The PTI chief’s puzzling behavior.
Most people can shoot themselves in the foot, but it takes a special kind to then put that injured foot in their mouth. Imran Khan belongs to that rare latter category.
Who advises him is, of course, a deep mystery. Whoever it is, Mr. Khan will do himself and his followers a lot of good by firing his current advisers and hiring people who actually have a head on their shoulders. And, horror of horrors, if he is advising himself, he should superannuate himself.
Some might find these words harsh. In fact, many in the cult called the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf will. But if the PTI genuinely wants to raise its stature to the level of a national political party, its 8 million voters need to start questioning whether the ebb and flow of Mr. Khan’s juices and the passionate flailing of his arms can indeed become a substitute for serious thinking.
In strategy there is a simple rule. Like all simple things, it is complex: Never try to hold on to everything or you will be left holding nothing. Mr. Khan has raised concerns about the 2013 elections, the same exercise that gave his party the government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. He had raised concerns about rigging in some constituencies and we supported him on the verification of votes. Similar concerns were raised by other parties. Circumstantial evidence suggests that there were irregularities in some constituencies. Mr. Khan’s demand that the Election Commission verify votes in a minimum of four constituencies was and remains valid. I defended that position then and I will defend it now.
So, what’s the problem?
For one, Mr. Khan has a remarkable knack of losing friends even when he is not entirely wrong. That takes hard work. Considering that he’s rarely not-entirely wrong, one would think retaining friends would be high on his priority list. Alas, that obvious sense, common enough, seems to elude him.
Take his current stance. Not only has he begun objecting to the larger result of the 2013 elections, a not-so-subtle movement away from the original, rather measured concerns about some constituencies, his timing and manner of doing so have raised multiple questions.
He has accused Geo News of being a party to the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) win. The accusation, if it goes to a court, will be laughed out. The Geo management has already responded point-wise to his accusations. He has also alleged that there is a nexus between the PMLN and the Jang Group, which owns Geo. This move, interestingly, has come at a time when Geo has fallen foul of the military, and GHQ is also in a tense relationship with the PMLN government.
Not only this, as if on cue, Geo’s rival channels, notably Express News, ARY News, Dunya and Samaa covered Mr. Khan’s May 11 rally with much fanfare, with talking heads giving him full support and, in some cases, doing so rather crudely. And they did so not because they believed in that analysis but because they toed the line of their owners.
From a measured demand that votes in some constituencies be verified, Mr. Khan has now chosen to cast doubts over the entire exercise. From a credible position which implied that his party might have lost some seats to irregularities in some constituencies, he is now implying that but for those irregularities, the PTI would have been in power. In doing this, he has now cast the net wide and is making wild accusations that no sensible person can support.
The problem, quite apart from anything else, is that even if he wins—or had won—the constituencies he says were denied him, he would still be far from being able to form the federal government. Surely, he can do simple math.
The point thus is not whether there should be vote verification in the disputed constituencies. There must be. Equally, there should be electoral reform. The relevant question here is about the timing and manner of Mr. Khan’s accusations and the larger perception that he is working on an agenda to destabilize the government. Worse, that in doing so he might be dancing to someone else’s tune. And it gets even worse: there are multiple other groups, dubious rightwing entities like Difa-e-Pakistan, who are doing the same thing. Does Mr. Khan understand the concept of principal contradiction?
As the head of a political party which is also governing one of the most troubled provinces in the country, Mr. Khan should be concerned about such perceptions. Instead, he seems to be plunging right into the twister. Given that, there are only two possibilities: either he has lost the plot or he believes that there is a bigger prize awaiting him. On the latter count, he couldn’t be more wide of the mark. As for the other possibility, that would be in keeping with his passionate decline on most issues.
I feel unhappy. Imran Khan could have done much. As I wrote in a piece for The Express Tribune two years ago, PTI had the potential to provide a choice within the civilian spectrum, away from the Pakistan Peoples Party and the PMLN. In fact, during a recent visit to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, I found that the PTI government is trying to do some good things. Yet, Mr. Khan, instead of focusing on the province and building his credentials from there, is wasting his and his supporters’ energies on issues that, far from working in his favor, are working against him. He needs to do some serious thinking and not just on the basis of anecdotal ‘wisdom’ of which he is fraught with but through serious reading and analysis. He is fast squandering that potential.
Let me give an example of how flawed his strategy was in Lahore. He kept attacking the PMLN for the ‘jangla’ bus, a project the PMLN government had actually completed and which the people appreciated—forget reasons for which it can be criticized—rather than pinning the PMLN down on what it hadn’t done. Mr. Khan’s and his party’s sense of strategy is strategic indeed!
Recently, in an interview I asked him about the reasons for Pakistan’s mercurial performance in the cricket field. He told me that was because we cannot build and manage our innings. We are generally good in the short 20-over format but begin to lose it in the longer versions of the game. Mr. Khan is right. Only, he needs to understand that he is not playing a 20-over match either.