Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf has shaken the foundations of old alliances but not enough to change the political dynamics in the country, yet.
The real winners of the Pakistani election were, through massive rigging, the security establishment and elites of political parties supported by the US and Saudi Arabia. Historically every election has been rigged, engineered, manipulated or tweaked enough by the security establishment to tip the balance in favour of candidates they can manipulate. This election was no different. Old alliances between the feudal and political elite and the military continue while individual voting patterns remain solidly on the basis of ethnicity, and tribal and feudal patronage. Before and after the elections Pakistan remains firmly under the domination of the US-Saudi global system. This is a recurrent feature of the old Pakistan that is continuing to decline and crumble at an alarming rate.
On the other hand, change appears to be taking place quietly and a new Pakistan is emerging. This change is not confined to a few individuals or a party; rather it is social in nature. This has given birth to a new political culture that is challenging the corrupt socio-political-economic order of old Pakistan. The new culture is based on the rule of law, justice and good governance and shuns reliance on the US and Saudi Arabia. This change has been taking place for the last five years but only recently did it get a boost due to the entry of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) in the election. While no concrete or material manifestation of the new political culture can be pointed to yet, there are numerous signs and symptoms of change taking place.
Throughout history change in any society occurs when ordinary people challenge a despotic ruler and his oppressive system. In Western history this struggle was waged by people against oppression of the Pope and Church, then against despotic and hereditary kings and generals who had monopoly on power to commit violence. Muslim history is no exception. The purpose of struggle by the populace is to tame the power of hereditary kings and generals to bring them or the entire political system under the rule of law. This struggle is shaping up in Pakistan as well. Generals, secret agencies’ operatives and their domination of the political system are being brought under the rule of law by balancing the power of some institutions through others. The sign and symptoms of this discourse and practice are now clearly visible.
Pakistan has a history of military coups that were routinely validated and legitimized by the Supreme Court on the basis of the flimsy pretext of the “law of necessity.” The current Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was no exception when he along with other justices, validated the 1999 coup against the elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. However, once he became the Chief Justice, he seemed to have undergone a change of heart making the military wary of him. In 2007, with General Pervez Musharraf in power, he was called to the military headquarters and asked to resign. Much to the generals’ surprise and annoyance, he flatly refused. That defiance against the arbitrary exercise of power was the spark that gave birth to the discourse of the rule of law, justice and good governance. Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and put the entire higher judiciary under house arrest. Musharraf, however, was forced out of office, general elections were held in 2008 and the newly elected government reluctantly restored the judiciary after a sustained movement by lawyers.
After the judges’ restoration, judicial activism became the norm. Not only corrupt government officials but also generals and spy agencies were hauled before the courts to account for the “missing persons” — once a taboo subject. People rejoiced when a corrupt prime minister of the Pakistan Peoples Party was dismissed. The Court checked the unlimited powers of government officials to loot and plunder. Overnight the meek and subservient Supreme Court became vibrant, dynamic and a powerful institution and a leading edge of the struggle for supremacy of the rule of law.
Imran Khan and the PTI
Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf boycotted the 2008 elections. During the next five years he organized his party and mobilized mass support. Against the backdrop of corrupt parties and coalition governments where everyone colluded to maximize their interests, Imran Khan appealed to the youth to take the destiny in their own hands. He was coming from “within the system” but had the appeal of an outsider.
There are a number of characteristics that distinguish him from other politicians. First, while almost all politicians enter politics to make money, Imran Khan had made his wealth before entering politics. He earned his money by playing cricket. Thus he came into politics not to make money but for genuine reasons.
Second, a lifelong time spent in any profession — military, bureaucracy or business — generally has a lasting impact on a person. The person acquires training, etiquettes, a way of thinking and habits, morals, and conceiving problems and possible solutions become part of his personality and almost second nature. Similarly in any sport, following the rules of the game is an important characteristic that is developed among youngsters. Imran Khan played cricket and as any other sportsman, learned to follow rules even when the referee was wrong. The sportsman-turned-politician knows the importance of following rules and not allowing anyone to take unfair advantage.
Third, like other politicians who promise the stars and the moon if voted into office, he did not wait to do “good works” until he got into power. His track record of philanthropic activities is remarkable. With the help of ordinary people he reinforced the belief that the masses are the main source of power. He established a world class cancer hospital in Lahore as well as Namal University near Mianwali. This further strengthened the faith and bond between him and the people. Even the government with vast resources has been unable to replicate his philanthropic accomplishments.
Fourth, his study of Islam and diagnosis of problems facing Muslims led him to conclude that everyone should be subject to the rule of law. He wrote a number of articles in newspapers elaborating his ideas. He energized the youth and the middle class who had never bothered to vote before. His stance on a number of issues — that US drones should be shot down, and rejection of US and Saudi subservience — shows that he had a mix of nationalist and Islamic ideology that had popular appeal. He did not appeal to any particular ethnicity, tribe, or class; rather he motivated and energized the entire population, particularly the youth.
With these characteristics the sportsman-turned-politician presented the unique kind of blend that made him stand out from all other politicians. He was an insider determined to reform the corrupt system from within. He appears to be playing the same role that Dr. Mussadaq of Iran played during the early 1950s when he became the rallying cry for nationalists, leftists and so-called democrats with some ‘ulama also backing him.
Musharraf treason trial
While the first elected civilian government was completing its five-year term, Musharraf decided to return to Pakistan from self-imposed exile in Dubai. Only a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for a former military chief to be brought before a court to account for his misdeeds. For arresting the higher judiciary and suspending the constitution — treasonable offences under Article 6 of the constitution — Musharraf’s trial is underway. Whether he will be sentenced or escape punishment like Raymond Davis of the CIA with Saudi connivance is yet to be seen. In any case the unprecedented trial gave further boost to the discussion of supremacy of the rule of law.
Old pattern of voting broken
While most politicians and political parties had their appeal confined to particular areas, ethnicity, or class, Imran Khan’s appeal was across the board. The May 11 election results showed every party had its roots in particular areas or ethnicity except the PTI that enjoyed broad support throughout the country and cut across all social classes.
Most striking are the inroads he made in the Urdu-speaking muhajir community in urban areas of Karachi and Hyderabad. Given the “gun-point mandate” of the Muhajir (Muttahida) Qaumi Movement for 35 years, every MQM-held constituency voted in the thousands for PTI. This was unthinkable earlier. The MQM has reacted angrily as the middle class is now demanding free, fair and transparent elections on the streets, which could be the death knell of MQM that has held Karachi — the economic hub and backbone of the country — hostage for more than three decades. With each free, fair and transparent election, the MQM sees its stranglehold on the community imposed through fear and violence, crumbling.
While Imran Khan and his PTI is the latest catalyst to the ongoing discourse on the supremacy of the rule of law, the military-feudal alliance as well as the US-Saudi axis is reacting with a vengeance. Through intrigue the PTI was not allowed to win the election but still emerged as the second largest party in parliament with huge mass support. Now he is being denied the role of opposition leader through machination and rigging by giving the Peoples Party more seats.
Imran Khan, however, appears determined to make a new Pakistan. Only time will tell whether he would succeed or meet the fate of Dr. Mussadaq of Iran. He is not the ideal candidate but the least objectionable among all the corrupt politicians. Nevertheless he has played an important role in the discourse and practice of the supremacy of rule of law and self-respect — necessary ingredients in the intellectual, moral, legal and political development of the country.