The ‘change movement’: neutralised?


Dr Farid A Malik

Ideology drives change in the absence of which it is more of the same. Political pirates and rental politicians cannot be a part of this crusade. In 1967, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the young and charismatic foreign minister working under the dictator, raised hopes of the nation by forming his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Most politicians did not take him seriously. In the first free and fair elections of 1970, he emerged as a major political player in the western wing of the country. Despite national setbacks and reverses he held the pieces of what was left of Quaid’s Pakistan. By 1975, he allowed himself to be cornered by the establishment and its political toadies who had played a major role in strengthening the status quo.
In an environment of gloom and doom of the 1990s, ‘Kaptaan’ emerged on the scene as a messenger of hope. He launched his movement for change in April 1996, and named it Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Due to lack of organisational structure, the party could not be organised at the grassroots level. In 2006, Imran Khan convinced his comrade, Ahsan Rashid, a founding member, to quit his lucrative job in Jeddah and return to his roots to organise the effort for change. As a true son of the soil Rashid worked very hard to mobilise public support. During the 2010 floods, I remember we were driving from Rahim Yar Khan to Muzaffargarh, and en route we passed through a small town where we spotted a PTI flag on a building. I asked Rashid if he knew the local party coordinator. After sieving through records and a few telephone calls we were able to contact him. The party message had finally reached across the country.
The Lahore jalsa (rally) of October 30, 2011 was historic. It reminded me of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s public gathering at the same venue in 1971. Once again hope was rekindled. Young and old, families and children, all were there. The movement had been launched. Karachi was the next venue. On December 25, 2011, the gathering at the Mazar-e-Quaid was mammoth, but by that time, faces on the stage had changed, and the ‘purity’ of the party had been compromised. The clean and the corrupt stood together, confusing the message of ‘change’. The confusion continues to date.
Within the party there are two schools of thought. Khan has been convinced that for meaningful change one needs to win an election and come into power. According to this approach, winning is only possible by the inclusion of ‘electables’. This thinking has some merit, but then it creates confusion in the mind of voters who wish to keep the corrupt and the incompetent out. Such ‘frequent flyers’ should have been confined to their areas of influence, and not imposed on the party as has been the case.
The second school of thought believes that winning alone with a tainted and incompetent team would be a disaster. To win the election they believe in tanzeem saazi (functional organisation) to run the party, and contest the ballot with a unified framework and strategy. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the PTI still has the potential to do much better with a new team that can implement its policies of change. The PTI has the opportunity to make a real difference by devolution of authority as required by the constitution. For the old guard, power is meant to be concentrated not shared for better results; that has to change.
The age of centralised authority is gone. Inclusion not exclusion is the right approach. After the 18th amendment Islamabad has been cut to size, as power has been devolved to the four provincial capitals. For meaningful results the journey has to continue till people take charge of their destiny at the union council level.
Change is like lava that has to erupt after pushing its way through the crater, and no force on earth can stop it. In the 1960s Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto led the charge, while in the 1990s Imran Khan had the opportunity, which is slipping out of his hands after the inclusion of opportunists and spent forces of the status quo unleashed by the first dictator, Ayub Khan. Bhutto’s legacy could not be erased despite the best efforts of two dictators who followed – Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf. After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s daughter, the ‘enemy’ emerged from within. Asif Ali Zardari has caused so much damage to the party that even the dictators could not dream of despite their best efforts.
Like Bhutto’s PPP, PTI’s mission is being eroded from within. The drowning political pirates that control the skip are transmitting confused signals to the eager voters on shore. It is not clear whether the ship would drown with the skipper on board or would it anchor on another island. It seems that Kaptaan is losing control of the PTI’s flotilla of change after its launch in the turbulent political waters of Pakistan on April 25, 1996. After over 20 years of struggle, and braving several storms, instead of anchoring on the shores of change there is a visible change of course. Khan has an opportunity to carve his political legacy. He can go down in history as a great leader who delivered change, or as a spoiler and political irritant who relied on external support and landed nowhere. Learning from history, I am sure he can do better than that, but only time will tell. In the meantime, the comrades have started to regroup and reform their struggle for change.