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PTI’s meltdown

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan is imploding. The initial trickle of ‘seasonal sparrows’ (fasli batair) abandoning the party in the face of a severe crackdown as the aftermath of the attacks on military installations on May 9, 2023, has by now turned into a flood. Daily, we are treated to the spectacle of former PTI leaders and members (some identified as being amongst the May 9 rioters) holding press conferences to emphasise their respect and loyalty towards the armed forces, their condemnation of the May 9 events, and their decision to leave the PTI or even politics altogether. The latest in this august cavalcade (stampede?) is former Punjab chief minister Usman Buzdar, who complains of being abandoned by his erstwhile party (not the only departed leader to have voiced this complaint).

Those leaving PTI, whether because of the post-May 9 wisdom that has dawned on them or, as Imran Khan alleges, because of ‘pressures’, have not all abandoned politics altogether. Imran Khan’s formerly close friend and financier Jahangir Tareen has emerged from the shadows to which he remained consigned after being disqualified to gather the southern Punjab and other defectors with the declared intention to form another party. A ‘Democrats’ group has also surfaced. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) seems open to sheltering as many of the seasonal sparrows as possible, particularly from Punjab. Other parties could also open their doors to some of the departees.

Although the dust has not yet settled to offer a clear picture of the political landscape in the run up to likely general elections in October or November 2023, the meltdown and disintegration of Imran Khan’s PTI is in definite motion. Imran Khan fears that the decision to try some of the rioters in military courts could be extended to him, leading to his removal to prison as the best way to block any chance of him returning to power. The factions of defectors attempting to coalesce into new parties or join existing parties could conceivably split the PTI vote, amongst which the youth bulge is heavily represented. Whether the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), PPP and other components of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition government will be able to overcome their poor performance in power since 2022 and turn in a good performance in the polls remains an intriguing but unanswered question so far.

The crackdown against the PTI has now finally (after repeated unsuccessful attempts at arrest) reached former Punjab chief minister Pervaiz Elahi. He is being treated to the usual cases, cases, court appearances, bails, arrests and rearrests run around so familiar from our political history. The Al-Qadir scandal has dented the anti-corruption narrative of Imran Khan more than any other Toshakana, etc., issues. Corruption, as this writer has argued for long, is a systemic issue that does not exclude any party or member of our illustrious political class.

How to explain the PTI’s meltdown at the first sign of severe repression following May 9? Parties that have withstood the tender, unwanted attentions of the powers that be in our political history, e.g. PPP, PML-N, without disintegrating like the PTI, had some modicum of a world view, principles according to said world view, and despite dynastic structures, were never entirely one-man shows like Imran Khan’s PTI. The lack of depth and resilience being currently exhibited by the PTI points to a party centred on Imran Khan and his own image of himself as the unparalleled and indispensable saviour of the country. Unfortunately for him, so much investment in hubris and ego implied that when the chips were down, the fallout too would be centred on his person and not much else. That ‘person’ has disillusioned even his closest colleagues because of an apparent indifference to whatever has befallen them in his cause.

PTI may or may not quite be history just yet, but the end-year elections so far promise a fractured mandate, which will obviously not be helpful in restoring some semblance of stability to the political landscape and credibility to the government that emerges from it to tackle the economic crisis, first and foremost by convincing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to loosen its purse strings and allow Pakistan the leverage with international and bilateral lenders crucial to any economic revival.

And when we are hopefully over this hump, it is not too early to reflect on how developments over the last year or so have so brutally exposed the flaws and weaknesses of our economic structure and development strategy when our exports are around one third of our imports, of the latter 90 percent being indispensable. While import substitution implies reviving moribund state-owned heavy industry and moving towards incremental domestic production of plant, machinery, parts and components for which we are still critically dependent on imports, if the renewed emphasis on industrialisation inherent in this suggested turn yields export surpluses, that may be the only salvation for us in a globalised twenty first century economy. “Walking on two legs,” as Chairman Mao said.

Rashed Rahman, "PTI’s meltdown," Business recorder. 2023-06-06.
Keywords: Political science , Political parties , Economic structure , General elections , Economic revival , Imran Khan , PTI , PPP , PML-N

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