Amir Mateen

TANK, Waziristan: The biggest challenge for Imran Khan will be to balance between the rich elite that is constantly jockeying to win his attention and the highly-spirited young masses who see him as the avatar who will lead them to prosperity, if not paradise.

Travelling with PTI rally from Islamabad and back provided a good opportunity to study the internal dynamics of the party that remains the biggest enigma in the upcoming electoral battle. Its poor-rich divide may have similarities with other mainstream parties but the PTI is unique in some ways.

The positioning of the top order in the PPP and PML-N has been generally settled over the decades. But Imran Khan’s top leadership called as ‘nauratan’ by a colleague are definitely an insecure lot. And in the process they are seen doing cheap, childish things. The first category are the bigwigs—like the two Makhdooms, Javed Hashmi and Shah Mahmood, who while competing with each other get unnerved even at the slightest excuse. Javed Hashmi refused to give way to a TV crew who wanted to interview Imran Khan in his moving motorcade. He would not leave the front seat of Imran’s bullet-proof SUV to be seen as his chief deputy.

Shah Mahmood who thinks he is more prime ministerial material and a bigger Makhdoom is seen contesting the position, sometimes pushing people to sit next to Imran. The estranged Legharis somehow were totally missing from the scene. The newer political upstarts like Asad Umer are also seen elbowing people out to get before the camera standing next to Imran Khan. The name of the game is to be seen and photographed next to the Khan. The PTI old guard is seen sulking on the sidelines.

It becomes childish, and dangerous, when the elite compete with each other in their super luxury SUVs to be seen next to Imran Khan’s extra super vehicle. Most have fancy BMWs, Range Rovers, Land Cruisers worth as much as Rs 20 million with even fancier registration numbers like VIP1, LHZ1, JH1, Tanoli 3. Yet most of them did not pay any toll taxes on the way. There were at least 500 SUVs in the rally, the richest rich of Pakistan trying to secure their electoral and economic interests with the potential spoiler in the elitist structure.

But then, in contrast, the PTI can boast of the most spirited workers in any political party of Pakistan. They bring to mind the feisty jiyalas that was the hallmark of the PPP till the 1990s. That breed is dying out in the PPP after Benazir. PML-N workers may also have lost their spirit. It is mostly to show it to the leadership than to express their affection.

PTI workers had come in cars, buses, motorcycles and even by foot. One worker on a motorcycle wore a t-shirt that boasted that he had travelled all the way from Jhelum which should be 1000 km from Waziristan. It was their youthful energy that kept the rally going all the way.

Clive Smith, the British peacenik who was instrumental in bringing foreigners to protest against drones was heard talking to his worried wife: “Darling don’t worry, the closest I have come to death is not by suicide bombers but by the manic Pakistani drivers who have death wish written all over their faces.”

Nobody in the country—whether liberal or conservative—approves of US drone attacks. I think Imran Khan’s rally was effective in highlighting the plight of the drone victims internationally.

At the same time it also reminded the Pakistan that we have is a war zone, a huge swathe of land that is cut off from the country in the name of security. The only link to this forsaken region from DI Khan to Tank is in shambles. Even the locals cannot enter Waziristan without special Identification cards and permits. Ask the locals and everybody will tell that the situation in Waziristan is not as bad as we think and that it has been fabricated by the “agencies” for their political agenda and economic interest.

Now this may seem far-fetched but the allegation is similar to what people in Balochistan say. And I know this from personal experience that the Frontier Corps in Balochistan exaggerates the situation to keep its hold on power and perks. One gets the same feeling in Waziristan, especially when nearly 40,000 people are able to walk about freely close to its border. “If this can happen for one day it can happen every day,” said a journalist colleague who believed that these areas should be opened up and more political activity should be allowed. “Well, these barricades are certainly not stopping Taliban from going in and out so why not ordinary people be allowed freely.”

It is true that Imran Khan is not the only one who has led a procession to the tribal badlands. Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI, Jamaat-i-Islami, Awami National Party and that most dubious of all political groups, Difah-i-Pakistan Council have all attempted to go there in rallies. But there is no comparison of scale. Imran Khan’s rally was huge and had genuine participation of a very spirited crowd from all over Pakistan. Some of them had traveled 2000 km to show their solidarity with the people of Waziristan. And that gesture was acknowledged by the locals. One really had to be there to see the mood.

The allegation that Imran Khan was doing it for political reasons is ridiculous. For God’s sake, he is a politician now; what else should he be doing. It is always through moral and emotional issues that political points are gained.

Of course, it was a brilliant political move by Imran Khan that his rivals now probably regret that they should have done. It has brought the focus back to Imran Khan— pro and against– besides rendering a big dent to PTI rivals in a huge terrain that constitutes roughly ten National Assembly seats.

It was clear right from the start that it was the beginning of the active election campaign. The local PTI hopefuls in Talagang, the first major city on his campaign, had ensured that they brought as many people on road as possible. Come next election, this is going to be one of the most hotly contested seats in Punjab.

Imran Khan’s tour through its high street may have boosted the chances of his potential candidates, Ghulam Abbas or Faiz Tamman. Senior Federal Minister Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi has announced to contest from here instead of ‘Gujrat Sharif.’

Further north, Imran Khan definitely consolidated his Mianwali constituency by making repeated stopovers to make fiery speeches. A bigger impact of the rally was felt in DI khan which has a history of changing its candidates in every election. Maulana Fazlur Rehman lost the last elections by 40,000 votes and people generally express dissatisfaction with the incumbent winner, National Assembly’s Deputy Speaker Fazal Karim Kundi. The locals blame him for the non completion of the dirt track that links Chashma with DI Khan for the last eight months.

It may be too early to say the final word about the upcoming electoral situation but this rally will certainly dampen the prospects of Taliban’s parent party, JUI-F particularly in the adjoining tribal areas. No wonder the Maulana is so panicky.

The News

October 10, 2012