May Issue 2013
Batting for a Sixer
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was founded by the former cricketer Imran Khan in 1996. In 2002 Imran endorsed General Musharraf’s military coup and contested elections held under his regime, subsequently becoming a member of the National Assembly from Mianwali. However his was the only seat the PTI won in parliament. The PTI changed tactics by the next round and, along with other relatively small parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), boycotted the 2008 elections, claiming that elections being held under Musharraf were unfair and illegal. However, other notable opponents of Musharraf’s regime including the PPP, PML-N and JUI-F contested and won, while PTI was out in the cold.
But this time round, PTI is back with a bang — bat et al. Captain Imran is trying to capitalise on the growing disillusionment with the traditional political parties, particularly among the urban middle classes, and offering his own carefully tailored vision for the country. The PTI’s rising support was most clearly evident in the jalsas held in Karachi and Lahore that attracted massive crowds, particularly the youth. That they have been able to garner support from the educated youth, who previously eschewed politics, is widely considered the PTI’s greatest achievement to date.
However, the PTI has not been without its share of controversies. While Imran worked hard to distance himself from mainstream political parties, he increasingly cooperated with fringe religious groups known for their conservative views such as the JI. Additionally, the PTI’s participation in the Difa-e-Pakistan protest movement — which includes jihadist organisations and anti-Shia militants — and attempts at seat adjustments with the JI has invoked scathing criticism from the country’s liberals, some of whom support the PTI. Liberal and progressive forces have consistently accused Imran of failing to condemn extremism and playing on anti-Americanism instead. This element is, however, unlikely to undermine his popularity since most middle-class Pakistanis are religiously conservative and anti-American.
Unsurprisingly, the PTI has elicited scorn from the mainstream parties, though their attacks tend to be petty and personal rather than structured criticism. It is evident that the political heavyweights have started to consider the PTI a serious electoral threat. The PTI has also drawn flack from seasoned political analysts who have questioned everything from the party’s decision to embrace members from the usual political clans to its political and economic manifestos which they say are tailored for domestic appeal and are impractical. The PTI’s claim of being a “revolutionary party” makes it particularly vulnerable to criticism of being out of touch with the real world.
Despite its exponential growth in recent years and its willingness to ally with traditional political forces in the country, the PTI is not projected to lead in the upcoming elections. Most Pakistanis do not cast their vote on the basis of governance issues — in which PTI’s rhetoric excels — but on clan loyalties. Also, the conservative demographic in Punjab and KP that the PTI is relying on is closely contested by the PML-N, JUI-F and JI, while the educated urban votes in Sindh usually go to the MQM.
The PTI’s decision to hold intra-party elections was a commendable move. However, it led to infighting, cost the party precious campaigning time and apparently facilitated the rise of traditional political forces within the ranks which alienated some party loyalists. Consequently, the PTI is trailing behind the PPP and PML-N in the spot polls.
However, most analysts agree that Imran has managed to organise a better team than his rivals, particularly on the economic side, and though his political promises — eradicating corruption in six months, for one — may sound like tall claims, his determination to change the status quo sets him apart from the