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The blocked elite’s euphoria on Imran Khan’s arrival – by Nadeem F. Paracha

On the block
by Nadeem Paracha

In February I wrote an article on these pages called The blocked elite. Today after following all the excitement amongst the urban middle-class youth and in the populist electronic media about Imran Khan’s successful show in PML-N’s stronghold, Lahore, I believe the concept of the blocked elite needs a revisit.

One can understand the euphoria that penetrated the ranks of many young Pakistanis who are seeing Imran’s long-drawn arrival on the country’s mainstream political scene as some kind of a revolutionary movement in the making. Of course, one should bear in mind we are talking about a generation that gets its history lessons and learns politics not from academically sound books, research papers or even from good old-fashioned discourses between differing ideological poles but from finger-wagging orators masquerading as talk-show hosts, ‘security analysts’ and televangelists, or worse, from those dramatic documentaries that claim to unearth everything from modern Freemasons, to 9/11 conspiracies to the ‘al-dajjal’ (anti-Christ) on YouTube!

Imran’s rally had absolutely nothing to do with any sort of a revolution. Or, to put it in the context of what I am about to launch into, the rally was certainly miles away from the conventional understanding of revolution that exists between the French Revolution (1789) and Russian, Chinese, Cuban and even Iranian revolutions of the 20th century. Ever since the end of the Cold War (1989-91), the many revolutionary uprisings that have taken place in the former communist countries and in numerous Asian and Arab countries after 1991, have all revolved more around urban middle-class aspirations (or frustrations) rather than on any classical Marxist (proletarian/working class) or Maoist (peasant) interpretations of revolution/uprising.

What has happened in the Arab countries during the ‘Arab Spring’ and what is happening in the urban areas of Punjab, were/ are largely middle-class driven events, emerging from what is called the ‘blocked elite’ — i.e. an educated middle-class that feels it has what it takes to become a power-elite but its path is being blocked by a corrupt, unfair and autocratic regime, even if elected. But the question arises, what exactly are middle-class ideals in this context?

In the classical sense they should be democracy, economic stability, good governance and maintenance of law and order. But in the post-Cold War world such ideals have become blurred, especially in Muslim countries like Pakistan where the middle-class has largely begun to perceive democracy as something akin to populist chaos or a way for the West to impose its own political agenda and values.

That’s why in spite of the fact that Pakistan is one of the few Muslim countries that has seen a number of democratic setups, religious groups have made deep inroads into the middle-class psyche.

It is the country’s middle and lower-middle-classes that have (especially since the late 1970s) gone on to air these groups’ thoughts and anti-West rhetoric. But this hasn’t meant the transforming of the country into a strict theological state headed by an amirul momineen. And that’s because associated with these classes’ conservatism is a pragmatic factor that sees classes usually end up supporting conservative democratic parties (like PML-N), whereas it is the ‘masses’ (at least as voters and steps below the blocked elite) are the ones that have always kept religious parties at bay by voting for various left-liberal and quasi-secular, populist, political outfits.

For example, we have seen how the blocked elite in Arab countries demonstrated their aspirations to topple the autocratic elite and are more than likely to elect conservative (but democratic) Islamic parties to parliament. The blocked elite is inherently conservative and its most animated expression, the urban, middle-class youth, may exhibit populist fervour and revolutionary posturing, their main goal remains to (rather unapologetically) find for themselves and their class a place in the ruling political elite apparatus that they believe they have been denied.

In other words these uprisings have nothing to do with crushing the system or even the ‘establishment’, but instead to force it to be readjusted in a way that would allow the entry of the middle-classes in the same political apparatus that they denounce as being flawed. Of course, the sub-text here being that the people heading the apparatus and the system are flawed, not the system itself. It is a sheer delusion thus to associate such uprisings to any popular notions of revolution.

In Pakistan the blocked elite, especially ever since the 1990s, has somewhat always been repulsed by populist democracy, fearing that a popularly elected government too may end up blocking their upwardly mobile ambitions as does an autocratic one. This sentiment is actually an echo of what we call the military-establishment – an elite that nervously and with disdain is always in a tense tussle with the civilian power elite.

That’s why journalist and publisher, Najam Sethi, is correct to describe Khan’s rally in Lahore as largely pro-establishment.
Khan has arrived as not only a horse the establishment can bet on now, but his colourful arrival is also a reflection of the aspirations of Pakistan’s blocked elite to find their way into those corridors of civilian power elite that comes in through the process of an election but is a tricky proposition for the military establishment to handle.

Nevertheless, to the much cringing and whining of the blocked elite, it is still this civilian power elite that remains rooted in the economic and political aspirations, not of the blocked elite, but of the simply blocked and thus doomed, masses.

Source: Dawn

Appendix (by Twitter Monitor):

Here is a quick summary of who amongst the blocked elites were in a state of euphoria on Twitter during PTI rally on 30 October 2011:

OmarWaraich Omar Waraich
Wow. That’s a big crowd #PTIjalsa

OmarWaraich Omar Waraich
Apparently the Ravi bridge is choked with traffic heading for the #PTIjalsa

OmarWaraich Omar Waraich
Too early to say. But he’s officially in the game now RT @blakehounshell: so imran khan is the real deal huh? Game changer?

OmarWaraich Omar Waraich
Lahore Special Branch say the venue at Minar-e-Pakistan is full #PTIjalsa

tammyhaq Ayesha Tammy Haq
by OmarWaraich

AajTV saying Lahore venue filled to capacity gates closed workers will have to listen to the speeches outside speakers set up #PTIJalsa

OmarWaraich Omar Waraich
The Punjab police estimates that there are 22,000 at the #PTIjalsa and rising. Official counts are usually conservative

OmarWaraich Omar Waraich
@aleefbaypay Literal. It’s a very big crowd

kaalakawaa Kala Kawa
The PTI speaker just said that the capacity at the ground is 200K. Nahin, right? I can see 50K though.

kaalakawaa Kala Kawa
Minto Park is a far more scenic location for a jalsa than Bhati Gate.

kaalakawaa Kala Kawa
@Razarumi To be fair, the impact of 1 of today’s rallies on Pakistan’s political future likely to be larger. Prob not MQM one. @shahidsaeed

kaalakawaa Kala Kawa
Anyone know how many times President Zardari has officially addressed the country? (You know the PTV style address)

kaalakawaa Kala Kawa
A little funny to see jiyalas like @marvisirmed get uppity at IK aligning himself with a few former PMLQ guys

tammyhaq Ayesha Tammy Haq
@mirza9 estimates are 35K at the moment

tammyhaq Ayesha Tammy Haq
#PTIJalsa filling up looks HUGE has Pervez Rashids resignation been sent in?

AnjumKiani anjum kiani
RT by tammyhaq

#PTI caravan stopped by #Zardari. & #PMLQ supporters in #Jhelum & #Gugranwala. Negotiating to defuse stand off. Police request peace.

tammyhaq Ayesha Tammy Haq
@shahidsaeed according 2 organisers now 70K chairs. It’s a bit like a cricket stadium there’s chairmans box VIP enclosure & general stands

Razarumi Raza Rumi
by Mehmal

Good show by #PTI. Excellent to see youth getting involved in politics and hope they also vote in the 2013 election. Ditto for middle class.

Mehmal Mehmal Sarfraz
@OmarWaraich how many then? 100k or less? @kaalakawaa

pakistanpolicy Arif Rafiq
by Mehmal

RT @norbalm Difference between #mqm & #PTIjalsa one has orchestrated flag waving, the other is passionate, and celebratory.

Mehmal Mehmal Sarfraz
according to Iftikhar sb (@jawabdeyh), thousands of PTI supporters on Ferozepur Road on their way to Minar-e-Pakistan for #PTIjalsa

Mehmal Mehmal Sarfraz
true RT @hushamahmed: Have to admit: PTI today will be bringing those ppl to its rally too, who never attend such Jalsas normally.

Mehmal Mehmal Sarfraz
@kursed PPP didn’t promise any change as such but PTI does. PTI-walahs claim they’ll end corruption, etc @OmarWaraich

Mehmal Mehmal Sarfraz
@R_baloch PTI ki livestream try karo

pakistanpolicy Arif Rafiq
RT @asiffshahzad various ppl who i spoke to in Lahore says PTI jalsa is bigger than shahbaz sharif’s sarkari show.

pakistanpolicy Arif Rafiq
RT @Mehmal RT @OmarWaraich: Lahore Special Branch say the venue at Minar-e-Pakistan is full #PTIjalsa

pakistanpolicy Arif Rafiq
Former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal emailed me on August 18, 2011 stating that PPP gangs are waging a “genocide” campaign against Muhajirs.

pakistanpolicy Arif Rafiq
If you want istihkam-e jamhuriyat, you might not want to side with dictators and murder your political rivals.

pakistanpolicy Arif Rafiq
Wait — How are Altaf and Zardari making love again? Just over a month ago, senior MQM officials were mailing me accusing PPP of genocide.

sharmeenochinoy Sharmeen Obaid
The numbers are impressive- people still believe in the system and democracy! Thank you #PTIjalsa –

rizwanrkhan Rizwan Raees Khan
by pakistanpolicy
Initial diff I can see between #PTIjalsa and others is that other than party workers families and the middle class have turned up in big num

anthonypermal Anthony Permal
You know, #MQM & #PPP’s reactionary stance today says alot about their fear of the ‘what-if’ factor of #ImranKhan. #PTI #Pakistan

kursed Abdullah Saad
by anthonypermal
If nothing else, I hope the PTI rally shames other parties to not to use state machinery to pull people again.

anthonypermal Anthony Permal
Ppl were complaining b4 today’s #PTI rally that there won’t be enuf ppl. Now they’re complaining about big crowd+finding fault #Pakistan

AnjumKiani anjum kiani
by anthonypermal
#PTI caravan stopped by #Zardari. & #PMLQ supporters in #Jhelum & #Gugranwala. Negotiating to defuse stand off. Police request peace.

tammyhaq Ayesha Tammy Haq
“@kaalakawaa: I hope Imran Khan recites some Jalib today. It’s been so long since anyone’s tried that one.” brilliant

Saba_Imtiaz Saba Imtiaz
+10 RT @kaalakawaa: I hope Imran Khan recites some Jalib today. It’s been so long since anyone’s tried that one.

shahidsaeed Shahid Saeed
by aliarqam

Desperate: “Pervez Rasheed Challanges Imran Khan to show 50,000 chairs at his rally within one hour…. If shown he will resign from senate”

tammyhaq Ayesha Tammy Haq
#PTIJalsa is massive. Women on stage. Lots of jurnos on stage

tammyhaq Ayesha Tammy Haq
LOL “@mosharrafzaidi: MQM’s expression of solidarity with President Zardari almost as comical as Altaf Bhai’s gangsta rap.”

tammyhaq Ayesha Tammy Haq
Has Imran Khan finally arrived? Will this huge rally translate in to votes? Will credible people join the #PTI ?

DrAwab Awab Alvi
#ptijalsa 350,000+ people – The revolution has started #pti

kaalakawaa Kala Kawa
Is this when I eat crow? Really quite well done by the PTI. That’s a LOT of people, and I’m assuming a lot of work went into it.

DrAwab Awab Alvi
Imran khan offering namaz Maghreb on stage at #ptijalsa #pti

mosharrafzaidi Mosharraf Zaidi
by TheseLongWars

compare the captivating energy of Imran Khan’s crowd, versus the lethargic acquiescence of Altaf Hussein’s.

mosharrafzaidi Mosharraf Zaidi
Skipper praying Maghrib. Marvellous.

pakistanpolicy Arif Rafiq
by le_Sabre
I know this is bad, but wouldn’t it be great if Altaf had a heart attack and died while giving this absurd speech no one wants to listen to?
37 minutes ago Favorite Retweet Reply

le_Sabre Daaniyal
#PTI has brought out the youth to support him. Out of conviction!n what can the PPP bring out on its side? a 2 bit murderous thug in London

Rezhasan Rezaul Hasan Laskar
A terrific in-swinger is on its way, and this will be the first ball that will remove the wickets of two batsmen: Imran Khan.

Rezhasan Rezaul Hasan Laskar
This is not a flood, it is a tsunami, anyone standing in its way will be swept away: Imran Khan

Rezhasan Rezaul Hasan Laskar
I pledge that no strength, including Zardari or Nawaz Sharif, can stop this flood: Imran Khan

Mahamali05 Maham Ali
by tammyhaq

We are going to give rights to domestic servants who are treated like animals: Imran Khan. Impressive #ptijalsa
21 minutes ago Favorite Retweet Reply

tammyhaq Ayesha Tammy Haq
This ones for the women…education for all. #PTIjalsa

tammyhaq Ayesha Tammy Haq
Hahaha RT @SundusRasheed @AamnaTaseer @tammyhaq pretty clear on my political stance. my leader has to be attractive. and not my brother…..

tammyhaq Ayesha Tammy Haq
Months of planning millions of rupees later 1 vote RT @jhaque_ Have decided to vote for Imran Khan in 2013 elections #PTIjalsa #Jazbati

tammyhaq Ayesha Tammy Haq
@fispahani 2 b fair 2 Imran Khan he spke out whn @SalmaanTaseer ws murdered he supportd @sherryrehman blasphemy bill more than 1 cn sy 4 PPP

tammyhaq Ayesha Tammy Haq
Here comes The Great Khan…

OmarWaraich Omar Waraich
Special Branch is saying the turnout is 105,000 at the #PTIjalsa

OmarWaraich Omar Waraich
Huge exaggeration RT @NewsweekPak: PTI claiming half million present at Imran Khan’s rally.

shahidsaeed Shahid Saeed
by OmarWaraich

“Imran Khan: A cricketing hero with his eye on political glory” – by @omarwaraich – Aug, 2011 ind.pn/p9s5dO

mosharrafzaidi Mosharraf Zaidi
first thoughts on Imran Khan’s speech: meandering, light on specifics, impressive breadth, so-so delivery, some really bright spots.

mosharrafzaidi Mosharraf Zaidi
assassay. best romanized word ever.

mosharrafzaidi Mosharraf Zaidi
Imran Khan seems to have turned a corner from the “twilight” speech, thanks his “team” and the PTI youth that came out in numbers #PTIJalsa

mosharrafzaidi Mosharraf Zaidi
On womens’ rights: “we will declare an education emergency for women, we will ensure women receive their fair share of inheritance”

mosharrafzaidi Mosharraf Zaidi
Imran Khan at #PTIJalsa – “we will empower domestic workers with their rights”

dnoorani Daniyal Noorani
by beenasarwar

People who are upset that he didn’t touch upon Ahmaddis and blasphemy law, one shud be careful when navigating a minefield #PTIjalsa

Razarumi Raza Rumi
by beenasarwar

Absolutely. He is a force 2 reckon with MT @mosharrafzaidi:PTI rank& file pulled off an historic event in Lahore.That’s nothing to scoff at.

mosharrafzaidi Mosharraf Zaidi
major policy assertions by Imran Khan at #PTIJalsa
42 minutes ago Favorite Retweet Reply

mosharrafzaidi Mosharraf Zaidi
“hum baldiyati nizaam lay kay aain gay”

mosharrafzaidi Mosharraf Zaidi
if you’re interested in electoral politics, getting a big crowd together at a historic venue in “opposition” territory is a good start.

abbasnasir59:
Imran Khan has announced his entry finally as a serious contender in politics. Does he have what it takes to win parliamentary polls?

SamadK Samad Khurram
Not sure if any PML-N or MQM/PPP mentioned Balochistan at their rally. #PTIJalsa

SamadK Samad Khurram
Forget political differences for now and cherish the moment. This is a great day for democracy and people’s participation #PTIJalsa #PTI

SamadK Samad Khurram
The highest estimate for PML-N rally was 70K, which is at least 30K lower than the lowest estimate for #PTIJalsa. #PTI #Pakistan

SamadK Samad Khurram
Wow.

sabahat24 Sabahat Zakariya
Just returned from the PTI jalsa. About to blog it. Stay tuned if you are interested in my take.

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Jehangir Hafsi

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  • The blocked eliteNadeem F. Paracha | Opinion | February 6, 2011

    The problem with most middle-class political movements is that they know whom they don’t want, but rarely do they know what they want. This is the case as well in what is going on in Egypt and in other Arab countries currently in the grip of uprisings. Rest assured all these are largely middle-class driven uprisings, emerging from what is called the ‘blocked elite’ — i.e. an educated middle-class that feels it has what it takes to become a power-elite but its path is being blocked by a corrupt, unfair and autocratic regime.

    Thus whenever this blocked elite does manage to stir up a movement, it is almost always focused on a single personality, and not necessarily the system as such. The rallying cry in the troubled Arab nations is against despotic individuals, but nobody has a clue what is to follow. The protesters, largely coming from middle and lower-middle-class strata of society have so far failed to produce their own organisations that can systematically suggest a political and economic plan and an alternative to what the hated individual symbolises.

    Though such movements might be able to topple these individuals, they end up creating a vacuum that is often filled by political entities that may also be against the toppled individual, but their ways are not necessarily in tune with the ideals of politics and society of the middle-class. But the question arises, what exactly are middle-class ideals? In the classical sense they should be democracy, economic stability, good governance and the maintenance of law and order. But in the post-modern world such ideals have become blurred, especially in Muslim countries where the middle-class has largely begun to perceive democracy as something akin to populist chaos or a way for the West to impose its own political agenda and values.

    The irony is that only a handful of Muslim countries have a democratic system in place, and the most organised opposition to autocratic regimes there is coming from the religious right. But in the last two decades or so, though the religious right has made a lot of headway in penetrating the psyche of the Muslim middle-class, people are still not quite sure whether to support the religious groups on political basis as well. The same is the case in Pakistan, in spite the fact that it is one of the few Muslim countries that has seen a number of democratic set-ups. Nevertheless, even here, though religious groups have made deep inroads into the middle-class psyche and this class usually airs these groups’ thoughts and anti-West rhetoric, it usually ends up supporting the so-called moderate conservative parties like PML-N, while the ‘masses’ (at least as voters) have always kept religious parties at bay by voting for various democratic and quasi-secular political parties.

    But the vacuum created by even the most positive action by the middle-class in most Muslim countries remains. Two examples in this context can further strengthen this theory.

    The first is the 1977 protest movement in Pakistan against the Z A Bhutto regime and the other is the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The movement against Bhutto was born out of the frustration the industrial and middle class faced due to the (democratically elected) Bhutto regime’s widespread nationalisation policies and its perceived favouring of Sindhis.

    The frustrated middle-class which, till then was largely liberal and also had progressives in its midst, was not politically organised. For the better part of Bhutto’s regime a significant section of the young, urban middle-class aligned itself with the Jamat-i-Islami’s student wing, the IJT, on campuses and then squarely fell for the religious parties’ movement against Bhutto in 1977.

    Though this movement raised Islamic slogans, it was really entirely aimed against an individual, Bhutto. Bhutto’s gradual weakening in the face of this middle-class uprising generated a vacuum that was conveniently filled by the military, that took over using the same abstract slogans used by the movement, and preying upon middle-class fears of political chaos. In Iran, the groundwork for what erupted into a full blown revolution against the Shah was undertaken by various secular-liberal and leftist groups, so much so that influential Iranian Islamic activist-scholar, Ali Shariati, borrowed heavily from leftist philosopher J P. Sartre and Marxism to attract middle-class attention against the Shah.

    The result was desperate groups of middle-class Iranians squarely aiming against an autocratic individual, without any alternative plan as such — until the vacuum was filled by the organised political clergy who replaced an autocratic and corrupt monarchy with a faith-based and reactionary regime.

    Today, urban middle-classes in Muslim countries have begun to shape themselves into vital economic and political entities. But as seen in Egypt and also in Pakistan, this class has failed to elaborate exactly what it wants as a political and economic system. In Pakistan it is somewhat repulsed by populist democracy, fearing that a popularly elected government too may end up blocking their upwardly mobile ambitions as does an autocratic one.

    In the process this class continues to linger as a fragmented set of malcontents, willingly alienated from mainstream political entities, and thus, always susceptible in the end for settling for either the desired rule of an unelected technocrat, or worse, being hijacked by right-wing aspirations that promise them a check on populist masses-driven ‘chaos’.

    http://www.dawn.com/2011/02/06/smokers-corner-the-blocked-elite.html

  • LOL @ Samad Khurram:

    SamadK Samad Khurram
    Forget political differences for now and cherish the moment. This is a great day for democracy and people’s participation.

  • As usual, typical Imran Khan bashing by NFP. Time will prove that Hamid Mir, Ayesha Tammy Haq, Beena Sarwar, Mosharraf Zaidi, Shahid Masood and Omar Waraich stood on the right side of history. Imran Khan’s tsunami has already arrived!

  • Imran Khan: the myth and the realityFrom the Newspaper | Front Page | By Badar Alam (5 hours ago) Today
    Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf Chief Imran Khan. – File Photo by AFP

    WHEN Imran Khan launched the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf in 1996, then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto rhetorically asked, “Can Imran win 51 per cent seats in parliament to form a government?” A decade and a half later, the same question haunts Mr Khan even when he has recently gathered together the largest public assembly of his entire political life. His supporters, critics and opponents are asking if he will ever get the parliamentary strength he needs to realise his aspirations of becoming prime minister.

    There are, indeed, genuine reasons for scepticism. First, the nature of his politics and the political character of his supporters are such that transforming his public support into electoral success will be a challenging task. Second, the quality of his prospective, and previous, election candidates leaves much to be desired, and lastly, his political agenda is so briefly simplistic that it runs the risk of having limited appeal for most voters in the country.

    Mr Khan’s inaugural political plank in 1996 was that all politics and all politicians are bad, and so it remains even today. This leaves him very little room for political manoeuvring, the alliance-making and deal-cutting that brings people to power in Pakistan and helps them throw their opponents out of it. His is, in fact, anti-politics — a non-political ideology that discredits what he calls “professional politics” in order to replace it with, you guessed it, politics.

    Mr Khan conflates politics as practised by everyone else other than him with money, greed, corruption and the abuse of public support for personal gain, and thereby gives his replacement politics the lofty moral mantle of service, welfare, reform and change. But, like everyone else in the political arena, his purpose in running in an election remains as mundane as becoming the head of a government. For many years before he took part in the 1997 general election as the head of his nascent PTI, he was confused about whether he wanted to launch a movement for social reform, create a pressure group for weeding the bad stuff out of politics or launch a political party. What he came up with in the end was a cross between a social movement, a think tank and a loosely organised collection of highly educated technocrats and avowed Islamists.

    Having propagated an anti-politics credo, Mr Khan ensured from the start that he repelled more voters than he attracted. Those who voted for a political party or an election candidate because they needed help in bending, bypassing or even violating the complex, corrupt and ineffective administrative and legal structures of the state would always hesitate to vote for him or his candidates. And such ‘bad’ voters have been in the majority — at least until now.

    The political appeal of his anti-politics therefore remained limited to educated and young professionals who would defeat the average elected politician hands down in a battle of IQ, knowledge, understanding or articulation. To his advantage, this section of society has increased phenomenally in numbers over the last 15 years. This is Pakistan’s emerging middle class comprising bankers, doctors, engineers, techies, media persons, managers, advertisers, accountants, et al. that has benefited enormously from the privatisation of education and the economy in the 1990s and the expansion of private enterprise and the service sector in the 2000s. They are different from the traditional middle class consisting of the intermediaries of the economy and the state: traders, shopkeepers, government employees, commission agents, realtors, etc. who have more often than not voted for Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. Mr Khan’s core support group, in fact, overlaps a great deal with the core support group of the Jamaat-i-Islami. But Jamaat, having lost its ideological dynamism and its organisational expertise in the late 1980s, had handed over its supporters to the PML-N.

    It took many years for this neo-middle class to have enough numbers to make its mark on the political scene, which explains why Jamaat could never make electoral headway and why Mr Khan could only subsist on the margins of politics for so long. The first major show of power of this class was the 2007 movement for the restoration of the judiciary. That the parties — mainly Jamaat and the PTI — and professional groups — bar associations, for example — representing the political ideology of this class boycotted the 2008 election meant that the beneficiaries of its maiden political activism were the same politicians that it abhorred.

    With Mr Khan’s Oct 30 rally, this middle class is only coalescing and concentrating on one platform and coming out against politics and politicians in much bigger numbers and with much greater enthusiasm than it has ever done to conclude the unfinished revolution that started in 2007. Finally the time has arrived for the middle class to kick everyone else out of power and bring their own man in.

    But even when it came out in scores of thousands to listen to Mr Khan speak at the Minar-i-Pakistan, its next political step remains uncertain. With its well-recorded and well-known hatred for elections and the ballot box, will it take the trouble to cast a vote — something it has done only sparingly in the past? That is perhaps the biggest unknown in Pakistani politics today, and it is the answer to this question that will determine the extent of Mr Khan’s success, or failure, at the polls.

    Two factors will be vital to the answer: his decision about making any alliances or becoming part of a rightwing conglomerate reportedly already in the making, and the quality of his candidates. Having undermined and discredited every political party in the country, he has left himself almost no space to backtrack on what he never tires of brandishing as the core principle of his politics — no compromises for electoral success. The moment he utters the word ‘alliance’, he will start losing support.

    On the second count, Mr Khan may already be faltering. In at least Khyber Pakhtunkhwa some of his would-be electoral candidates represent the exact antithesis of his anti-politics ideology — they are professional politicians who have changed political loyalties in the past, and some have unenviable political track records. Two of his main people in KP are Iftikhar Jhagra and Khwaja Khan Hoti. Both are the scions of political dynasties in their respective areas and both carry political baggage that may not measure up to the great expectations Mr Khan’s core supporters harbour.

    Mr Jhagra is a four-time member of the provincial assembly from the Pakistan Peoples’ Party and a cousin of Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, who happens to be a senior leader of the PML-N. The former has left the PPP because he fears that he will not get a party ticket for the next election under an anticipated seat adjustment between the PPP and the Awami National Party. Mr Hoti was the PPP provincial chief for much of the 2000s before he joined the ANP just in time for the 2008 election. Even today he remains a member of the National Assembly from the ANP, though Mr Khan has claimed on a number of occasions that he will soon resign and formally join the PTI. Mr Hoti comes from the family of Nawab Akbar Khan Hoti, who was a member of the All India Muslim League. Another prominent member of the family was Nawabzada Abdul Ghafoor Hoti, who remained the governor of the then North West Frontier Province under Gen Ziaul Haq. In its earlier incarnation the PTI had Nawabzada Mohsin Ali Khan as its main man in the NWFP and, quite like Messers Jhagra and Hoti, he has been in and out of almost all political parties in the province. So much for Mr Khan’s antipathy towards family-based politics and his supporters’ disgust for politicos who represent and serve their personal and family interests whichever party they join.

    In Punjab, Mr Khan’s choice of candidates is even more suspect. In a 2010 by-election in Lahore he gave his party’s ticket to one Mian Hamid Meraj, who happened to be the son of Mian Meraj Din, a one-time excise minister in the Punjab government of Shahbaz Sharif in the 1990s who was forced to resign from his cabinet post under allegations of electricity theft. The main reason why Mr Din and his family remain in the business of politics is that they come from an influential local family of Lahore that has its biradri vote bank in some parts of the city. Zaheer Abbas Khokhar, a possible PTI candidate in the next election, became a member of the National Assembly on a PPP ticket in 2002 before joining the PPP-Patriots, which eventually dissolved itself into the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam, the much-maligned faction of the League under the much-maligned Chaudharys of Gujrat. He is also the nephew of Malik Karamat Khokhar, who was a PPP candidate in the 2008 election. Another intending PTI candidate is Rasheed Bhatti, a one-time PPP member of the Punjab Assembly who created a small stir in 1989 by insisting that he will use only Punjabi in his speeches in the assembly and who is known for his many family feuds and property disputes. His brother, Jameel Bhatti, was once the head of the People’s Students’ Federation, the student wing of the PPP, at Quaid-i-Azam University in the early 1990s. The two latest entrants in the PTI from Lahore are Mian Azhar and Farooq Amjad Mir. The former was the governor of Punjab when Nawaz Sharif was prime minister in the 1990s before the two had a falling-out. After Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf took over power from Nawaz Sharif, Mr Azhar was the head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Likeminded — the first batch of League people who opted to side with the military ruler after his 1999 coup. He eventually lost not just the leadership of the faction to the Chaudharys but also lost two successive elections — in 2002 and 2008 — on a PML-Q ticket to relative political lightweights. Mr Mir was the naib nazim of Lahore in 2004 when he fought and won a by-election for the National Assembly from Lahore as a PML-Q candidate. In 2008, he lost badly to a PML-N opponent and has been in the political wilderness since then before resurrecting himself in the PTI, which is, in fact, where he had started his political career in 1996.

    That leaves out Mr Khan’s most ardent and, so far, most consistent supporter in Lahore — Mian Mehmoodur Rashid. Since the PTI’s formation, he is only one of two people from Lahore who have never deserted the party, the other being senior lawyer Hamid Khan. Mr Rashid was one of the few Islami Jamhoori Ittehad candidates in Lahore who survived a PPP onslaught in the 1988 election. In 1990, he again won a seat from the city for the Punjab Assembly from Jamaat’s quota in the Sharif-led alliance. Since then, however, electoral success has eluded him.

    So, here is the question: Will supporters of the PTI vote for such political weathercocks in their search for a change in the political culture of the country? If they will, the party’s promised revolution will be suffocated under the heavy burden of its own candidates and the winners’ ambition for power. That some earlier passengers on the PTI bandwagon soon left in disgust and disillusionment may well mean that at least some current supporters are headed in the same direction when they find out that the quality of the candidates from their ‘pro-change’, ‘clean’ party is as low as it can get in Pakistani politics.

    Perhaps the galaxy of stars from different fields that Mr Khan could muster in his early days was an indication of the promise he had. His party’s first secretary general was Dr Pervez Hassan, the internationally renown environmental law expert who now has a whole block at the Punjab University Law College named after him; the first PTI information secretary was a certain Nasim Zehra who has now become one of Pakistan’s most well-known political commentators and talk show hosts; Mr Khan’s main man in Karachi was one Nazim Haji, who founded the Citizens Police Liaison Committee which, at least in its early days, played a significant role in controlling crime in the city; a youngish Owais Ghani, who worked as the governor of Balochistan under Gen Musharraf before taking the same position in his home province of KP, was a member of the central executive committee of the PTI along with another educationist, Dr Farooq, who was the vice-chancellor designate of a proposed university in Swat and who played a leading role in setting up a school for the re-education of trainee suicide bombers freed from the Taliban in the 2009 military operation.

    The people who have replaced them have either unproven or controversial credentials. The current PTI secretary general is Karachi-based Dr Arif Alvi, a dentist for the city’s elite who has pots of money and a techie son who lets go of no opportunity to promote his father’s political party through purportedly non-political ventures. The main policy advisor of the party is Dr Shireen Mazari, who for years ran a government-funded think tank in Islamabad before serving for a short period of time as the editor of the Lahore-based English daily The Nation. If she is known for anything, it is certainly not a non-jingoistic understanding of Pakistan’s foreign and security policies. The brain behind Mr Khan’s latest makeover as Pakistan’s savoir in the making — one more time after a failed earlier attempt — is Haroonur Rashid, a columnist with the daily Jang who once wrote the authorised and laudatory biography of Gen Akhtar Abdur Rehman, an intelligence czar under Gen Zia and one of the many architects of Pakistan-backed militancy in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

    The last critical factor of Mr Khan’s politics is his agenda. When he started off in 1996, his catchphrases were brown sahib, VIP culture, political corruption, accountability before election, fatal dependence on foreign loans and subservience to the United States. His proposed remedies were supposed to be elaborate and were to be prepared by eight committees of technocrats with vast expertise and experience in various fields. Though these committees are known to have worked for months, their output has never seen the light of the day and Mr Khan’s interim solutions remain rather sketchy.

    Many years later, he remains high on rhetoric and low on reality. Political corruption, lavish government expenditure, anti-Americanism and dependence on foreign money continue to be his hobby horses but his solutions have become more basic and irrelevant than ever before: politicians should declare their ‘real’ assets; courts are to be reformed; thorough accountability to be conducted without fear or favour; local governments to be brought back with, surprise, surprise, elected sheriffs at the local level; an end to patwaris and the digitisation of land records (something already underway in some districts in Punjab with rather mixed results); an education emergency to be declared; Balochistan to be brought into the national mainstream — it’s simple, isn’t it? — by holding meetings with disgruntled Baloch politicians; and the much-talked about end to thaana culture.

    If some people find disconcerting similarities between these solutions and Gen Musharraf’s agenda after he overthrew Nawaz Sharif’s government, they only need to understand that both play to the same gallery of middle class professionals in the anti-politics brigade.

    The writer is Editor, Herald

    http://www.dawn.com/2011/11/06/imran-khan-the-myth-and-the-reality.html