In continuation of recent posts, I am now going to conclude 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.
So what’s new?
On Imran Khan’s views on foreign policy, his statement about Kashmir and his desire to be allies but not slaves of the US, Mr Sethi was rather dismissive. His contention was that there was neither initiative nor innovation in what Imran said; from the Sharif brothers to Zardari, from Ayub Khan to Musharraf, all of them say exactly what he said, so what’s new? These are all matters in which the establishment has a huge stake and have their own views, Mr Sethi explained and said that, in his opinion, Imran Khan does not want to go against the establishment at any stage.
Again, I think Mr Sethi is being too harsh in judging Imran. In my view, Imran’s assertions are new. Policy makers and leaders, both in government and in opposition, have clearly demonstrated by their actions that they are neither serious about addressing the Kashmir issue nor are they able to engage with the US as representatives of a sovereign ally. There have been inconsistencies between their words and actions and no one can deny the duplicity that has come to light, whether in Wikileaks, the Pakistani media or in Kim Barker’s book.
So, whatever the Sharif brothers say, or whatever Zardari or Musharraf claim, we know, and this is not an opinion or a belief or a view, we absolutely, irrefutably and unconditionally know that it is merely lip-service and the reality is this: their one and only interest is to cling to power with a view to increasing their personal wealth. In order to achieve that aim they will do whatever it takes, whether that is using the Kashmir issue to inflame public emotion, or conceding to US demands without evaluating the impact on national interest and public sentiment, or broadcasting sentiments that are blatant lies while keeping their masters satisfied with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge behind the scenes.
So, what is new, Mr Sethi, is that when Imran states his foreign policy stance, he speaks from a position of credibility and conviction. People believe that he actually means it and that, in government, his actions will be consistent with his claims. What is new is that in Imran the Pakistani public see a leader who they trust has a vision that he believes in and who will work faithfully and honestly to formulate and execute strategies to make that vision a reality. I do agree with Mr Sethi that what Imran said at Lahore was not something new to the extent that it is consistent what he has always said and what is in the PTI manifesto.
The powers that be
With a mischievous smile, Muneeb Farooq, the show’s presenter, asked whether the rally was pro-establishment or somehow supported by the establishment. With a great show of reluctance to address such a sensitive issue on, what he termed to be, a “happy” occasion, Mr Sethi stated that, in his mind, there was no doubt that the establishment was supporting Imran. He asserted that the army wants to get rid of Zardari but only after Imran is ready to take his place, and that Imran’s readiness to do so depends on Nawaz Sharif being totally discredited. Zardari is not entirely with the establishment, but is not giving them any cause for offence either, so they are happy to keep him going for now. However, they believe Imran fits the bill of a popular youth leader who will comply with their wishes and not rock the boat too much. Whether he does or he doesn’t, Mr Sethi said, only time will tell.
This assertion of establishment support by Mr Sethi and by several other media personalities is usually made in a manner that indicates definitive inside information and presented as a matter of fact. This instance is no different and Mr Sethi very confidently says that there is no doubt in his mind that the rally and Imran himself is being backed by the army. What I don’t understand is where is the evidence? Are we just supposed to take Mr Sethi’s word and trust his inside sources? How is that less naïve than trusting Imran when he says that he would never accept support from the army and ISI?
There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that is pointed to, particularly the “truth” that no one can actually come to power in Pakistan without establishment backing. That is precisely what Imran is saying he wants to avoid. It is his stated goal to reduce the influence of the army and to establish civilian control over foreign and defense policy, and he has explained numerous times that if he were to accept establishment support to come to power, he will not have the ability to work towards establishing that control as the leader of a civilian government.
On several occasions, Imran has been criticised and viewed with suspicion for not blaming the armed forces for certain incidents such as Osama’s capture by US special forces from Abbottabad, when he laid the blame squarely on Prime Minister Gilani’s shoulders as the head of government. What critics miss is that the point he is trying to make is that ultimately it is the Prime Minister who is accountable, not the army, as the army is subservient to the governmentand takes its orders from the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Defense. Why would the army and ISI support someone who’s clearly stated goal is to reduce the power and influence they exert on government policy? I think not.
With respect to Mr Sethi’s assertion that the army is looking for a compliant but popular leader, Imran is the last person who would fit that bill. He may be popular, but compliant he is not. He is his own man, he knows his own mind, is determined and persistent. Some have criticised the PTI for being too much of a personality cult and Imran for being stubborn and rigid, a man who refuses to listen to reason, refuses to understand practical considerations and knows only his own high-minded, idealistic views. Does that sound like a compliant leader to you?
The supporting cast
As evidence of establishment support, Mr Sethi points out the role of the MQM, who are so clearly, in Mr Sethi’s view, pro-establishment. They were ready to leave the Zardari coalition last year, he reminded us, and were talking about “patriotic generals” but are now, quite suddenly, attacking Nawaz Sharif, while wholeheartedly supporting Zardari and Altaf Hussain also congratulated Imran Khan on the successful rally. Altaf Hussain can talk for hours, and a speech of two or three hours is quite usual for him. Had he done that on the day of the PTI jalsa, Imran’s media coverage would have been severely diluted, Mr Sethi said, but he decided to end after forty minutes and give Imran the space. This, Mr Sethi implies, is clear evidence that both the MQM and PTI are working hand-in-glove to further the establishment’s agenda, which is to destroy PML-N’s chances in the next election and to establish Imran as the successor to Zardari.
So now we are supposed to believe that MQM is an extension of the army and ISI and Altaf Hussain takes direction from Rawalpindi on when to withdraw from the coalition government and when to join forces with PPP again. Enough of the conspiracy theories already!
When the MQM made the last minute announcement that they would hold their own rally on the same day as PTI were going to have theirs in Lahore, all media analysts were saying that this was a ploy by Altaf Hussain, on instructions from the PPP, to dilute media coverage of Imran’s event that was going to have an anti-government flavour. If the intention was to malign PML-N, it would have been much more effective to let the PTI jalsa go ahead and get full media coverage, and then follow that up with an MQM rally, on a future date, and get even more air-time to put down the Sharif brothers. Instead of having Altaf Hussain do a forty minute speech in order to accommodate the PTI rally, it would have been better to let him do a two hour demolition of Nawaz Sharif on another day. The fact is that the vast majority of Imran’s speech was devoted to highlighting government incompetence and corruption, while Altaf bhai was more intent on proving his loyalty to the President.
If you ask me, my reading of the situation at the time was that there was clearly an intention by the MQM to take attention away from the PTI rally. The fact that the Karachi rally was scrambled at the last minute to be held on the same day as Imran’s was to be take place, the way the whole show started with Altaf bhai at his dramatic and musical best, all television channels focusing coverage, under duress, if reports are to be believed, on the MQM rally at the expense of events that were unfolding at the Meenar-e-Pakistan, clearly shows what the intent was. When the size and composition of the crowd at the PTI jalsa became apparent, which nobody had expected, I believe that decisions were quickly taken to withdraw, the speech ended and the MQM then yielded the limelight back to Imran Khan.
Whether you believe this or not, it is very hard to believe that there was some concerted effort between Imran, the establishment and the MQM to work together to discredit Nawaz Sharif to pave the way to remove Zardari and install Imran Khan as the head of government. I don’t know about Mr Sethi, but I cannot see Altaf Hussain being willing to accept, let alone promote, Imran as the Prime Minister after everything that he has said about the MQM being a terrorist organisation and about Altaf bhai being a murderer of 230 people. At the same time, Imran himself has been so vocal about MQMs role in the 12th May incident, it really is too far-fetched to believe that he would work together with them at the army’s behest.
To be fair on Mr Sethi and other analysts, they are basing their opinions on their observations and what they know to be the truth. My own views are based on my own, admittedly limited and shallow, observations. The way I see it is simple: there is a real fear among the people that Pakistan will fail as a state, there is a real yearning for change among the vast majority of Pakistanis, who are looking for an honest and trustworthy inspirational leader to change the course of this nation to save it from what seems to be an inevitable demise. In the entire political landscape, there is only one such leader, and that is Imran Khan.
In a country where there is an energy crisis because kickbacks and commissions from rental power plants were to be earned, where the Pakistan Railways is in crisis because a transport tycoon has been made the minister or railways, where investigations into mega corruption scandals, such as the NICL and Hajj scandals are actively derailed by senior government ministers, where PIA is close to grinding to a complete halt because a new airline is to be launched and where corruption, mismanagement, ineptitude and self-interest are at the forefront, expecting Imran Khan to be able to wave a magic wand and somehow transform the whole system into a perfectly operating, well-oiled machine would be silly. However, just because we do not believe that he will be able to achieve all his goals in the short term (and some, perhaps, not at all), should we write him off and continue to support the Zardari’s and the Sharif’s, knowing full well what their track record is? How does that help?
Each of us has to make up our own minds.