Tiers of mistrust

  • Aamer Ahmed Khan
  • Dec 01, 2023

At a time when Pakistanis desperately need to cling on to hope, the barrage of reasons tempting them to let go is showing no signs of letting up. The latest case in point? The sycophantic drama over who gets to be the PTI’s chairman as its beleaguered incumbent fights one legal case after another, having already been disqualified from holding any public or political office in the Toshakhana case.

After much confusion, caused by one party leader announcing that Imran Khan will not be contesting the intra-party polls for the office of the chairman and the party denying that any decision on the matter had been taken, only to be confirmed by another party leader, Barrister Gohar Ali Khan was finally confirmed as the chosen successor.

But it isn’t this confusion that is driving us to despair. It is what happened subsequently. Soon as his nomination was confirmed, the good barrister went out of his way, for no rhyme or reason, to make it clear that Imran Khan “was the party chairman, is the party chairman and will always remain the party chairman.” As if that wasn’t enough, he added that his ideology was Imran Khan’s ideology and his thinking was Imran Khan’s thinking and that PTI was nothing without Imran Khan.

Ok, great. But apparently, this still didn’t seem to be enough. Barely a day later, the much mentioned Imran Khan himself had to speak up, through another barrister, Ali Zafar. Speaking to the media, Barrister Zafar quoted the party chairman as saying that he wanted to take part in the general election and that intra-party polls held no meaning for him.

Oh well, so much for democracy and everything that makes it a democracy. What is astonishing in this whole saga is the stubborn resolve of Pakistani politicians to keep life difficult for themselves. The only thing that the PTI chairman can draw some comfort from is that he is not alone in this relentless quest for an unnecessarily complicated life. No major leader seems to be willing to live with anything less than absolute decision making power within the party.

It seems to be an all-encompassing malady, defying time, circumstances and, most astonishingly, even self-interest. Thirty years ago, when MQM chairman Azeem Ahmed Tariq tried to find an alternative to the violent deadlock between the party’s founder and the military establishment, he was simply gunned down in broad daylight.

Ten years later, even when left with no other option, Benazir Bhutto stubbornly refused to allow the mantle of leadership to pass out of the Bhutto family. Instead, she created an entirely new political entity with an extra P added to the party’s name and reluctantly handed it over to Makhdoom Amin Fahim, one of her most trusted lieutenants in Sindh. But soon as her nominated PPPP leader tried to find a way forward through a “coincidental” meeting with General Musharraf, she immediately made a public statement that such coincidences were best avoided.

Some two decades later, finding himself at the wrong end of a technical knockout, Mian Nawaz Sharif could find no better person from within his fairly well established party than his younger brother to take his place. And the icing on the cake? When the dog-eat-dog political landscape created room for a change of guard in Punjab, Mian Shehbaz Sharif, while keeping the seat warm for his elder brother, could find no better candidate from within his party than his own politically inconsequential son Hamza Shehbaz to vie for the slot.

Given how hard they have worked to prevent Pakistan from sliding into a state of permanent dictatorship, and having sacrificed so much in the process including assassinations and exiles, the one lesson that our politicians seem determined not to learn is that while politics may mostly be a grab, at times it is all about letting go. And despite being presented with a historic – and this in the true sense of the word – opportunity to bring this lesson home, Imran Khan has proven himself to be no different.

He is perhaps the only political idol since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who has the power to win everything by letting go. Instead of relying on a man whose time for the party so far has only been in a strictly legal capacity – his only previous political outing being a losing PPP candidate from Buner – Imran Khan could have chosen from among the few politicians that still remained glued to him in face of all the state’s wrath. And asked his nominee to get on with the task of reorganising his party for the upcoming elections.

Instead, he has chosen to go for a non-political non-entity whose first statement after his nomination smacks more of sycophancy than of a political commitment, reminding his young and restless supporters that in Pakistani politics, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Perhaps there are too many tiers of mistrust for tabdeeli to break through.

Aamer Ahmad Khan

Aamer Ahmed Khan

The author is senior Pakistani journalist who posts on 'X' as @Aak0

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