A case of the cold-blooded vertebrae for the PTI

Social media backlash over Aamir Liaquat joining party

A case of the cold-blooded vertebrae for the PTI
After televangelist, and former Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) lawmaker Aamir Liaquat Hussain formally announced that he has joined the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) in a joint press conference with party chief Imran Khan, backlash ensued on social media.

Party critics were quick to take jibes against Hussain. They recalled how he had mocked the party in the past. And given his controversial nature, it was PTI loyalists who posted the strongest of reactions, many even withdrawing their support for the party.

The most high-profile among these was musician Salman Ahmed who took to Twitter to vent his frustration. “After 35 years of defending, supporting & justifying @ImranKhanPTI to the world, I no longer can. I fear that reptiles surround him,” he tweeted, following up with, “It’s my democratic right to warn against #AmirLiaqat @ImranKhanPTI can never benefit from this hypocrite, liar & a sleazy slithering snake.”

Journalist and author Mehr Tarar, who has also been a vocal supporter of the PTI, also condemned the move. “I don’t know Aamir Liaquat personally, but over the years, I’ve seen him on TV on various issues. Personal and political views change, ideologies change. What doesn’t change is people’s values or lack thereof,” she said. “Unacceptable are those opportunists who tarnish reputations, spread lies, indulge in endorsement of unverified information to destroy reputations, blame people of blasphemy or treason, incite violence, and do it all in the name of religion or country. Can Mr Liaquat deny any of this?”
PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhary downplayed the backlash, saying that it is only bothering the 'chattering class'. "Whenever new people join a party there's always a reaction...

Writer and cultural critic Ally Adnan expressed similar angst. “Imran (Khan), like Benazir (Bhutto) in the past, says that he cannot find angels for the party and has to work with people who inhabit Pakistan,” he said. “It is hard to believe those honest people no longer exist in Pakistan, but even if that is the case, why does he have to select the devil if angels don’t exist?”

However, PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhary downplayed the backlash, saying that it is only bothering the ‘chattering class’. “Whenever new people join a party there’s always a reaction – but it’s mostly limited to the chattering class and does not affect the regular voter. And it’s worse when it comes to TV personalities,” said Chaudhry, who like Hussain is a TV figure who has formerly been a strong critic of the PTI.

The PTI spokesperson revealed that the move has been taken to bolster the party among the ‘Urdu-speaking people in Karachi’, especially Liaquatabad where Hussain contests elections from.

While Chaudhry conceded that Hussain is a ‘controversial figure’ he maintains from personal experience that opinions change ‘when it comes to politics’. “Politics is like a running river. With every new day come new facts and new stances. When we are outside the party we can criticise it, but once we join it – especially the decision-making bit – then you can’t criticise it,” he said. “You get a new perspective from the inside. For instance, I was a huge critic of Imran Khan’s Taliban policy, but after having sittings with him I realised that the narrative that was peddled in the media against him was false.”

While the senior PTI leadership is confident those within the party that are disagreeing with the move would slowly come around, lower-tier workers reflect a different picture.

“The senior leadership doesn’t realise the blunder that asking Aamir Liaquat to join the party is,” said Naghmana Shahid, PTI’s former vice president in Isakhel from 1999 till 2002, who was affiliated with the party’s women wing in Punjab before retiring owing to health concerns. “It might give them some gains in Karachi – even thought that is debatable itself – but there is a clear message for its nationwide loyalists. Many of the PTI women workers I’m in touch with are upset with the decision,” Shahid added. “You can disagree with certain actions and label them as political necessities, but it’s hard to reconcile with individuals who contradict what the party so loudly stands for.”

  1. Ahmed, a PTI activist from the Ahmadiyya community, said the move will further alienate the minorities.“Getting a hatemonger like Aamir Liaquat on board means the party will have members who have called for the genocide of our community,” said Ahmed, who despite his community’s boycott of the elections owing to the separate voter lists for them, has been a vocal activist for PTI since 2011.

In one of Hussain’s TV programs in 2008 the minority was declared “worthy of murder”, within 24 hours of the program being aired, a prominent member was shot dead. In another program hosted by Hussain, the community was accused of blasphemy and labelled as “enemies of Pakistan”.

“Many of my friends understood Imran Khan’s decision to back off from backing [a certain economist] as his finance minister in 2014 as a political necessity. I have even made peace with his occasional intermingling with those who preach violence against us – but to openly embrace those as the face of the party is disgusting.”

Even so, the PTI leadership is confident that the workers and activists would soon return with all their support. “They realise that the PTI is and will remain the best choice out of the existing political lot,” believes Fawad Chaudhry.