THOSE who knew him back then would recall a young communist raring to unleash his reforms on this poor Third World country. He has since come a long way to land in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) dharna in Islamabad. In between, life has been a mixed bag of things freaky, plain odd and repulsively routine, and the desire to change has intensified with an increasing sense of isolation.

The young communist who was so irredeemably disillusioned by the system he was confronted with in the Soviet Union is your candidate for the most insulting titles that are thrown the way of today’s ‘mob’ for change.

What has not changed, however, is his terminology as he divides his presence in the sit-in into two parts. The first part had him as bourgeois; he stayed with a friend and his family at a rest house in Islamabad. The second was purer. He slept at the venue listening to Imran Khan in the evenings and praying with men from the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT).

He says he lived every moment of the revolution which “is still in the making”. His hopes, regardless of the outcome of the dharna, are pinned on Imran’s ability to mobilise the core that has made him a serious contender in the election of May 2013.

The issues at the centre of the protest are yet to be probed, not in the interest of the PTI but all others.
The distinction between left and right, the taunts about his crossover, are dismissed as he maintains the system he has been fighting against remains the same. He says he is standing where he was 25 years ago, in a group that is asserting itself more strongly than anyone else for change and reform.

His camp and companions are dictated by his present choices. There is no other alternative for challenging the status quo and as he didn’t mind being called an agent then, he is using the essential training in aloofness he underwent as a comrade to stay unaffected by the anti-democrat’s titles that are generously lavished on him now.

At an angry shout away from parliament that must establish its supremacy for better democracy there are many out there whose endeavours and hopes are tied immediately to Imran Khan’s survival. A few of them are desperate to somehow stop their leader lest he slip from the precipice he has placed himself on.

Speaking from the point of view of a political party with power ambitions, these PTI supporters are not gloomy about the prospects of Imran surviving and undergoing a revival of sorts. They believe that the problems that have formed the relentless PTI and PAT remain as unaddressed as they were before the start of the marches on Aug 14.

Their logic is simple. The show of unity in parliament, a breath of fresh air in the context of a past beset with intrigue and bickering, does offer an opportunity for the PTI. The grand joint display by the parties of the system leaves wide open spaces for the PTI to work in. There is Imran Khan and there are the rest. This reality will persist for some time, whatever the outcome of the dharna and whatever ridicule the PTI and its leader are subjected to as the defeated side.

Obviously, this is a hazardous line given the ecstasy generated by the country’s victory over whoever had planned the two dharnas in Islamabad. It does, however, have merits not only for the PTI but also for the Pakistani people by and large.

Some of those who had advised Imran to shun ‘adventurism’ had done so for fear of losing an opposition that had shown so much promise in influencing those in power or authority — not only in and around Takht-i-Lahore but in areas away from this, a verification of which the Muttahida Qaumi Movement can best provide.

The only way these wide open spaces can be filled is if those coming to the rescue of the order also appear to be addressing the problems of those struggling at the tail end of the system.

It is understandable that the focus of the debate around the dharnas has remained on whether or not it was a sponsored protest or whether those believed to be behind have been soundly defeated.

Once it was loosely established that the believed backers of the marches were not going to, or could not, cross the line where others could be dictated to at gunpoint, the affair was seen to be as good as settled. The issues at the centre of the protest are yet to be probed not in the interest of the PTI but all others. In the narrow context of power politics, these need to be addressed to stem the PTI’s potential support.

For instance, the PTI demands that the election 2013 should be investigated, but when, under pressure, the government did agree to form a Supreme Court commission to scrutinise the vote, the commitment it thus made was not only to Imran Khan but to the whole of Pakistan. There were some legal hurdles, but the point remains that little progress has been made towards its fulfilment in the more than three weeks since the PML-N made this promise.

Any attempt to go back on this will trigger speculations similar to the ones surrounding the 2013 polls where many forces of the status quo were accused of coming together, bound by their common fear of Imran Khan as an untrustworthy and naïve if not new politician.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014