The PTI — a post-ethnic party

Published: January 10, 2012

The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad who also does risk-analysis work. He has worked at The Express Tribune and Newsline

For those whose minds tend towards cynicism, Imran Khan is a maddening figure. When he’s specific, as in his insistence that militants can be reasoned with and the prospect of Talibanisation resides only in the panicked minds of the species known as liberals, he comes off as naïve. When he’s vague, as he is with everything else, he just seems disingenuous.

The good thing about the Imran Khan phenomenon, sustained through massive rallies and low-calorie speechifying is that we can project onto his party, the PTI, whatever we would like to see in a political party. A blank canvas is useful because anything can be scribbled on it. Want to get rid of all the corrupt politicians? The PTI is your party. Reject all foreign aid and become self-sufficient? Imran is your man.

I am not immune to this game of wish fulfilment. Now that Imran appears to be a genuine electoral threat, I would like to make the case, with a bit of logic and a lot of hope, that the PTI will be Pakistan’s first post-ethnic party.

First, a short history lesson: unlike many other countries, say the UK for example, political parties here are mostly identified by the ethnicities (or, in the case of the MQM, language) of its voters more than by their class or income. The ANP has its Pakhtun constituency, the MQM the Muhajirs and no matter how hard they try to be truly national parties, the PPP and PML-N will always first be seen as creatures of Sindh and Punjab, respectively. The one exception to this was the PPP in the 1970 elections which swept Central Punjab far more comprehensively than it did Sindh.

But Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and before him Ayub Khan ensured that Pakistan’s political parties would end up being divided along ethnic lines. The imposition of Urdu — which at the time was the mother tongue of less than 10 per cent of West Pakistan — as the national language in 1961, followed by Ayub’s One Unit Scheme had inflamed just about every ethnic group in the country. ZAB, and just about every ruler who followed him, exacerbated the problem by refusing to acknowledge and accommodate pressures for ethnic autonomy. Since then, politics in Pakistan has to some extent been the story of ethnic mobilisation.

There may now be a small opening for a political party which bucks this trend. Rather than being counted on the basis of their ethnicity, Pakistan’s estimated 60 million-strong population that can be classified as middle class should be seen as one voting bloc that is up for grabs. In that may lie the path to electoral victory and a move away from our ethnic politics. There is a common misconception that the burgeoning middle class is an entirely urban phenomenon and thus of little value at the polls. But all four provinces have a rural middle class of anywhere between 15-25 per cent, a substantial portion of the electorate that can be convinced to vote on the basis of economic interests rather than ethnic solidarity.

This is where the PTI steps in. To the extent that it has an agenda, it can fairly be described as populist. More so than any other party, it relies on religious nationalist rhetoric, rather than ethnic appeals. The constant focus on corruption is aimed at a salaried middle class that is disgusted at having to pay taxes, while those richer than them manage to evade doing so. In essence, this is the same strategy the Jamaat-e-Islami used for political success in Karachi before it was supplanted by the MQM. Except this time, the PTI may show that the country is ready for a national party pitched to the middle class.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (35)

  • Saqib Mohiuddin
    Jan 10, 2012 - 10:08PM

    Wake up brother………what he is trying to do is get hold of Punjab (only Punjab)……
    The way he is adding up Politicians …….it is not going to be his party anymore…..Just give couple of months….may be 6 months and people are going to see what PTI actually is.Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Jan 10, 2012 - 10:09PM

    I agreed sir Go PTI GO.

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  • Usman
    Jan 10, 2012 - 10:23PM

    PTI is making people rethink their blind allegiances to ethnic parties for something more which is a good thing.

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  • NA
    Jan 10, 2012 - 10:25PM

    I am a strong PTI supporter. This is a very well written article. Yes Imran Khan is a bit vague on his policies. But lets see in these next few months he has said that there will be party seminars in which the party memebers will discuss details of his agenda and they will film it and make in public

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  • PakJam
    Jan 10, 2012 - 10:39PM

    @Saqib Mohiuddin: Brother in 6 months InshaAllah Pakistan will be running under the government of PTI.

    Regards

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  • Jan 10, 2012 - 10:44PM

    Good piece.

    Imran Khan has a lot more going for him than many analysts are willing to give him credit for. For the first time in 30 years, we have an anti status-quo voice that has garnered support in droves…all those who have ever wanted to see change in Pakistan need to get with the program (this goes beyond voting for him). How so?

    It is obvious that Imran Khan is still working on an agenda to fix a country that is mired in problems (and eventually will need a team to implement this agenda)…however, he has set a broad populist agenda (End cycle of violence, collect taxes, end corruption, education reform) and if he is willing to take support of dubious oppportunists in order to get there, why would he say no to help coming from the educated/professors/consultants/economists/activists/engineers etc.

    Imran Khan has laid down the foundation for electoral success…but in order to deliver his message of change, people who have the knowledge/skills to contribute NEED to step up, volunteer and get behind the cause rather than write out columns complaining about opportunists being opportunists.

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  • Ali Akbar Ghanghro
    Jan 10, 2012 - 11:06PM

    Could the author please quote his source when quoting numbers – size of middle class in Pakistan and rural parts of the provinces? We have not had a census in more than ten years. ET, could you please exercise some diligence in this regard??

    Also, since this is not an academic piece, let’s assume you associate the middle class with a certain socio-economic status (instead of an income range). Even if successfully tapped, the chances of a victory in our system of democracy depend on the spread of this populace and how the constituency lines are drawn.

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  • Abbas from the US
    Jan 10, 2012 - 11:20PM

    I would like an honest answer from all those with strong leanings towards the PTI and the incorruptible image of Imran that exists and drives their motivation.
    Are there any Old Sindhis or New Sindhis (Muhajirs) that exist out there?

    In the US I have met some very strong supporters of the PTI and Imran in the socio-politico get togethers. Even attended fund raisers while Imran is visiting (and I am not a supporter of his lone ranger status todate). Some are strongly motivated to monetarily support the organization, even supportive of Imran’s personal needs, but they without any shadow of doubt all belong to one ethnic grouping with an occaisional ethnic Pashtoon visible in the makeup of his supporters. So far from what I see out here and it is probably a reflection of the ethnic support that exists back in Pakistan.

    So please is there anyone out there that can be honest without the mask of the internet?

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  • Moiz from Lahore
    Jan 11, 2012 - 12:18AM

    PTI rocks .. <3

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  • Jan 11, 2012 - 12:18AM

    Declaring Obama a post-racial president was quite silly and wishful thinking. That bubble got burst by right-wing Tea Party nuts.

    Declaring PTI a post-ethnic party would be the same folly (though worth a discussion) despite the religio-nationalist concentration.

    I would have to agree with Abbas from the US…PTI supporter base are most likely to be Punjabi, albeit relatively younger than the PML-N demographics.

    While I’m sure they have pockets of support here and there among Baloch, Pashtun or Urdu speaking communities, etc, especially among the young or religious-nationalist inclined, do not see IK as a unifying national force across all ethnicities, or even Muslim and non-Muslim minority religious groups for that matter, considering some past and current issues here and there and his associations, background and main support and backers.

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  • Imran
    Jan 11, 2012 - 1:02AM

    I had been living in overseas and whenever I showed my concerned for Pakistan with someone, everyone said to me “Don’t worry Imran Khan is coming”

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  • Jan 11, 2012 - 1:30AM

    please guys dont crictize the politicians dded by imaran khan. he have to open gates to enter evryone. there may be oppurunist in it and some may be honest. but Imran khan says he will give ticket to only those cnditates who will fullfill the requirement of PTI parlimentory board. he will himself with his 15 core members who re the founders the party will scrutinize every member. he says he will keep pakistan best minds to help pakistan climb the ladder of success.

    so let I mran Khan give tickets to candittes and mention his reforms then critisize.

    by the beloved supporter of PTI

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  • aysha
    Jan 11, 2012 - 5:22AM

    The ‘imposition’ of Urdu — which at the time was the mother tongue of less than 10 per cent of West Pakistan

    Interesting comment!
    If the status of Urdu in Pakistan needs to be evaluated, it could best be done with reference to Quaid-e- Azam’s stand on the issue, where he with utmost clarity declared that Urdu will be the national language of Pakistan.

    Quaid could see that all these talk shows on TV, currently going on were only possible with Urdu and not in regional language.

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  • Jan 11, 2012 - 8:26AM

    IMRAN KHAN BOOK URDU TRANSLATION….a master piece of intellectual twists.

    Exemplary Twisted Urdu translation of imran khan’s book, meen aur mera pakistan. Full of twists, misleading translation, deliberate omissions
    1-in english at p 67 imran criticized saudi govt and called her US puppet, in urdu at page 63 translator omitted name of saudi Arab.
    2-In english page 69 imran wrote, zia,s islamization and musharraf,s enlightened moderation failed yet in urdu at page 64 he translated islamization as muzhbiat and enlightened moderation as secularism. Imagine the power of twist .

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  • Falcon
    Jan 11, 2012 - 9:25AM

    Good article. Thanks for looking at the brighter side of the equation.

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  • Haider Hussain
    Jan 11, 2012 - 9:34AM

    Although I am not slightest of a Jamat-e-Islami supporter, there is one thing about them that people usually overlook. Their within-party political system is purely democratic where leader is elected and where there is hardly any personality cult following.

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  • Asjad Khan
    Jan 11, 2012 - 10:22AM

    Mr.Najam Sethi mentioned this on his program “Jehra jetay udhay na;” Phenomena…from Changez Khan Book…hence all Punjab based leaders joining Imran!

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  • prof.shahida kazi
    Jan 11, 2012 - 10:31AM

    Take a course in history my boy,before writi ng anything.Neither urdu nor one unit was imposed by Ayub khan.One unit cAME IN 1954 BEFFORE THE 1956 CONSTITUTION.aS FOR URDU,IT WAS ANNOUNCED BY NO LESS THan Quaid e Azam himself that urdu and ionly urdu will be the national language of Pakistan.

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  • Jan 11, 2012 - 10:48AM

    @Haider Hussain:

    Although I am not slightest of a Jamat-e-Islami supporter, there is one thing about them that people usually overlook. Their within-party political system is purely democratic where leader is elected and where there is hardly any personality cult following.

    Yea, it is quite ironic…

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  • Jan 11, 2012 - 10:57AM

    @aamir riaz:

    IMRAN KHAN BOOK URDU TRANSLATION….a master piece of intellectual twists.

    Interesting catch.

    If true, wonder if this is a practice by the publishers’ for their respective audiences, saying more of the difference in intellectual censorship and accuracy in English and Urdu medias and their audiences, or whether the changes in the translation were personally approved by IK or his party, which would tell us of hypocrisyRecommend

  • Kafka
    Jan 11, 2012 - 10:58AM

    Though I also support PTI but I may beg to differ with the Author. I believe that both PPP and Jamaat-e-Islami are spread all across the country with the followers truly adhering to some ideology. You will find enthusiastic followers of these two parties in the remotest parts of the country including Balochistan, Baltistan and FATA.

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  • Ahsan Raza
    Jan 11, 2012 - 1:11PM

    When United States came into existence, 3 of its founding members wrote the Federalist Papers. In one of those federalist Papers the wrote about ” Sectionalism/Factionalism VS. Nationalism“. That is one of the many reasons I support PTI despite their flaws. People and analysts often overlook some of the exceptional qualities this political party brings to the table. Well written article never the less.

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  • Jan 11, 2012 - 4:06PM

    Imran Khan and his PTI DO NOT have the ingredients of the existing hypocritical parties. Imran has read the writing on the global socio-political horizon and knows that the time is NOW to re-face Pakistan. He will INSHALLAH not let us down. Salams to Pakistan

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  • with due respect
    Jan 11, 2012 - 4:36PM

    Brother kindly remember Azam Swatis speech in Karachi congregation. In what language was he speaking may i ask? It was pushto! There was another leader who spoke in that lang. So dont make your wish as news please! its far from reality. PTI is as ethnic

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  • shehzad
    Jan 11, 2012 - 6:05PM

    @with due respect
    Azam swati spoke in pashtu hindko and urdu
    since he didinot know sindhi and balochi he didnot use these languages

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  • with due respect
    Jan 11, 2012 - 6:24PM

    @shehzad: Brother, My point is when you are trying to advocate a national status you shouldnt have done that specific linguistic congregation. It should have been urdu only.

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  • Abbas from the US
    Jan 11, 2012 - 7:49PM

    @Haider Hussain:
    A Democratic party is one that allows individual members or supporters to express their confidence in the leadership thru direct ballot or participation. To become a member of the Jamaat e Islami, one has to be Muslim (a Non Muslim Pakistani cannot be a member), go thru a rigorous ideological brainwashing before selectively getting a membership. Even today the Jamaat e Islami probably has fewer than 10,000 members unless I am out of touch, one can be a symathizer with the Jamaat but to attain a member status is a screening process that may take years in fact decades.
    The Jamaat cannot be described as democratic when its role has traditionally from its very existence in Pakistan has been to display the most fascist tendencies.

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  • Abbas from the US
    Jan 11, 2012 - 8:01PM

    @prof.shahida kazi:
    @aysha:

    I grew up as a great admirer of Jinnah and more than six decades later am still one of the biggest fans. For his time Jinnah was not only unique but necessary to ensure the political aspirations of a grouping in the Indian Subcontinent which would otherwise have ended up with an inadequate political voice in a United India.
    However Jinnah who did not speak Urdu himself was influenced by the Muslim Leaque leadership which always had a very strong contigent from the Urdu speaking area of the United Province or today’s Utter Pradesh in India.
    And this statement used by this section of the leadership was to a great extent chauvanistic and an error by an otherwise very astute politician and leader.
    This very statement was the basis which going forward was the cause of the seperation of Bangladesh. And is still hurtful to the cause of Federalism in Pakistan. There is no reason for chauvanism about language in a country that has four distinct ethnic groups and a fifth created for the reason of achieving political power.

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  • Ali S
    Jan 11, 2012 - 8:59PM

    I’ll be honest. There’s a lot more that Imran Khan needs to address. It also goes without saying that, despite the charitable causes he has personally funded, his political track record is nil – which is both a good and a bad thing. But at the end, considering the kind of leaderships that this country has elected, giving Imran Khan just one chance seems like a quite reasonable option for anyone.

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  • aysha
    Jan 12, 2012 - 3:43AM

    @prof.shahida kazi:
    And Prefessor Sahiba, country cannot function without Urdu, it is what people need, what other option do they have to communicate with one another

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  • aysha
    Jan 12, 2012 - 3:49AM

    @Abbas from the US:
    What options do we have if not Urdu? Or there is no need of a national language
    No other language spoken in the sub-continent can match the depth and scope and the international recognition/ status that Urdu has.

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  • Chacha Char So Bees
    Jan 12, 2012 - 6:14PM

    Pashto is my mother tongue but I can’t read and write well in it. I can understand some punjabi and love it. I speak Urdu rather eloquently and I am proud of it. I am now starting to learn how to read and write in Pashto.
    It would have been great if regional languages were being taught at schools. In our zeal to enforce Urdu on all people we have not let regional languages prosper and this is a great disservice.

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  • Abbas from the US
    Jan 12, 2012 - 7:32PM

    @aysha:
    What options do we have if not Urdu?

    It is a little late for a fresh start to undo the damage this policy has done. And mind you Urdu was not my mother tongue and nor were any of the pakistani ethnic languages either. And of all the written languages that are in current use in Pakistan, Urdu is only language that was imparted to me in my formal education that I am able to read, write and understand.
    But as in Chacha Char So Bees’s case the choice of enforcing Urdu already undid Jinnah’s Pakistan, by the Bengalis rejecting a solution that would have required the majority of Pakistanis to reject their own ethnic language.
    One would have to empathize and understand the struggle and disadvantage that a child whose ethnic background is not Urdu speaking suffers from in the learning process when the child is in the most receptive stage of learning. In fact there have been a great number of studies done in the West, specifically Europe, where Billingualism in early childhood and negative cognitive development have been corelated.
    Countries with more than one ethnic group after centuries of discontent have finally made it to a point where examples of Switzerland have four national languages. Even in Canada where there is a minority of French speakers the emphasis is on the teaching of both Engilsh and French.
    Where should Pakistan go from here? The early part of child development calls for the use of the ethnic mother tongue for even development, the later part of adolescent learning, a necessity of acquiring more than one ethnic language where Urdu should also be treated as an ethnic language.
    This would accord equal opportunity to the greatest number of Pakistanis is practical life.

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  • aysha
    Jan 15, 2012 - 3:47AM

    @Abbas from the US:
    @Chacha Char So Bees:
    This is very interesting. One elemnet that binds a supposed nation is now contested. That is how divisive culture in our country is promoted

    Let us analyze the damage that the policy of Quaide Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah did by making Urdu the national language of Pakistan.

    To begin with, in Bangladesh it was economic disparity and political injustice that started to breed hostile sentiments among Bengalis. It was not Urdu that can be considered as the fundamental basis of what ensued, it may have surfaced as a contributing factor and perhaps more to do with Bengalis anger than with rational thought.

    The wealth of knowledge that Urdu offered was not available in any of the regional languages. Quaid’s policy was in the interest of the nation and it was well understood and followed by all the leaders of the federating units at the time of the creation of Pakistan. No leader from any of the provinces felt a threat to the growth and development of his regional language because it was well understood that only Urdu had the potential to achieve educational and economic goals for the people. The regional languages did get their share in the curriculum in schools.

    To empathize and understand the predicament faced by the child to learn in a language other than his / her mother tongue is of course considerable, however, we need to understand that in developing countries it is a challenge faced by learners in order to prepare for their future lives, may it be with Urdu or English.

    One must also analyze the growth and development of regional languages before decisions such as incorporating them as medium of instruction can be made. The regional languages have been unable to produce enough learning material, hence dependence on Urdu, the knowledge and skills in which were considered viable, until it was identified as a fault line.

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  • aysha
    Jan 15, 2012 - 11:13AM

    @Abbas from the US:
    @Chacha Char So Bees:
    This is very interesting. One elemnet that binds a supposed nation is now contested. That is how divisive culture in our country is promoted

    Let us analyze the damage that the policy of Quaide Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah did by making Urdu the national language of Pakistan.

    To begin with, in Bangladesh it was economic disparity and political injustice that started to breed hostile sentiments among Bengalis. It was not Urdu that can be considered as the fundamental basis of what ensued, it may have surfaced as a contributing factor and perhaps more to do with Bengalis anger than with rational thought.

    The wealth of knowledge that Urdu offered was not available in any of the regional languages. Quaid’s policy was in the interest of the nation and it was well understood and followed by all the leaders of the federating units at the time of the creation of Pakistan. No leader from any of the provinces felt a threat to the growth and development of his regional language because it was well understood that only Urdu had the potential to achieve educational and economic goals for the people. The regional languages did get their share in the curriculum in schools.

    To empathize and understand the predicament faced by the child to learn in a language other than his / her mother tongue is of course considerable, however, we need to understand that in developing countries it is a challenge faced by learners in order to prepare for their future lives, may it be with Urdu or English.

    One must also analyze the growth and development of regional languages before decisions such as incorporating them as medium of instruction can be made. The regional languages have been unable to produce enough learning material, hence dependence on Urdu, the knowledge and skills in which were considered viable until it was identified as a fault line.

    Recommend

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