Following on to my recent posts, I am now going to continue sharing my thoughts on a recent episode of Mr Najam Sethi’s television show, “Aapas ki Baat” about Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s jalsa at Meenar-e-Pakistan in Lahore on 30th October.
The “Same Old Faces”
Having made the point about PTI’s search for the treasure-trove of votes in the Punjab, Mr Sethi and the show’s presenter, Muneeb Farooq, moved on to discussing political figures who have joined or are rumored to be joining PTI. His view seemed to be that, despite being the flag-bearer of “change”, Imran is welcoming conventional politicians, the “same old faces”, into his fold and that his supporters don’t want to respond to questions about this are not yet ready to confront such uncomfortable truths.
The truth is (and Mr Sethi did refer to this, to be fair to him) that the party is still in the process of being built and it remains to be seen who will form the base of its candidates for the next elections. It is too early, therefore, to make any judgments about whether Imran builds an army of constituency stalwarts who come in with their own limited and selfish agendas, or he gathers a force of newcomers who bring a passion to make a difference, a fresh perspective and professional competence to running the affairs of state. One thing is clear, though: the core of the leadership of Imran’s party will be made up of clean, honest and competent people, who are not burdened with any allegations of corruption or wrongdoing and have demonstrated, through their achievements, their leadership in their field of specialty.
Leveraging Diversity and Experience
Any corporate leader will tell you that diversity in a leadership team and across any organisation is vital for it to succeed, and a political movement is no different. I predict that Imran understands this, whether thoughtfully or instinctively (and his leadership instinct is phenomenal, as is his ability to trust his gut and back himself), and he will ultimately succeed in putting together a great mix of individuals, from diverse backgrounds and with diverse ideas, that will ultimately form his candidate pool. Common sense will tell you that if he chooses only from the group of conventional politicians, Imran will lose credibility, and if he chooses only new candidates, with no experience of constituency politics whatsoever, he will damage his chances of winning any seats. And in the end, it is common sense that will prevail and there will be a good mix of the old and the new who finally file their nomination papers to represent PTI and the Pakistani public.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Imran is unable to put together an appropriate mix and ends up relying on career politicians, who are attracted to him because of his popularity instead of his policies (and there will be many like that, who will be contacting him even as I write this), and who have vested local interests closer to their hearts. Even in that situation, we will be no worse off than we would be with any other party. In fact, we would at least have some assurance that Imran will: (a) do some due-diligence to ensure that they are relatively clean and don’t have a history of overt corruption; and (b) build a core leadership team made of passionate, honest, competent and patriotic individuals, which will ultimately set the direction for the party and for the nation. Oh, and another thing… we also know that neither Zardari nor Sharif, neither Hussain nor Chaudhry, will do anything other than what they have always done in the past: deceive, betray and let us down.
What is important is that the direction is appropriately set, the vision is clear, leadership is aligned, and consistent messages are being sent down the ranks. Democratic change is an evolutionary process and the PTI is no different from any other democratic movement anywhere in the world. It will take time to discover itself and build a culture where personal success and growth are based on performance and delivering on commitments. That is a concept so alien to the current political structure, where nepotism and cronyism, flattery and sycophancy, are seen as the only steps on the ladder of personal success, that to expect this to change overnight is not just overly ambitious, it is downright silly.
Let’s be fair. Imran has faced a lot of questions from the media about the leadership of PTI and who the key members of his team going to be, criticising him for relying on a group of “unknowns”. And now that certain names like Khurshid Kasuri, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Hamid Nasir Chattha, Aitizaz Ahsan, Mian Asif, etc. are being mentioned, the very same media personalities are objecting that these are old names, people who have gone from party to party and have never been loyal to any cause. Of course, it is the job of the media to ask questions, and it is up to Imran Khan and the PTI leadership to respond.
If you ask me, the reason that people like Mr Kasuri, Mr Qureshi, Mr Ahsan and others are looking for options, and why they are considering the PTI as perhaps the most viable of those options, is that they are disgruntled with the direction that their parties have taken, they are disillusioned by their leadership’s corruption and they are looking for a platform from which they can contribute with the hope of being able to achieve something. Who can blame them? If any of us were in their shoes, we would be doing the same. After all, the option of trying to influence their own parties from within is no longer viable or is likely to take such a long time that the future of the country would be at risk. If, in fact, Imran were to welcome such names into the folds of his party, that would be fantastic in many ways. They would bring with them the wealth of experience, the knowledge, the wisdom and the understanding that many claim Imran himself lacks. If he did choose to bring them in, who could blame him? On the contrary, if they were willing and available, and he chose to ignore them, that would be a grave error.
The Red Herring
In connection with the demand from Imran Khan in his speech at the jalsa for the leadership of PPP and PML-N to declare their assets and his announcement that he is granting them a grace period of a few months to do so, Mr Sethi was very clear: this is a non-starter, he said. 231 parliamentarians were suspended by the Election Commission for not filing statements of their assets, he explained, most of whom have since complied with this requirement. What Imran is talking about is a declaration of their hidden, real assets and he needs time to investigate these, raise questions and perhaps even take them to the Supreme Court, riding on Mohammed Ali Durrani’s petition. The demand by Imran, Mr Sethi claims, is a red herring and the real target is actually Nawaz Sharif and his credibility.
Two questions come to my mind in response to this. Does anyone believe that the asset declarations filed by any of the PPP and PML-N top brass with the EC are even close to a shadow of reality? Does anyone think that asking senior political leaders to submit a statement of their wealth and respond to questions about whether it has been illegally accumulated is inappropriate, unfair or wrong in any other way? If the answers to both these questions are “no”, then what Imran is asking for is completely reasonable. More than reasonable, in fact, some would say it is incumbent upon Imran, as a credible leader, a representative of the people, to make that demand and that he would be failing in his duty if he did not. As to whether the demand is a direct attack on Sharif, so what if it is? As a leader of the so-called opposition, when he lambasts the Zardari government for their corruption, what credibility does he have when the whole world knows that his own declarations are suspect? And why should that not be questioned?
Diagnosis Without Cure
In discussing Imran’s policy statements about the patwari system and police reform, Mr Sethi questioned the depth of Imran’s understanding of how these changes would actually be implemented. The patwaris and the thanaydars are all part of the grass-roots power structure, he explained, and will not disappear at the press of a button, and then expressed his disappointment that although Imran knows the problem, he does not have a solution in mind. Quite rightly he points out that implementing any of these changes will require changes to the law at both federal and provincial levels.
What was encouraging for me was that Mr Sethi agrees with the diagnosis: at the ground level, the power that the influential few exercise over the ordinary folk is through the control they have over land records, law enforcement and dispensation of justice; the three, now famous, targets of the PTI: patwari, thana and kutchehry. These are three areas that vast scathes of our country are struggling with each day. You know, we talk about “land-mafia” in our everyday discussions, but we don’t really understand, and I don’t claim to either, what impact these criminals have on the lives of small-holders and farmers up and down the country. Criminals who have the backing of those we allow the privilege of flying the national flag on their cars, refusing to stop at red lights, refusing to respect no-parking zones, refusing to recognise the authority of the police and refusing to accept that they are subject to the rule of law, as are all the rest of us. I am glad Mr Sethi accepts this.
The Job of Parliament
I cannot agree with his assertion, however, that Imran does not realise that these reforms will be difficult to implement and will require extensive effort and far-reaching legislation. Of course they will and of course he knows that. That does not detract from the fact, however, that all three areas, patwari, thana and kutchehry, require extensive reform and the fact that implementing these reforms is going to be “difficult” does not mean that a leader should not address them, even if he does not have all the answers, and only Imran has had the courage and the maturity to do so.
Having recognised the problem, can he now do something to solve it? There is certainly no magic wand, there is no “button” to press. Expert minds will need to be engaged in formulating solutions, investments will have to be made that will not pay any returns in the short-term, a roadmap will need to be built and we will have to embark upon implementing that blueprint with courage and resolve. It will probably take years and years of painstaking effort at every level just to computerize the land record. There will be many obstacles and many hurdles will be erected by the very criminals who will have the most to lose. Lives may even be lost. There will be the need to draft and pass through the provincial and national assemblies and the senate, extensive legislation to create the legal framework to support these reforms in law. There may even be the need to amend the constitution. But aren’t those the very things that we send MPAs and MNAs to parliament for? Aren’t those the very efforts that we expect our elected representative to make on our behalf? Of course, we know it will be difficult and complex. We know there will be many stops and starts, and yes, even failures. But we have to try! And the only potential leader out there who will make a faithful effort to do that is Imran Khan.
At the risk of repeating myself, my intent is not to criticise Mr Sethi or to try to attribute any ulterior motives to his analysis. I am merely trying to form my own views, by considering his opinions, taking into account the manner in which they were expressed, in the light of what I know and have learned. There was a lot more in the show, including foreign policy, minorities and women’s rights, civil disobedience and support from other parts of Pakistan. These matters will be addressed in Part 4, so please keep an eye out for that let me have your valuable feedback and views.