August Issue 2015
Puncturing Our Illusions
How many Imran Khans does it take to change a tyre puncture? Change? Imran Khan will never change.
For one brief, shining moment it seemed as if the most stubborn man in politics had finally learned the value of compromise. Appearing before the judicial commission he had wanted so badly that he brought the country to a standstill for close to four months to achieve this end, the PTI chief shied away from mentioning the “35 punctures” that formed the backbone of his rigging allegations. The accusation, he later claimed, was a mere “political statement,” something he had heard from someone who had heard it from someone else. A mere trifle. Nothing to get so worked up about that you would occupy the capital city and go on a rampage.
But Imran Khan hasn’t got to where he is today by being overly worried by abstract concepts like “truth” and “consistency.” Just days after dismissing the 35 punctures as no more than a political statement, Imran doubled down and said that then Punjab caretaker-in-chief minister Najam Sethi was in fact responsible for 70 punctures. So now there might be double the holes in our democracy, but Imran doesn’t even have half the proof.
Here’s why Imran might have decided to up the ante — other than for his usual reasons of hyperbole. Seventy is the magic number at which the PTI would have surpassed the PML-N to become the largest party in the country. Of course, Imran Khan may be the only person in the country who still believes that his party won the 2013 elections. Even his own party members are now backing away from that claim. MNA Arif Alvi took to Twitter and apologised for spreading the 35 punctures claim.
Alvi’s dissent may be part of a larger pattern of PTI members slowly backing away from an increasingly unhinged leader. A tribunal set up by the party, and headed by former justice Wajihuddin Ahmed, exposed the flaws of PTI’s intra-party elections and recommended the removal of Jehangir Tareen, Pervez Khattak and Aleem Khan from their party posts. Imran, democrat to the core that he is, paid no heed to the tribunal and accused Justice Wajihuddin — the party’s nominee as president in 2013 — of working to damage the party.
It is hard to see how anyone could damage the PTI more than Imran Khan already has. The man who spoke so forcefully against nepotism and running political parties like family businesses is now poised to do the same. His wife, Reham Khan, is increasingly getting involved in PTI matters, and has even been touted for the NA-19 seat. Imran has always been a dictatorial wolf in the clothes of a democratic sheep. He runs his party with an iron fist and is famously intolerant of dissent. Now he is getting his family in on the act too.
Another myth that soon may need puncturing is that of Imran as a different kind of politician — one who will act against his own party members should they be corrupt. DJ Butt, the man who has provided the sound of music at the PTI rallies, has something to say about that. He served a notice on the party claiming he was still owed millions of rupees. The PTI fired back by accusing the DJ of overcharging them. Imran Khan had made Gullu Butt a catchphrase of government repression , but may now have to have butts thrown back at him.
Through this last couple of months of embarrassing scandals and general confusion, one thing has become crystal clear: the PTI and, more specifically, its chief are not yet ready for primetime. They have succeeded only in puncturing their own reputation for representing change. The PTI is just more of the same.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s August 2015 issue.
Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.