Thursday, 6 July 2017

PTI: from movement to Party

PTI: from movement to party
Apr 8 2012
The writer is the founder of

What was the most striking feature of the PTI’s March 23 Lahore rally? It was not necessarily the turnout nor was it the enthusiasm of the crowd nor was it what Imran Khan did or did not say.

If anything, the PTI’s second big Lahore rally showed an organisational ability that the party lacked before. It showed the party had broken away from being a one-man show to having a structure independent of the party leader. More importantly, it has become only the second political party after the PML-N to achieve mass appeal in post-1972 Pakistan.

To understand this perspective, we have to remember the most persistent criticism of the party was that it was essentially a ‘fan club’ and that supporters would only turn up to see the star and not vote for him. Despite this, it is often easy to forget where the party started from and how it has reached where it stands today.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf story begins in popular imagination with something as simple as a newspaper column. The first inkling of Imran Khan’s interest in politics begins with newspaper columns he wrote in the mid-1990s. The columns focused on the dismal state of affairs in the country and the ‘brown sahib’ culture, as well as Islam and people voting with their feet. There was also a scandal – unexplained to this day – of the role of Hamid Gul in the party’s formation.

Pundits at the time noted the similarity with the launch of another tehrik in the past. Air Marshal (r) Asghar Khan (who along with Sherbaz Mazari was cited at one time by Imran Khan as political ideals) had done something similar in the 1960s before launching his originally named Justice Party which eventually became the Tehrik-e-Istiqlal .

In 1996, Imran Khan launched his party from Lahore, but before it could find its feet Benazir Bhutto’s government was dismissed and elections were held. The party narrative was simple: ‘anti-corruption’. It was memorably explained to a group of lawyers in 1997 when Imran was allegedly asked how he would sort out corruption. He reportedly said it would stop after he hanged the corrupt. It was this and his subsequent appreciation for speedy justice via jirgas that would shock liberals while earning praise from many in the middle class.

Barely prepared, Imran Khan threw himself into electioneering, contesting from seven seats ranging from Karachi, Dera Ismail Khan (against Maulana Fazlur rehman), Mianwali, Lahore, Abbottabad, Islamabad and Swat.

Attempting to avert a split in the Punjab vote, the PML-N is said to have approached Imran Khan for a seat adjustment and offered 20 seats to his party. When Imran refused to take the bait, the response was swift and brutal with a major smear campaign launched against Imran Khan and his personal life. What little momentum the party had was shattered and the eventual result was a foregone solution.

Nationally polling just over two percent of the vote, the closest anyone from his party came to winning a seat nationally was Imran Khan himself when he polled his best performance in Swat. This seeming greater support from the then-NWFP was to be a sign of future trends in the province towards the PTI.

Attempting to reinvent the party from 1997-1999, a conscious decision was made to draw in electables and old party men with organisational abilities. This meant that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ‘electables’, MPAs like Shehzada Gustasip and Mohsin Ali Khan joined the party on the one hand and on the other the old guard of the PPP like Meraj Muhammad Khan and Rao Rashid. This clash between the induction of ‘electables’ and the old guard triggered the resignation of many of the founding members of the party, including Nasim Zehra and Owais Ghani.

By 2002, Imran Khan and the PTI were facing a greater crisis. Many old PTI members with technocratic skills or electoral potential had through the carrot or the stick defected to the PML-Q. Despite having backed Musharraf in the notorious referendum, Imran Khan had turned down the offer to join Musharraf’s cobbled together national alliance.

Angering Musharraf and his allies, another smear campaign was launched against him by the PML-Q and a determined effort was made to ensure he was defeated in Mianwali. Despite this, Imran Khan managed to win his first national assembly seat from Mianwali and a solitary provincial assembly seat from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The party once again suffered a rout all across the country and its small share of the national vote dropped further.

Imran Khan’s decision to support the joint PML-N – MMA candidate for prime minister Maulana Fazlur Rehman antagonised many of the old liberals in the party and led to many quitting. This alliance with the religio-political forces invoked a level of confusion amongst many of his liberal supporters. A disillusioned Meraj Muhammad Khan quit the party, criticising the ‘fan club’ mentality of many supporters around their leader.

In the period between 2002 and 2005 Imran Khan and his PTI cut a lonely figure in the country, ignored by the major parties and lacking the resources to broaden the party’s base. It was doomed to become a single-seat tonga party of the likes of Asghar Khan’s party or the late Nawabzada Nasrullah’s party.

Fate, however, had something else in store. This was the era of the massive media growth in the country. With Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif out of the country, getting Imran Khan on a TV show was usually a guaranteed ratings boost. With his long experience of working with the media, he was to become a regular on the talk show circuit and was gradually introduced to another generation of fans.

It was also an opportune time because Musharraf’s alliances with the US and the ‘war on terror’ allowed a new narrative to be built, moving away from corruption alone. The party was seen now as anti-American, anti-drone, anti-corruption particularly appealing to northern Pakistan and the middle class.

Cementing his alliance with the lawyers’ movement, it was this new constituency that subsequently decided to fall on its own sword and boycott an election where opinion polls had it doing well, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Along with other members of the All Pakistan Democratic Movement, he boycotted the 2008 elections and was a bystander as the PPP and PML-N swept into power. Despite this, again with time and luck the party has once again seen opportunity land in its lap. The difference was that this time the actions that followed have left a lasting impression in the public’s mind.

Critics mock the party and its leader for faults perceived and real. The fact is that it has appealed across ethnic and religious lines to the urban voter in particular. It has created a positive precedent by holding intra-party elections and now has a party structure capable of functioning independent of its leader.

Where it lacks is something more systemic. It has shown a tendency to be intolerant to criticism from outsiders, and is often a victim of its own rhetoric as shown by the poor handling of issues like alliances and the inability to reach beyond its core support in northern Pakistan and Karachi. If that obstacle is not overcome, the party’s tsunami may end up as a high tide.

Azam Hoti: The Machiavelli of Mardan

It was in the early years of the Musharraf Government that the elderly Ajmal Khattak, acolyte of Bacha Khan, polymath and former president of the Awami National Party (ANP), sat in a press conference and thundered, “Accountability must be enforced even if it is someone’s brother.” Sitting not far from him was Naseem Wali Khan, provincial president of the ANP and sister to Azam Hoti, the ‘brother’ being referred to. It was an insult that would not be forgiven, and soon enough, Ajmal Khattak was expelled from the party to which he had dedicated his entire life. This story is one of the many that would earn Hoti his reputation. A highly polarising figure, Hoti was to his supporters a loyal Pashtun nationalist who bolstered the party in his home district and helped forge alliances that rehabilitated it. To his many detractors, however, he was one part of the Azam-Naseem duo, an unaccountable and manipulative politician whose only claim to office was family connections. Other than Wali and Asfandyar Khan, the son and grandson of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the ideologue of the party (then known as the National Awami Party – NAP), it is Azam Hoti who has cast a long shadow over its image.

 Hoti’s father, Ameer Muhammad Khan, was a Khudai Khidmatgar (servant of God) and a minor tribal chief from the Hoti area of Mardan. He was also a close companion of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (better known as Bacha Khan) and served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). It was Azam’s father who arranged his daughter Naseem’s marriage to Ghaffar Khan’s widowed son, Wali Khan. It was this marriage that would give his son access to the party rank and file and transform the family’s future. Pakistan’s post-independence era was marked by a brutal crackdown on any expression of Pashtun nationalism. It was in this scenario of the changing nature of Pashtun identity politics and socio-economic dynamics that Azam Hoti joined the Pakistan army. He was commissioned in 1967 and became a captain in the Armoured Corps, serving in the 1971 war between Pakistan and India. His career in the military was cut short due to the increasingly violent rivalry between the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the NAP (the successor to the political wing of the Khudai Khidmatgars) which culminated in the infamous ‘Liaquat Bagh’ massacre and resulted in the death of dozens of their activists. Fleeing the crackdown that ensued, Azam Hoti remained in exile in Kabul from 1973 to 1979. It was during this period that he served as salaar (commander) of the Pakhtun Zalmay. By many accounts this was a difficult time for him and he had little by way of financial support. Little of any worth was achieved during his time in exile and he returned to Pakistan as part of an amnesty deal with Zia-ul-Haq. He was awarded a party ticket for the 1988 election, but was defeated by the local PPP candidate. In 1989 the former NAP, now retitled ANP, formed an alliance with the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) of Nawaz Sharif. This proved fortuitous for Azam as many senior leaders quit in protest of the alliance, thereby removing any serious challenges within the party.

And allied closely with his sister Naseem Wali Khan, who had taken over the party’s provincial presidency following the resignation of Afzal Khan, the Azam-Naseem duo were increasingly seen as untouchable within the party. The 1990 elections proved a watershed moment for Hoti: he was elected a member of the National Assembly from Mardan. But this victory was not without controversy. There were widespread allegations of ‘ticket selling’ in the election, and many critics within the party placed the blame on Azam. In the 1993 election Hoti lost his seat at the hands of the PPP, only to be rewarded with a Senate ticket by the party. And in 1997 he would again stage a comeback, winning his National Assembly seat, and becoming the ANP’s sole federal minister in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s new cabinet. Appointed to the powerful and lucrative Ministry of Communication for a second time, Hoti found himself facing a barrage of criticism. He was accused of being promoted as minister out-of-turn at the expense of many more experienced colleagues, and additionally, there were allegations of a large-scale misappropriation of funds.

His reluctant resignation from the ministry, following the collapse of the ANP-PML (Pakistan Muslim League) alliance, would be followed by further bad news for Azam Hoti. After Pervez Musharraf took over, Hoti was charged and convicted on two counts of corruption by the National Accountability Bureau. One conviction was on account of contracts handed out on the Lahore-Peshawar motorway, and the other regarding assets ‘disproportionate to income.’ The ANP’s rout in the 2002 election caused anger within the party, as many cited the politics of the Azam-Naseem duo as the cause of defeat. To save himself, Azam sided with party leader Asfandyar Wali Khan against his own sister. The end of the Azam-Naseem alliance revived some hope within the party that it would return to its ideological roots. However, this hope proved to be short-lived, as Azam’s support did not come without a price. Still in prison at the time he entered the new alliance, he was inexplicably released on ‘health grounds’ by the military government. This would again lead to another series of allegations that his support for the party leader was in exchange for a deal securing his release. Hoti’s release came at a providential time, as the ANP was staging a comeback and Azam held the chair of the ticket-awarding parliamentary committee. The party won its biggest-ever electoral victory in the 2008 election, and for the first time since 1947, the post of chief minister of the province was conceded to the ANP. It was widely expected that party veterans Bashir Bilour or Mian Iftikhar would be chosen for the post. But at this crucial moment, Azam Hoti was alleged to have used his influence to impose his son Ameer Hoti as chief minister. His son’s time as chief minister was marked by a wave of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacks in the province and against the ANP. It was also marked by a multitude of development projects in Azam Hoti’s home district, but his Machiavellian reputation persisted and allegations of nepotism and corruption continued to be hurled against him. Yet, despite these changes, he was again elected as a Senator on an ANP ticket in 2012. By 2013, the ANP was crippled by TTP attacks in the run-up to the general elections, and it also faced a tirade of attacks on its record of governance by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). The PTI’s victory and the ANP’s rout in the 2013 election led to another family split. This time it was due to anger within his family at Azam Hoti’s personal life and his fourth marriage. In a reversal of circumstances from a decade earlier, Azam Hoti’s son allied with Asfandyar Wali Khan against his father. Hoti’s humiliating ouster from the party ranks would mark the end of his political career as a self-styled ‘Machiavelli of Mardan,’ but not without leaving an indelible imprint on the party he remained associated with throughout his political life. Azam Hoti died on April 15 in Peshawar. He was 69 years old.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s June 2015 issue.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Poems confessions of a terrorist & Children of a lesser God

Confessions of a terrorist.

Possessed by the devil,
I strode out to do evil,
With enmity written large on my face,
Somebody has to be clad in deaths embrace.
Just yesterday a child became an orphan,
And a couple were worried by the ransoms burden.
The fetters of depression behold the city,
Where everyday criminals like me enter captivity.
Karachi, Karachi of yore
Shall not surface, will not surface
Whilst I trigger my double barrel bore.
Zeenat Iqbal Hakimjee

Children of a lesser God.

Walking about in torn and tattered clothes,
Looking messy with a running nose.
Crippled, unable to walk properly,
The arrogant man, looks at him disdainfully.The other day the car almost ran her down,
As she leaped forward, begging for
an alm,
Hand outstretchetched, unable to see,
In the sun, wearing dark glasses,
Makes him look shady.
For a cheap rate, they are bought,
Are they, Children of a Lesser God?
Zeenat iqbal hakimjee