A recent Gallup Poll has revealed some interesting facts. A majority of respondents support Javed Hashmi’s decision to quit the PTI and agreed that some “third force” was behind Imran Khan’s “dharna”. A majority thought that the PTI/PAT should not have crossed into the Red Zone of Islamabad and held activists from both parties jointly guilty for invading PTV. A majority said that PTI/PAT protests were not peaceful and damaged the prospects of the Pakistan economy.
Significantly, however, the respondents were divided over the role played by leading media channels, with protagonists GEO and ARY running neck to neck in both positive and negative roles. Sheikh Rashid got the short end of the stick from an overwhelming majority for his shady, nay objectionable, role in the whole affair. Most strikingly, though, nearly 60 percent thought that any retreat by Imran Khan from his core demand of Nawaz Sharif’s resignation would have an adverse impact on his political career. Herein lies the rub.
Everyone knows that the PTI was taken for a ride by the “third umpire” and the dharna has failed to obtain the resignation of the prime minister. But everyone says that any retreat from this demand might spell the political death-knell of Imran Khan because it would mean admitting defeat and dent his reputation for impeccable, indeed infallible, leadership. Indeed, there was a time midway through the dharna when Imran could have compelled the Sharif government to concede almost all his “policy” demands, barring the immediate resignation of the prime minister, and returned home as a conquering hero, all geared up to strike again in the heart of the Red Zone with his army of passionate and angry “youthias” if the government made any attempt to resile from its agreement. But a stubborn refusal to face reality and admit his gullibility has brought Imran Khan to this pass: damned if he retreats and damned if he doesn’t.
Therefore he has chosen the next best option: keep the spirit of the dharna alive by organizing impressive rallies across the country and retaining his monopolistic hold over the media in relentlessly getting one simple strategic message across: that the corruption, arrogance and unaccountability of the Sharifs (and the Zardaris) is the root cause of the “crisis of Pakistan” and positive “change” can only be brought about by getting rid of them first. It follows from this strategic moral narrative that a fresh round of elections must be held because the one in 2013 was thoroughly “corrupted”. In effect, this amounts to a “moral rearmament” campaign that feeds on the outrage of the “youthias” at the corruption and unaccountability of the politicians in power rather than on any aspect of their economic or political policies. It also enables Imran Khan to be vague and contradictory about his preferred set of policies and priorities because he can claim to be Mr Clean. That is why intellectual efforts to show his arguments in poor light, to highlight his omission or negation of facts, even to show that he is riddled with contradictions in his personal and political life, make no difference to his supporters. He is the Teflon Man to which nothing sticks, one who can make anything, even outright lies, stick to anyone he dislikes.
The idea of “change” for the sake of change has become a powerful new force in Pakistan, despite its failings and shortcomings where it progressively originated – with Tony Blair in Britain, with Barrack Obama in the USA, with Mohammad Morsi in Egypt, etc. The rise of the radical Islamic militias and the violent unravelling of many states in the Middle East are owed in no small measure to the blind notion of “change” that promised so much and ended up creating a bloody anarchy after failing to deliver a workable economic and political system precisely because the notion of what needed to be changed and how was never adequately debated or understood in the heat and dust of battle to put an end to the hated “ancient regime”. Neither Imran Khan nor Tahir ul Qadri have tried to define the substance of the revolutionary change they seek because that would be counterproductive to their moral narrative and confuse their main objective to seize power.
The tragedy is that the PMLN is not intellectually or administratively equipped to counter the “moral-change” narrative of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri. The PMLN, like the PPP earlier, seems devoid of any strategy to fulfill even a slice of the aspirations of the angry urban middle and lower middle classes who are straining under the burden of acute energy shortages, rising unemployment and crippling cost of living. When this is contrasted with the soaring personal fortunes of the dynastic leaders of the ruling party, the impact is akin to that of a continuing nuclear explosion. That is why even when Imran Khan is so obviously failing, he seems to be succeeding nonetheless.