Testing times for Imran Khan’s leadership

Even after missteps, if Imran focuses on essentials, performs convincingly in opposition, he can retrieve lost ground

Talat Masood July 28, 2015
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Believing in his invincibility, Imran Khan built a perilous myth around the fallibility of the last general elections. Thankfully, the judicial commission, after painstaking deliberations, has exploded it. Imran fantasised that the PML-N was engaged in a fraud of unprecedented proportions spanning the front to back end of the election process. Day in and day out for 126 days, Imran Khan, his party members and political allies, launched a smear campaign ad infinitum, spreading negativity and demoralisation across the country. In their effort to delegitimise the government, they debased democracy, politics and fellow politicians, and did not even spare judges and media persons. Promoting a culture of abuse and self-righteousness among the youth, the PTI set a poor example for them to emulate. In a country where democracy is already fragile, the PTI, by either aligning itself with certain elements in the establishment, or unwittingly falling prey to ill-advice, caused great harm to political institutions. By raising false hopes that change is imminent, Imran Khan kept the youth wastefully occupied. More importantly, he distracted the government’s machinery from governance, and a stage had reached when it looked as if the government would fall any minute.

While claiming to conduct clean politics, the PTI associated with controversial political figures, expecting that they would act as force multipliers. Surely, the youth listening to their speeches would not have gained in knowledge or manners. The most damaging aspect was the PTI’s absence from parliament and relegating politics to the streets. By staying away from parliamentary politics and associating with Tahirul Qadri and other discarded elements, Imran Khan undermined his own credibility as a politician whom the younger generation looks up to and hopes he will be a different class of leader.

Not that any one doubts Imran Khan’s integrity and honesty of purpose, but in a country faced with enormous challenges, leaders have to combine astute judgment with the right priorities. Being a leader of a political party that had received the second highest number of votes, he could have transformed Pakistan’s antiquated politics. On the contrary, during the last two years, the PTI’s contribution to legislative matters and domestic and foreign policy issues has been nominal. We are not aware of his party’s stand on several vital national issues, including on civil- military relations. Imran Khan’s insistence of equating the Pakistani Taliban with the Afghan Taliban and his recent statement that Pakistan talk to the former is perplexing, as the conditions that gave rise to insurgency and the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan are very different from the Taliban phenomenon in Pakistan. These statements become problematic when the military is engaged in serious and wide-ranging operations against militants in different parts of the country. It also gives an impression that Imran Khan is backtracking from his party’s position that it would give unqualified support to the operations.

Regrettably, the PTI leadership has not mentally accepted the findings of the judicial commission. Imran Khan and senior party leaders are still expressing serious reservations and have only given a qualified acceptance to the findings with many ifs and buts. They maintain that the elections were rigged and it was weak prosecution that let them down. This attitude has to change if the party wants to look forward.

PTI supporters claim that the dharna brought about awareness among the public regarding their rights, the educated youth was made cognisant of the challenges that the country is facing and the exploitative policies and corruption of leaders were exposed. This may be partially true, but it is clearly a costly approach to educate the public. It would have been better to achieve the same goals in a more effective and enduring way by using parliament as a forum, introducing legislation, raising serious national policy issues and improved governance in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

I wonder whether Imran Khan or his party leaders have ever factored that foreign countries remained very sceptical about his dharna and were unsure of him as a serious politician.

The PML-N need not gloat over its point of view being vindicated. The prime minister’s response has been mature and balanced, but some of his party members were not that discreet. Now is the time to focus on issues of governance and to assume a proactive leadership role. The judicial finding provides an opportunity to all parties to undertake a fresh appraisal of their performance.

Being a sports icon, Imran Khan should know better than others about facing major setbacks. He should get past this obsession with rigging and overcome his victim syndrome. It is consuming the great potential he has to which the nation was turning for hope. A more balanced policy for the PTI now should be to wait until the next elections and excel in governance, development and policy issues. The PTI should also become more involved in parliament and its committees. Merely bad-mouthing fellow politicians without much to show for it ultimately hurts one’s own credibility. Internal dissensions are also weakening the party and these are likely to aggravate if Imran Khan does not address the fundamental contradictions his party is currently facing.

The PTI is the single major party that is not in dynastic politics and has talented people in its second tier leadership. Clearly, Imran Khan has brought new commitment and vitality to our outdated politics. The crusade against corruption raised his level above others. His approach towards certain national problems has been simplistic and naive as in the case of fighting militancy. The ability to transform the economy will be the key for the success of future leadership in Pakistan. People will be closely watching the PTI’s performance, especially how the party improves the lot of the common people. Even after these missteps, if Imran Khan focuses on the essentials and performs convincingly in the opposition, devoid of rhetoric, he can retrieve lost ground. The passionate youth forms the majority of the PTI’s support base and it is eagerly looking for change and has pinned its hope on Imran Khan. He owes it to the youth to translate hope into reality. This will not come through peddling conspiracy theories and indulging in a vitriolic discourse, but through performance and pragmatic politics.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th,  2015.

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Rex Minor | 8 years ago | Reply @KMAN: @Aziz: Imran khan is an old model, do not chase shadows if you genuinely desire a demoratic system in place of the colonial system that Pakistan was left with. The country requires structural changes in most if not all institutions, priority going to the Education. Your current leadership is running the affairs of the Government as is exercised in business corporations which the country can not afford if it needs progress. Rex Minor
KMAN | 8 years ago | Reply @ Aziz - you have hit the nail on the head in your comment above and I can't agree with you more in summerising the eventual fall out from yet another unfortunate event in our country's democratic history. Rtd. General Talat Masood while giving good advice to Khan appears to condone all the wrong that went on during 2013 elections and naively expects that people who perpetrated these acts will reform without being held accountable and taught a hard lesson through exemplary punishments!! A point that Khan understood well and wanted to bring to the fore through his protests - needless to say that it took extreme amount of courage and commitment to the cause that many, including the Rtd General will never understand!! If this country has to get anywhere it can only get to its objectives by following a hard line in pursuing Justice and Justice alone, for which I must say Khan and his PTI stand well above in rank amongst Political party peers in the Pakistan!!!
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