Imran Khan: The leader, the pawn

If the PTI sit-in was covered in the entertainment section, the news would end with “and a good time was had by...

Nadir Hassan August 08, 2011

Veterans of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) dharnas know that the main reason for attending these protests-cum-parties is the musical stylings of DJ Butt. This being Ramazan, however, Imran Khan’s latest show of strength at D-Chowk outside Parliament House in Islamabad was devoid of music. Instead, attendees had to make to do with comedy. Mimics took on the usual suspects – Zardari, Gilani, Nawaz.

If this latest PTI sit-in was being covered in the entertainment section of newspapers, the report would end with an upbeat “and a good time was had by all”. And with a dharna scheduled every Saturday of Ramazan, the good times will continue to roll. But since the fun and frolicking was ostensibly political, a deeper analysis becomes sadly necessary.

More than even the staunchest PPP jiyala, PTI diehards have learned the art of parroting their chosen one. One attendee at the sit-in patiently explained to me how the judiciary is being unduly timid in its cases against the government. The solution, explained this man who had perfected Imran Khan’s talking points, is that the army must use its ‘full force’ in favour of a supposedly beleaguered Supreme Court. Since the army’s full force includes its nuclear arsenal let us assume that was rhetorical overkill.

Here, then, is the dilemma facing the PTI. To become a viable political party that does something other than be the cool kid at college who throws awesome parties, the PTI needs the army. Given that the PTI spent much of the last decade railing against Musharraf, this requires either schizophrenia or amnesia.

Imran Khan has, according to most observers, spent the last few months cosying up to the GHQ and coordinating his message on drones, the PML-N, PPP and America, all of whom both the army and PTI are opposed to.

Even in a best-case scenario, one which involves lots of ballot-stuffing, the PTI can only play the role of a spoiler in the next general elections. By forming a right-wing bloc with the religious parties, the PTI can capture 10 to 15 National Assembly seats in Punjab, and prevent the PML-N from winning too many seats by taking a slice of their vote and thus allowing the PPP to retain power.

This works out well for the army which, although mistrustful of the PPP, would prefer to deal with the devil it knows rather than an unpredictable Nawaz Sharif. The PML-N leader has made a habit of fighting with every army chief during his previous two terms - Kakar, Karamat, Musharraf. And his recent rhetoric against the army has only reinforced the army belief that he must not be allowed back into power. Thus, it is Imran Khan’s lot in life to be a pawn.

Pawn though he may be, Imran Khan is going to act like he has free will. The theme of his dharna was “Hakumat hatao, mulk bachao”. In trying to remove the government, though, he is giving the PPP its best shot at securing a second term. Party on!

Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2011.

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