Face-to-Face with Imran - 2
ISLAMABAD: A dicssion with any Opposition politician has to be largely about the past, what the rulers were doing and had done and how they had messed up the country for their personal, family, business and political interests.
Imran Khan is no different and repeats ad nauseam how Zardari and Nawaz had looted the country, filled their pockets and offshore accounts and presumably secured their financial and family futures by keeping all their assets abroad, ready to run away from the country just in a few hours, depending on the level of the threat.
Zardari had proved this several times when he was president and Nawaz has offered us a more sophisticated version of the same phenomenon by flying out for quick medical check ups, returning for more grueling politics if advised and then disappearing, all under the official cloak, at Pakistan's expense.
This is all dishonesty, Imran says. They must be ashamed of their conduct. They have turned this into a banana republic, he means, without saying so in these words. All these thoughts are nothing new for the readers as Imran has been saying all these things in public and privately. But when I ask what are his future plans, his vision to correct things and specifically how would he go about achieving his goals, he gets pensive looking worried and then thinks and says the system has to be cleansed, starting from the top.
His faith and confidence in the present parliamentary form of democracy is almost non-existent. He himself hardly attends the National Assembly sessions, going there only for major political speeches or for important events. What’s the point in going there when nobody takes it seriously, he seriously asks.
This is also nothing new but when asked whats the alternative, he again thinks hard, then says may be a system that does not depend too much on these scattered centers of powers and corrupt players will deliver for Pakistan. Is he pleading for a presidential system then?
His closest men, leaders, Ishaq Khakwani and Jahangir Tareen mince no words in praising a change of system. Even Khan sometimes nods in agreement. But Khakwani and Tareen, in a separate sitting with us just 24 hours after we met Khan, speak openly that a presidential system with a directly elected president could be the only answer. They think Nawaz and Zardari have mastered the art of election rigging, placing their men at key places over the years, buying, bullying, blackmailing and bulldozing the other institutions with impunity, in the name of democracy.
Whatever these second rank PTI leaders may think, Imran says he still has hope but he warns the downslide is so fast something has to be done now to prevent a total collapse, an economic implosion or a bloody revolution.
Our friends M Ziauddin and M Afzal Khan argue at length with Khan about the role of the army and how it has to be prevented from doing what dictators in the past had done when politicians failed in their acts.
Army rule is no answer Khan agrees. They are not meant for governance although they are a disciplined institution that has the muscle and the influence to change the course of events in the direction they like. But they should not take over.
So I ask what is the plan and how he thinks it can be achieved when elections are not a solution in the presence of Nawaz and Zardari, when institutions have failed the nation, when the judiciary is in a crisis of confidence, often accused of partisanship and even corruption, unable to reform itself, when the masses are so oppressed they cannot think about anything other than meeting their ends, raising families and surviving.
Khan says examples have to be set at the top to punish the corrupt as corruption was the root cause of most of these ills. Hang some of the B's, he means, again without saying so.
That may be an appealing quick response but much more needs to be done, there have to be people of vision planning ahead in all fields, mainly economic, international relations, regional security, domestic security. In PTI such think tanks are rarely seen active, if they exist. Khan offers solutions that are superficial, based on what the TV anchors discuss, what experts and critics say, what his party leaders with their own smaller interests can think of.
A comprehensive PTI national plan is either not there or is never discussed to give hope and create confidence in its leadership as a credible and competent alternative to the present messed up political set up. He is yet to show his confident face as a Shadow Prime Minister who can speak masterly on different issues in exclusive settings, without mixing rhetoric and hyperbole. But many think he is just about the only alternative left, so he has to quickly grow in the larger shoes that he is striving to wear.
These conceptual and philosophical issues apart when we come to specifics and Ziauddin asks him why he was so enamored with Pindi politician Sheikh Rashid, Imran comes up with a straight and honest answer. "Our party does not have anyone who can attract so much media attention and speak so fluently and directly. This is a flaw," he admits. Sheikh Rashid gets ratings and he knows ins and out of this dubious politics as he has been part of it for a long time.
I interject with a sweeping observation but before I do so I seek an apology from all those present if they would feel hurt. Your media management is a disaster and Dr Shireen Mazari was a total failure. Where is the credible, honest and acceptable face of party loyalist Fauzia Kasuri. Why is she sidelined. The current new faces that appear on TV or speak for the party look nothing more than interns getting on-the- job training, making mistakes and blunders and hitting their heads against brick walls.
I do not realize current PTI spokesman Naeemul Haq is sitting to my left. I know him as a technocrat but somehow he has not yet registered with me as a political spokesman of PTI, or it may have been my shortcoming as living abroad I was not much in contact with him. Everyone feels uneasy with my observation, sort of embarrassed. Then they start to explain. Naeemul Haq says we have a monitoring unit which watches whatever is going on on TV and we assign our leaders and brief them to respond.
Some may be doing a good job but overall the PTI media machine is no match to the officially entrenched media juggernaut in the PM house or office where first daughter Maryam, with no official position, presides over everything that her father has decided to ignore. Buyable politicians and media men help her in day to day badgering of their opponents and critics. Many media houses collaborate, in their own interest.
Imran praises Asad Umar for what he is doing, specially on the economic and financial side but he is really bitter and angry at Asad's brother Zubair, who appears on TV defending the PML-N government every now and then. "I don't understand why a person who knows the truth could fall so low like Zubair defending the corrupt, thieves and plunderers. There has to be some shame, some self-respect," he repeats many times.
I am also confused as both brothers Asad and Zubair are poles apart in politics but one as a family, sometimes even appearing together on TV in morning shows or other such programmes. I distinctly remember them on one Eid show a year or two back. It may be a good thing for a stable and functional democracy where institutions play their role and personalities matter less. But in Pakistan it is personal loyalty that matters and if Zubair thinks he is loyal to Nawaz and Asad is associated with Imran, it is hard to imagine there would be no argument in the family when they sit privately for dinner.
To be continued.
Part-3 would deal with what IK thinks about Panama, dharna past and future, Tahirul Qadri and many more burning issues.
For quick reference: Part-1
A face-to-face with Khan & Company