Has it really been just a fortnight?
It’s like running the 110 metres hurdle race and tripping on the first five hurdles.
It’s like losing three wickets in the first over without any runs on board.
It’s like being knocked down twice in the opening round of the boxing bout.
It’s like doing an ‘own goal’ in the opening minutes of a football match.
In short, not cool.
So how does one explain this shaky start to the PTI’s official innings? How does one explain how such a strong team could deliver such unsteady governance in such a short time despite such an easy pitch?
The list of blunders is by now as well-known as it is long. Some of these can be explained away through the internal compulsion of a hyperventilating media salivating at the prospects of a pompous PTI leadership falling off the high horse of its own haughty and imperious rhetoric. Some of it can be described by the naïve, though understandable exuberance of a bunch of over-confident individuals suddenly finding themselves occupying high offices and doing a poor job of disguising their unvarnished glee. But quite a bit of it can possibly be attributed to the party’s hyperbole smashing into the realities of this rotting system and splintering into a heap of charred vanity.
This system that the PTI has trashed so lustily all these years is not a fragile entity that can collapse at the first rhetorical punch delivered by change agents. One reason for its resilience is its fantastic ability to coopt change agents of all shapes and hues. If the last fortnight has proven anything, it is that very few change agents can resist the lure of private jets, helicopters, palatial estates with rolling lawns and liveried staff. How many times in the annals of history have well-meaning men and women argued they must become part of the system to change the system? How many times have these pious words then faded into a distant echo gradually dissolving into oblivion?
But Imran Khan is different, say the PTI’s rank and file. He always delivers. He is the one change agent who will never allow himself to be coopted by the system. Fair enough. Let’s accept this logic at face value. Let us also accept that he has stayed on a message for years and will now act on this message. But the government is more than just the person of the Prime Minister. How will the others in his team hold on tightly to his original message?
But of course they will, say the PTI’s rank and file. They will do so because they believe in his message from the core of their very being; that they have done so throughout the twenty-two years they have been with him. Or fifteen years. Or ten years.
But what about those who joined Khan in 2011 and later? Did they join him because they believed in his message, or because they suddenly saw him as a horse they could bet on? Did they believe in his beliefs, or in their belief that he was now no more a loser but a potential winner in the power game?
And what about those who joined him after Nawaz Sharif was ousted from power? And those who joined him after Senate elections? And those who joined him during the caretaker government? And those who joined him on the last day of withdrawing nomination papers?
Are all these people holding firmly to his message? Have they deeply internalised his message? Or are they with him not because they believe in his beliefs but because they believe in their belief to wager on the right side of power?
It’s a ragtag lot, this Khan army. There’s the core believer, then there’s the political high command that manages and administers the party’s strategic affairs, followed by electoral musclemen and women who fight for the highest bidder. Thrust in power, their reactions should have been expected.
The core team couldn’t believe their twenty-two-year-old struggle had borne fruit. It is these men and women who believed in Khan when no one else did; it was this team that traversed that lonely path through the political wilderness with him and refused to give up hope. Almost all of them are new to the corridors of power and will require time to adjust. They can be forgiven if their excitement bubbles over into faux pas of varying degrees. One can even ignore the outrageous utterance by Senator Faisal Javed that “Imran hai tau Pakistan hai” (Pakistan is here because Imran is here).
The political strategists of the party strategised the ascent to power but slipped when it came time to manage power. Shunted into their respective ministries, etc. Perhaps men like Shah Mehmood Qureshi could not place a steadying hand on the ship as it braved the early waves of expectations and reactions. As a result at times it appeared the government was adrift in a sea of self-triggered turbulence with no one to steer it back to course.
And then of course there were the vast majority of expendable electables who fuel themselves with nourishment from this system and nourish it back with patronage. These carpetbaggers seek succor from the same system that Khan wants to change. That’s not a particularly subtle oxymoron right there. So they reacted the way they have been bred to react: a helicopter here, a protocol there, a flaunting of political power here and a flexing of political muscle there, a slap (or four) here, a suspension of a cop for personal grudge there. What’s the big deal; many asked when a furor erupted. If power cannot be flaunted, why seek it? Right?
Taken together, ‘Team PTI’ is now struggling to transform itself into ‘Team GOP’. When righteousness of cause combines with the arrogance of victory, the combination is inflammable. The PTI has made itself sit atop a powder keg of unrealistic expectations, unrealisable goals and unachievable targets. It needs now to develop the grace of exercising power, the humbleness of accepting mistakes and the graciousness of saying sorry when required. In the first fifteen days of its rule, it has displayed only a few of these traits.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 2nd, 2018.