Imran Khan’s Plan B

Published: May 22, 2013
The writer is an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC and president of Vizier Consulting, LLC. He tweets at @ArifCRafiq

The writer is an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC and president of Vizier Consulting, LLC. He tweets at @ArifCRafiq

Alas, the “clean sweep” Imran Khan promised never materialised. Rather than winning a majority of National Assembly seats, his party has come in third. But it would be a mistake to consider the electoral performance of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) a failure. The PTI has succeeded — just not in the way it planned.

The PTI is in a virtual tie with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) for the second most National Assembly seats. It has won seats in three out of the four provinces, and six out of the 10 largest cities. It will form a provincial government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). And perhaps, most surprisingly, the PTI has won the second largest share of votes in Karachi (roughly 18 per cent of the total).

The PTI’s gains in this election cycle do not make it a permanent fixture in Pakistan’s political landscape. Its seats could be easily washed away when the next elections take place — especially if the party fails to perform in K-P or if the PML-N does exceptionally well at the national level. With this in mind, I will identify three ways that will help the PTI to not only stick around but also thrive in a way that contributes to a better Pakistan.

One, the PTI should position itself as the defacto opposition in the National Assembly. The formal role will go to a member of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the PTI should by no means do anything to obstruct that. But as it stands, the PPP lacks the capability to contribute to a meaningful policy debate on most issues. And it lacks credibility on the issue of accountability.

The PTI can set itself apart from the pack by forming something akin to a shadow cabinet, offering its own set of proposals for continued electoral reforms, expanding the tax net, and improving the judicial system. A shadow cabinet equivalent — with a paid, professional research staff — would improve the quality of parliamentary discussion in Pakistan and showcase the PTI’s capabilities within the corridors of power.

If offered, Imran should accept the position of chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. The post would give him an opportunity to tackle his pet issue, corruption, from the inside. But the PTI needs to make sure that its National Assembly contingent is not dominated by the captain. In particular, it should highlight its younger MNAs, such as Murad Saeed of Swat, giving them an opportunity to grow into full-fledged politicians who could carry the PTI into the future.

Two, the PTI must make K-P work despite the enduring challenge of terrorism. Khyber-Pakhtuknhwa has suffered not only from the scourge of terror, but also from poor planning and corruption. The PTI should focus on improving the province’s public education system, reforming the police and judiciary, and cleaning up the provincial capital, Peshawar, giving it a smart, affordable public transportation system. And though the PTI is reluctant to confront terror, terror will eventually confront it. The PTI must prepare contingencies for when its outreach to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan fails, its party members will become the targets of terrorists.

Finally, the PTI must reform and grow its party infrastructure. Intra-party elections must be held regularly. An assertive campaign to instil good behaviour in its online support base is necessary. A Naya Pakistan should preserve the traditional respect for women and elders that was common in the purana Pakistan. In between elections, the PTI should harness the strength of its rank and file — including its tabdeeli razakars (on-the-ground volunteers) and its giant pool of netizens — and build a public service volunteer corps. This will help maintain the loyalty and enthusiasm of its youthful base and direct their political consciousness towards efforts that serve the public good, such as combating illiteracy. A grassroots, youth-led social welfare team could allow the party to make inroads into rural parts of Pakistan, especially in Balochistan, Sindh and southern Punjab, where its presence has been weak.

The game is far from over for Imran Khan and the PTI. With a revised playbook, they can build upon their modest success in 2013, and position themselves for a bigger, national victory when the next elections take place.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2013.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • Mirza
    May 23, 2013 - 1:39AM

    The writer’s heart is in the right place. Yet he makes bizarre suggestion for PTI. The making of a shadow cabinet is only in the UK which is basically a two party democracy and the govt can change any moment, thus the strong opposition has to be ready to take over all the ministries. For a party at a distant third position behind the ruling party it is ridiculous to get them ready to take over the govt. PTI does not have enough (no party has in the NA) strength to form a shadow cabinet. It sounds good though, doesn’t it?
    Op Ed goes on “PTI must prepare contingencies for when its outreach to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan fails, its party members will become the targets of terrorists.”
    Taliban are ideologues and they do not target people with similar ideology. Their targets have always been secular, liberal, nationalist parties, minorities and smaller sects. They are not going to hurt their own supported prodigies. The founder of sectarianism and madarassas was Gen Zia. He only targeted PPP and not the rightwing parties. This targeting continued and even the caretaker govt could not stop the extreme rightwing to target the liberal parties. Unless PTI takes an ideological U-turn they have no threat from TTP, especially after the inclusion of JI in KPK. If JI can get the ministry of education they can implement the rightwing Whabi agenda in PTI govt.


  • Syme
    May 23, 2013 - 2:16AM

    overall, author suggest a Nazi style, plus military yet democratic PTI facades? Wait, I am also confused. If PTI give some sound performance then there is no (may be) no need for all the infrastructural mambo jumbo.
    Nawaz Sharif will never offer Public account committee to PTI. Nawaz Sharif, just like “Hitler” grab the power democratically but try to suck every bit of power but fortunately he is not Hitler.COD bound ruling party to give PAC to opposition party; PML N while in provinical government kept the PAC 1 and PAC 2 by themselves. So, there is little hope for PTI. Secondly, It is very difficult for PTI member to become a leader of opposition.
    Make KPK work . Now this is the most interesting bit. Whole debate is about performance and plans. Author come up with a golden solution, make it work? but how?
    Manifesto of PTI is full of sweet dreams, They have surely put some thought and work in inking it but I don’t see they can achieve half of it in KPK. we are more interested in KPK model. period.


  • Absar
    May 23, 2013 - 5:09AM


    Shadow cabinet is not always found in two-party system. In theory, as well as in practice, it is formed to propose alternative and better plans and policies to the actual cabinet. And it can work in Pakistan. In fact I am hoping that PTI will follow this rudimentary part of the British politics as the party’s chief is quite inspired by the British parliamentary system. If happens I would take it as a good progress in the culture of our democratic system.


  • Pasha
    May 23, 2013 - 7:40AM

    The whole thing could happen, if Imran is in control of his party. Which he is not. Also, Imran is not the type to run committees. He will hardly show up in the assembly.


  • startrek
    May 23, 2013 - 10:23AM

    Plan B: is to unleash mayhem, chaos.threats of dharnas etc.etc in media untill ‘someone’ is provoked and democracy is rolebacked.In assembly desk beatings and walkouts are going to be commen scenes.Struggle to grasp power through back doors will continue.If a beter understanding between civil-military develops this group will dismantle in due course.It looks military top brass has realised that the force behind this group is none other than some rouge elements from its own agencies.Mantra of darvesh,baba gi,renaisance of this and that,welfare state are some of indications that speak no place even for army which still ,to great extant,is libral.General Kiyani and his coleagues have apparently smelled the cofee-A good signe for Paistan.


  • Dr.X
    May 23, 2013 - 12:07PM

    There must be only 1 plan.Make a strong base in KPK province. For that to happen, they need to perform in KPK. If they fail to do so, no shadow government can save them..
    Imran must overlook the important affairs of KPK himself. Make strong cabinets/committees for education, health and finance. Agreed. Ministers matter.


  • abid
    May 23, 2013 - 1:51PM

    Any good reasons for using “THE” PTI in all that, makes much more sense with just PTI I think.


  • Reddy
    May 23, 2013 - 5:32PM

    i generally don’t comment on Pakistani internal matters , but these planted opinion pieces,army,media all made PTI what it is today ,a uniform less dictator…party can be built on ideologues but for politics you need a strong dose of sober pragmatism and realism which both PTI and it’s helluva leader lacks…shooting drones,down with USA,NATO,israel,india might sound fancy but faced with realities PTI can exist as it is , only in outer space,now they joined forces with ever shining paragon of pakistan JI…goodluck with that


  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks
    May 23, 2013 - 7:40PM

    I could not have agreed with you more, it seems that some of the suggestions are well established principles in advance democracies. I will even go further in KP to have locally elected school boards to control their education system instead of control from Peshawar and Islamabad. Public schools are in dilapidated condition and should be brought in to the 21st century.


  • query
    May 23, 2013 - 8:20PM

    And though the PTI is reluctant to confront terror, terror will eventually confront it.
    Wouldn’t this observation apply to all the major political parties in Pakistan?


  • k. Salim Jahangir
    May 25, 2013 - 2:12AM

    The results of 5/11 elections were very smartly manipulated in such a way that all provinces will have almost different parties in control of them.Punjab PML(N),KPK(PTI) ,Sind(PPP) & Blochistan (By any nationalist party,though not yet clear)Now about the Centre, by massive rigging has been handed over to PML(N).What a planning,the game plan will start when all governments are in saddle.One does not see completion of 5 years term & anticipated elections could be any where in middle of the 5 year term.Any body’s guess??


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