Evenly odd

The government and the PTI are both making bad decisions

Evenly odd
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif needs to fire his advisors. And PTI Chairman Imran Khan must start listening to people other than Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Sheikh Rashid, Aleem Khan and his late-night buddies.

Whoever takes the initiative will survive, provided fate doesn’t have a surprise to offer. He who lags behind will underpin his gradual downfall.

After the failure of plans A and B, it is the government that looks bent to make Mr Khan’s Plan C succeed. Chaos in the streets is what Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf badly needs after its fast dimming show at D-Chowk. And the Punjab police – who killed 18 people in Lahore recently to remove a few barricades – is offering a helping hand.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan does not interfere in Punjab affairs anymore. The last time he was given the task to contain the Plan-A of Mr Khan, he convinced his Aitchisonian mate to remain peaceful throughout his journey from Lahore to Islamabad on August 14. The PTI made a commitment that it will not enter the Red Zone, only to violate it when Mr Khan felt the military establishment would route PM Sharif out of power.
Pakistani politicians do not learn from their mistakes; the Sharifs have not learned from their success

The interior minister was flabbergasted at that betrayal. He frequently expressed his disappointment at several press conferences and even showed the signed agreement. It was he who persuaded PM Sharif to let the PTI protestors stay at D-Chowk as long as they wanted or could. The strategy worked and many a times Mr Khan was seen addressing empty chairs.

There are different people with different mindsets advising the prime minister on Punjab affairs. What could be more unfortunate than that a family who has been ruling Punjab for 30 years was unable to contain or deal with street agitation in just one city?

When Mr Khan announced yet another invasion of Islamabad on November 30, the prime minister’s advisors began a smear campaign. The multibillion anti-Imran media campaign is not tasteful by any means. On the other hand, Mr Khan is still getting prime-time media coverage absolutely free.

“Why should we give him more space? There has to be a limit to this madness. Gradually, he is building a strong narrative with full media support. We cannot stay aloof anymore,” an informal advisor said.

What happened in Faisalabad on Monday was a classic example of bad management. There is a common tendency among Pakistani politicians that they do not learn from their mistakes. The Sharifs have not even learned from their success.

The strategy of wearing out Mr Khan at D-Chowk was working perfectly well. The military establishment had refused to intervene and the judiciary is no longer interested in judicial activism. Owing to its own policies, the PTI had reached a closed alley of isolation. Mr Khan even withdrew from his steadfast demand of the prime minister’s resignation until a verdict by a judicial commission on electoral rigging.

Then Faisalabad took place. It was the Punjab government and the PML-N who added fuel to the almost-extinguished fire. What would happen if the PTI were allowed to operate in the largest industrial city of Punjab for a day? They would have made fools of themselves and the government would earn a high moral ground.

Political pundits often argue Mr Khan is a lucky man to have Sharifs as his main political rivals. Mr Khan would have been in a great fix if he had to deal with former President Asif Zardari. Believe it or not, there are some senior PTI leaders who advised Mr Khan to forge an alliance with the People’s Party to catalyze the ouster of PM Sharif.

The PTI chairman has his own issues. He is the man who listens to everyone, but acts on his own. Why shouldn’t he act on Jehangir Tareen’s advice, who takes care of his travel expenses paying Rs 40 million “from his own pocket”.

PTI’s core committee meetings are most interesting to observe. A source said many PTI leaders blatantly told Mr Khan they could not defend their party’s performance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the presence of Sheikh Rashid with the party chairman, the decision to stay away from the assemblies even if rigging allegations are unproven, and electoral reforms outside the ambit of Parliament.

“Optics are very important. And we don’t have anything to showcase in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa compared to Punjab. We are working on structural reforms, but as far as development work is concerned, our performance is pathetic,” said a senior PTI leader requesting anonymity.

When Mr Khan was adamant to get PM Sharif’s resignation before the judicial inquiry began, PTI leaders stammered when asked why someone should be punished before being proven guilty. They would repeat their chairman’s argument that as long as PM Sharif was in office the investigations would not be transparent.

Later on, the PTI chairman made a screeching U-turn and withdrew from that core demand. The PTI leaders sheepishly defended the decision saying the demand of the PM’s resignation was withdrawn to let the dialogue succeed and investigations complete.

Then Mr Khan threw a strange poker chip in the pot. He said no matter what decision the judicial commission makes about electoral rigging, the PTI would not return to the assemblies. Common sense compels common people to ask how they can justify any form of protest if the judicial commission finds the 2013 general elections fair and transparent?

The PTI chairman and core leadership are giving an impression that they have burnt their boats. Yet their luxury yachts are safely docked, ready to take them back to where they belong. That would however require another U-turn. Mr Khan has mastered that craft. He would pull countless – no matter how preposterous – arguments to justify his forthcoming decisions.

Shahzad Raza is an Islamabad-based journalist.
Twitter: @shahzadrez