Af / Pak — 02 January 2012
PTI and Imran Khan: Swimming in the polluted waters of Pakistan politics

Dr. Abdul Wahid

Imran Khan’s political career has, at least, proved one thing: good intentions, lofty rhetoric and apparent selfless motives alone do not amount to plan to savePakistan. Indeed, these qualities may be about to leadPakistaninto further damaging cooperation withAmericawithout changing the broken political system. Principles, political awareness and perseverance without succumbing to enticing (yet compromising) alliances are essentials in order to changePakistan’s corrupt politics and subservient, abusive relationship with theUnited States.

A few days ago, Imran Khan tweeted, “Dec 25 will be a watershed in Pakistan’s politics. Tsunami to destroy the corrupt political status quo”.

This would have been a bold statement to make in Pakistan, and at the best of times, where the ‘corrupt political status quo’ can be summarised as a political class that serves itself more than its people – a political class that has colluded for decades with Pakistan’s senior military establishment in submitting Pakistan to America’s strategic interests.

But, the statement appears frankly ridiculous after the second mammoth PTI [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf] rally in Karachi on the 25th December, 2011; for, crowded around Imran Khan on the stage were countless veterans from the sewers of the same corrupt political status quo Khan has used as examples of what is wrong with Pakistan to build his campaign for justice over the past fifteen years.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, formerly the PPP’s most senior man in Punjab and Zardari’s Foreign Minister until earlier this year, and Khurshid Kasuri, General Musharraf’s Foreign Minister between 2002 and 2007 are two new members of the PTI – two former Foreign Ministers who were officially mandated to collude with the United States on behalf of Pakistan during the era of the invasion of Afghanistan, the abduction and sham trial of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the relentless killing of civilians by unmanned US drones, the proliferation of US security services within Pakistan, the ‘normalisation’ of relations with India at the behest of the US administration, the acceptance of the Kerry-Lugar conditions for aid, the use of Pakistan’s soil and airspace for attacks on its own citizens, and…the list seems endless.

These two, as well as others such as veteran PML-N politician Javed Hashmi and members from PML-Q, are all from Pakistan’s political establishment. Both come from their own political dynasties which makes a mockery of Khan’s claim to be ending dynastic politics. Qureshi’s relationship with the American administration has been so intimate that photos of him sharing a joke with Hillary Clinton are the source of many a joke, and stories of his son’s internship with Senator John Kerry (the very same John ‘Kerry-Lugar’ Kerry) are the cause of immense anger.

It could be argued that never in the history of Pakistani politics have we seen so many rats jumping sinking ships to join the bandwagon, seeing that PTI has the clear approval of the military hierarchy. One message on a social messaging site reads, “How many Lotas can you count on the stage?” whilst another says, “PTI should contact the Guinness World of Records for the largest number of ‘Lotas’ in one place”.

But the appointment of so-called ‘Lota’ politicians (a pejorative term that refers to politicians who frequently change parties according to where their best interests lie – a lota being the vessel used to clean oneself after using the toilet!) is not the only example being held up as a backtracking on principles that once earned Khan some respect. Nor is it only a question of backtracking on other policies that is raising alarm.  It is a combination of things, including the fact that anyone who is so naïve (ie: the kindest explanation for Imran Khan’s change of stance) about the rhetoric and change of heart of such cut-throat politicians is absolutely unfit to take on the much more ruthless world of international politics.Pakistan is in need of a leader who can stand firm and shift its policies with regards toAmerica – policies that the army generals continue to follow.


Accusations of backtracking and abandoning principles

Many people have raised two other factors as evidence of backtracking on central issues besides the embrace and intake of recycled veterans.

Others include Khan’s stance on MQM leader Altaf Hussain, the previous focus on Dr Aafia Siddiqui, and justice within his own party.

Imran Khan has been very vocally opposed to Altaf Hussain, especially after the infamous ‘12th May’ incident where PTI activists were killed in Karachi. Karachi is dominated by the MQM whose leader enjoys the comfort of a self-imposed north London ‘exile’. Many people believe it would have been almost impossible for Khan to have a go-ahead for a peaceful rally in Karachi on 25th December without some tacit agreement by the MQM; and, any such agreement with the MQM could not be possible if Khan pursued his campaign against Hussain.

Similarly, the previous very vocal support for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui seemed to have vanished from the rhetoric in the two latest massive rallies as it is not an issue that would show thePakistanmilitary nor Kasuri and Qureshi in a good light.

Some have specifically mentioned their promotions as a problem. Khan always claimed that his party would do things differently – that it would promote people with integrity, based on merit. Yet, his new appointees have enjoyed spectacularly speedy promotions, leap-frogging hard working, dedicated people who have sincerely worked with PTI for change inPakistan.

One issue in particular that sits very uneasily with activists is the appointment of Qureshi, not only as vice chairman of the party, but as the head of the scrutiny committee of PTI – a body which was supposed to vet new members being inducted into PTI. This ‘quality control’ function has been completely undermined, with the previous proposed candidate Hamid Khan, a senior PTI figure for many years, not even appointed to the committee.


How democracy changed the man who said he wanted to change the system

Imran Khan has rapidly lost credibility for making political u-turns in order to secure political support. Students of democratic politics would not be surprised since u-turns such as his are the norm for democratic politics. Britain’s deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who promised so much before the UKgeneral election of 2010, is now one of the most derided politicians in Britain for compromising in order to share power.  Similarly, Barack Obama promised much in his campaign and even after he assumed office (including the closure of US ‘gulag’ in Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay and domestic programmes), but, he is now widely criticised by former supporters for breaking promises.

Khan has just started on his path to power and consequently, he has started to make u-turns and has been quite open that inPakistan’s system, he cannot reach a position where he can change things without making alliances.  Even if he were different to some others – who are purely in the political field for personal gain – it would not mean that he is likely to change Pakistan’s politics or fortunes because, as he is sadly proving, working within a system he claimed he wanted to change is changing him instead.

He believes making these alliances and compromises is being realistic – that in Pakistan you cannot get into power without allying with your rivals; nonetheless, it is Machiavellian, still putting power about principle, which is the same as every other democratic political party, whether in Pakistan, Britain or America.


Islamic justifications

His naivety and compromise would not be so bad if he did not try to defend it with Islamic arguments.  When pressed during an interview on Geo-TV about how he could accommodate tainted politicians against whom he formerly campaigned so strongly and built his own reputation, and at the same time talk about wanting a system like Khilafah Rashida (the era of the first four Caliphs), he gave the most astonishing justifications.  Even Hazrat Umar and Khalid ibn Waleed (may Allah be pleased with them), he argued, once opposed the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wassalam) but later repented and came to become the strongest people championing the cause of Islam. This is no doubt true. But to compare the ‘conversion’ of Qureshi, Kasuri, Hashmi and others with that of these noble Sahabah is utterly misplaced. Political defections in a ‘lotacracy’ is not the same as reverting to Islam!  Moreover, to have accepted them into his party is one thing, but to promote them and display them in such a high-profile manner (in some cases, only days after their defections) is either extremely foolish or extremely opportunistic.


Policy confusion

Arguing that Khilafah Rashida is the model for Pakistan, as Imran Khan did, is sure to win support in Pakistan. But, proposing credible policies based on Islam and a vision of Khilafah in the modern world has to go beyond: rhetoric, or leading a cricket team, or even the noble endeavour of building a cancer hospital.  Vague talk about an ‘Islamic Welfare State’, Islamic democracy, a Turkey-like system and a confused mix of socialist and free-market policies are not credible visions.

Simply complaining about American policy in the Muslim world is not a credible foreign policy. Nor is saying you want the Kashmir issue to be put on the ‘backburner’ whilst ties with India – especially trade– are developed. A real change would mean a break from existing policies of privatisation, ending alliances with America in its war-on-terror, or a policy towards Kashmir that does not abandon the persecuted population to actions of half a million Indian occupying troops.

Yet, PTI has indicated that it intends to continue the privatisation of state assets that has been ongoing in previous regimes. It claims this sale will be done transparently, which may reassure people afraid of corruption, but will not prevent loss for the citizens of assets that are rightfully theirs’ under Islamic law to investors who may originate from the USA, India, or China.

Whilst its declared policy to extract Pakistan from IMF/foreign loans is correct, PTI has also said it intends to grant ‘low interest’ microfinance schemes to the poor in an apparent attempt to generate economic activity, and to develop a ‘leasing and mortgaging’ of property—in other words, to introduce long-term, interest-based loans using debt to finance property purchase, one of the chief drivers of the global financial crises in the world today and something impossible to imagine under a real Islamic constitution. Moreover, to maintain a regressive tax like the GST is hardly consistent with an ‘Islamic welfare state’ if it acts as a barrier to the weak from being able to better support themselves.

Real change would see the likes of PTI’s new vice-chairman, Qureshi—President of the Pakistan Farmer’s Association—call for and introduce Islamic rules that would lead to the break of the monopoly of the feudal landlords (like himself) on the land. Instead, whilst making populist statements against drone attacks and redefining relations, Khan has pledged to work with America to formulate an ‘exit’ plan from Afghanistan.

The US already intends to draw down its combat troops in Afghanistan and is reported to already be earnestly conducting negotiations with the Taliban as it desperately seeks to come to some sort of political settlement to preserve its interests. By the time the 2013 Pakistan elections come around, this process will have reached an advanced stage as the US tries to hit its 2014 withdrawal deadline.

It has also not ruled out the use of force to deal with what PTI terms ‘militancy’ in Pakistan, which is ideal for the US who is looking to draw down its own forces in the region due to costs.

But if this is Khan’s approach to relations with America, it is truly frightening. The cunning ‘lotacrats’ of Pakistani politics are amateurs as compared to the US state machine which likes to play hardball!

How could one pledge to work with a state that has just murdered 28 Pakistani soldiers in the Salalah NATO attack and left many more wounded?  Aside from the fact that it is impossible to trust the US after its crimes in Pakistan and Afghanistan over the past ten years, Khan neglects the fact that US’s war in the region has increasingly and directly targeted with focus on Pakistan.  Indeed, the Pentagon has announced it plans to buy more than 700 drones at a cost of nearly $40B over the next 10 years. These drones have been used in targeting people in Pakistan, killing hundreds of civilians and maiming many others, including many children.


Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

There is plenty of evidence that this wave of support and publicity that PTI has enjoyed is because of official backing from the military hierarchy. It is, to put it bluntly, the new PML-Q!  It is reported that a committee headed by retired senior army/ISI is rallying support for the party in many circles. Indeed, such is the strength of feeling about the military establishment links. Khan himself was forced to strongly deny claims, which were later amended, that he had met with ISI Chief Shuja Pasha and US Ambassador Cameron Munter.

The military hierarchy has placed Pakistan in a vulnerable position by colluding with the United States. The civilian government has acted as a lightening rod, absorbing much of the public criticism away from the army leadership. But the unpopularity of the Zardari-Gillani regime has made the government extremely vulnerable. Recurrent conflicts (the ‘memogate affair’ being the most recent) and with no credible alternative, the military leaderships seem to have endorsed PTI – which means as long as Generals Kayani and Pasha cooperate with America, so will their anointed political party.

This analysis is shared by the American strategic think-tank Stratfor. In June 2011, their founder, George Friedman, writes about the dilemma that the military and civilian command have in terms of fulfilling US interests whilst placating the majority of the armed forces and public in Pakistan:

The Pakistani solution was the only one it could come up with to placate both the United States and the forces in Pakistan that did not want to cooperate with the United States. The Pakistanis lied. To be more precise and fair, they did as much as they could for the United States without completely destabilizing Pakistan while making it appear that they were being far more cooperative with the Americans and far less cooperative with their public. As in any such strategy, the ISI and Islamabad found themselves engaged in a massive balancing act.”

He goes on to say: “The Pakistanis are preparing for the American drawdown. Publicly, it is important for them to appear as independent and even hostile to the Americans as possible in order to maintain their domestic credibility. Up to now, they have appeared to various factions in Pakistan as American lackeys. If the United States is leaving, the Pakistanis can’t afford to appear that way anymore. There are genuine issues separating the two countries, but in the end, the show is as important as the issues. U.S. accusations that the government has not cooperated with the United States in fighting Islamists are exactly what the Pakistani establishment needs in order to move to the next phase. Publicly arresting CIA sources who aided the United States in capturing bin Laden also enhances this new image.”

Thus, the Zardari-Gillani regime cannot deliver US objectives in Pakistan with credibility. America and the Pakistan military hierarchy need an alternative vehicle. Imran Khan – whether he realizes it or not – is that alternative. His naivety is beyond doubt. When asked on BBC television who would be a better option for Pakistan, Barack Obama or John McCain, Khan commented favourably that Joe Biden’s vice-presidential bid for the Democrats meant there was someone who ‘really understood Pakistan’—this at a time when Obama and his advisors were openly declaring their intent to escalate their aggressive agenda in Pakistan.


What does ‘real change’ mean?

Real change cannot come to Pakistan as long as the military continues to serve US interests against its own population – under the deluded idea that they are somehow protecting Pakistan’s national interest. Real change cannot come by working within a system that will change participants so much, that if they ever reached the top, they would be bound and gagged by the relationships and compromises they made to reach there. Real change cannot come by paying lip service to Islam – promising something ‘like Khilafah Rashida’ – but implementing a random cocktail of capitalism and socialism.  Sadly, whatever his intentions at the outset, Imran Khan and the PTI are showing that they will not be able to make a real change in Pakistan.


Dr. Abdul Wahid is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. He has been published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement and on the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy and Prospect magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @abdulwahidht or emailed at [email protected] 

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