this changed, apparently from no where, when he held a major political rally on October 30th 2011 in Lahore. The turn out was beyond anybody’s wildest imagination and hence provided Imran Khan, the much needed political attention. Overnight it galvanized hundreds of political aspirants and stalwarts alike to flock around Imran Khan’s Pakistan tehrik-e-Insaaf ( PTI ). Needless to say that immediately Imran Khan posed serious threat to the suzerainty of the traditional and well established political parties of the country. One of them, PML(N), in particular considered Imran as a serious anomoly that could dent its traditionally conservative right wing vote bank.

Despite being a liberal and Western educated, Imran, choose to play on the center-right political turf. This provided the liberal and secular PPP much needed break as well, when latter thought that Imran would split the right wing vote bank of its traditional rival in Punjab, the PML(N) headed by Nawaz Sharif. However, Imran Khan buoyed by the initial euphoria of Lahore gathering, introduced the slogan of change and promised his followers to uproot, as per him, the corrupt and status quo parties. He further choose to play solo and called his movement as Tsunami ( A reference to the giant tidal wave that sweeps away everything ).

Imran could manage to break away a large number of major political personalities from the two main political parties ( PPP, PML(N) ) along with several regional parties office bearers. The new people who joined Imran proved double faced swords. On one end it enhanced the credibility and strength of PTI but on the other end it created an anxiety within the existing ranks of PTI adherents who stood with party since its inception. The new political cadres within PTI comprised of traditional political houses who are habitual turn-coats. Interestingly the first major influx to his party came from the close associates of the former military dictator General Parvez Musharraf, who Imran criticized in his speeches on a regular basis. The PML(N) started beating its drums to the loudest when it saw the new phenomena. They PML(N) would always criticize PTI on top of their lungs. They labeled PTI as a laundry shop where all the politicians whom Imran used to refer as corrupt but once they joined him all of their stains got washed.

On the publicity front Imran’s PTI has left other political competitors far behind. Its media managers played the media very effectively and especially on the cyber-space, they are absolutely no match. It is jokingly referred as that if Facebook were the publicity criteria, Imran would already have established a monarchy there. In actuality, the handling of the media has remained one of the speciality of PTI. Long before the historic and game changer Lahore rally, the PTI media wing started building momentum through its selective choosing of the television channels, their time slots and producing the required noise at required pitch and at the right moment. This would generate the necessary excitement in public which only resonate further by repeating the same till the day of rally. Consequently public would feel the time ticking and curiosity would mount for the event. This is a brilliant design that PTI often uses for its political rallies. It is important to note here that other parties do hold rallies some time very close to those of PTI’s but they never receive the required media attention and generally their gatherings have limited effect on general public.

Another aspect, for which no doubt PTI deserves the credit, is their ability to extract youth out of their homes. In particular the urban middle class youth which generally would stay wary of the electoral process and most of them treated election-day as just another holiday. For them previously it was a useless exercise to cast a vote or for that matter campaigning for somebody. Now the same youth is charged and passionately supporting Khan’s party. Although sometime PTI’s rival complain about the PTI youth for being foul-mouthed and their lack of patience to face criticism to their leader. However, as they are new to the political process, generally their knowledge of Pakistani history seems confined too. Their knowledge of Pakistani politics just dates back to Musharraf-era. They think everybody else as corrupt and have little or no knowledge about the major political parties and their sacrifices for democracy, especially MRD or PPP’s efforts for democracy against the onslaught of the most cruel military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. For them Imran is panacea for all the ills that Pakistan is presently facing. If questioned with the PTI’s policy, as how to deal with the powerful establishment, they consider it is a no-brainer.

In order to substantiate the rise of PTI from history, Imran Khan equates his popularity to that of the founder of PPP Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in late Sixties. Essentially predicting his electoral triumph in forthcoming elections that to the scale of Bhutto’s PPP in 1970s election. Obviously this is tall claim, nonetheless, it gives further spur to his party cadres and workers alike. Reality is somehow different. Bhutto’s success was the result of multiple factors, the most important among those was the rise of Marxist Socialism in the entire region in that particular era. Bhutto played that Socialist wave to his advantage and turned that into his party’s electoral success. Beside that Bhutto was a trained politician who had charisma with in-depth study, extreme intelligence and was a fiery orator. Imran on the other hand lacks many of these qualities. A leader’s success lies being dynamic and by providing intelligent guidance to the changing realities and political landscape, however Khan, mostly relies on rhetoric, which doesn’t sound appealing after sometime.

Another interesting part of Imran Khan’s person is his overt display of religiosity and his confusion over handling the extremist threat that Pakistan is facing for over a decade now ( Practically it is there for three decades, however it started getting much attention after 9-11 attacks). In the past many years Imran Khan has always remained a vocal critic of the CIA operated Predator Drone attack on Pakistani border areas. He had a consistent stand on dialogue with Taliban and also tries to champion the cause of most of the issues that somehow hurt the extremist element of the society. But he always looked the other way when it came about openly condemning suicide attacks within Pakistan. Even if he did condemned it occasionally, he would right away takes the potency out of it by declaring it as a reaction of US atrocities. This kept many confused even within his party ranks. Because for most of the PTI members he represents the most presentable public-face of Pakistan being a widely traveled and well educated person. Also his detractors question his apparently ‘playboy’ past ( A whole volume can be written here, but it would be beyond the scope of this article) and his handling of some of events from his Cricketing career, including playing in Kerry Packers series while stranding Pakistani team while it was visiting India and also for staging revolt against the then captain Javed Miandad after Sri-Lankan tour of Pakistan 1982.

It would not be out of place if we look at the possible outcome of the forthcoming general elections from Imran Khan’s PTI perspective. Despite the tall claims of Khan for his Tsunami, sweeping of the polls and winning two-third majority in Parliament, the ground realities seems quite to the contrary. There is no doubt that Imran has been able to gather some fairly decent delectable under his garb, however, keeping the dynamics of the Pakistani politics and the mechanics of the polling process even getting some decent size seats in the National Assembly seems a distant possibility for PTI. It is fairly unlikely that Imran would be able to win a seat from MQM controlled areas of Karachi and other Urban Sind centers. On the rural Sind, situation seems bleak as his party doesn’t have enough traction to break the traditional hold of PPP there. Thus it is unlikely that his party might win any seat in entire Sind. In Southern Punjab, on some National Assembly seats his candidates might give some decent fight to PPP but chances of getting more than one seats doesn’t seem possible. In Center and North Punjab where Imran has high hopes, PML(N) would be too tough for him to defeat. However it is likely that Imran Khan himself might win his own National Assembly seat either from Lahore or Mianwali( his ancestral town ). In Khyber-Pukhtunkhua, situation is highly polarized and dicey. There are simply too may contenders and too many favorites. While competing with ANP, PPP, PML(N), JUI(F) there PTI might gain some National Assembly seats but apparently in lower single digit. In Baluchistan province, PTI is simply non-existant. In this bleak picture ( the way I see it ) the only positivity PTI can expect is that it would be a second best contender in some of the seats in KP and Punjab that might help it to prepare for the elections of the future.







  1. What about the pti elections, common people like riskshaw drivers and darzee(tailors) being elected to part positions. Is this not grass roots democracy. Would this not galvanize the high percentage of urban Pakistan

    It’s the only elected party in Pakistan with 230 k elected party office holders

    Also a first in Pakistan.

    Aren’t we discounting the the old saying ” nothing is more previous than the heart of a volunteer” specialy one standing up to un achievable odds

    Comment by Wajeeh khan — April 5, 2013 @ 8:58 pm

  2. Though quite different from what fans of Imran khan want. Some times reality on the ground is differnt from the one we see from outscirts. Elections are not too far. your analysis would be tested soon Mr. Khan and if it does then I would say you would have agood eye on the politics.

    Comment by Akbar — April 6, 2013 @ 2:22 am

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