NOT too long ago, the PTI was a dream anchored in its leader’s promise to deliver — as opposed to now when he is supported by other powerful persons and institutions outside his party. Apart from Mr Imran Khan, the two individuals who perhaps defined its expanse and ambition most aptly back then, were Jahangir Khan Tareen and Asad Umar. At least this is how it was for this writer.

There were others thrown into the mix. Like an ideological worker or a veteran of various parties and groups whose inclusion provided the party with the robustness it craved. The wife as a spiritual and political guide came much later. Back then, for the sake of simplicity and dynamism, and for reasons of change and ability, it would be sufficient for beginners interested in understanding the PTI to be served up the image of the party’s great leader flanked by the urbane Mr Umar on one side and Mr Tareen, who heralded a confluence of old potential and new tools, on the other.

The two Imran Khan lieutenants signified ambition too. Together, they represented trends that were central to the PTI’s promise as a modern outfit and they lent the party its basic framework. Mr Tareen was your saviour in the rural areas. He had shown the forward way to taking the best of the soil and had a reputation as an individual willing to take on the challenge and doing his assignment by exploiting the best current facilities. And similar to many of his colleagues in the Gen Musharraf cabinet, he had his reputation as a possible change-maker still intact.

Together, they represented trends that were central to the PTI’s promise as a modern outfit.

Mr Tareen was not just an ordinary man from the city with a scheme for personal advancement. With the help of his very dependable contacts deep inside the country, he had a desire to cultivate his own political influence. In time, he attained an importance within the PTI which was second only to Mr Imran Khan’s. He provided the party with the vital counter in southern Punjab that was crucial to fighting the strong and hard to break the Sharif hold over central and upper Punjab.

Mr Jahangir Tareen was apparently destined to land the most important and powerful positions in a future — in fact impending — PTI government when his flight was checked by a court decision. His disqualification before the 2018 election meant that he could no more hold the public office he was being primed for during the last few years of the PTI’s fast rise.

Yet, despite the presence of these legal halters to control his movement, Mr Tareen’s role in ensuring the best possible support for his party has been phenomenal. He has been scouting around for talent, especially among those who have or are likely to win an assembly seat, to add to the PTI camp’s gems that might have escaped a less trained and committed eye.

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Just like Mr Tareen, Mr Asad Umar, too, was the epitome of the successful man that PTI supporters and Pakistanis generally could look up to. As his political profile grew, there was no shortage of stories about him conquering the corporate world by applying ideas that a country looking for change and all individuals in search of genuine inspiration could greatly benefit from.

An educated, still young gentleman, with brains and resolve, abandoned career for country. This was a suave man who managed to retain some of his first-day charm even when he was required by politics to perform the riskiest task of not just explaining his own and his leader’s economic predictions but also clarifying details related to his family history.

It was going to be above all an economic revolution to mark the Imran Khan era. And Mr Asad Umar was to be the man to do it for the skipper and the country. There was never any doubt about it, and it is a sign of peril for the PTI dream of an economic turnaround that Mr Fawad Chaudhry and Mr Iftikhar Durrani have been pressed into making defensive statements about their star player statements so early.

The duo looking after media matters has been forced to say that Mr Asad Umar’s position as finance minister is in no way threatened. On his part, Mr Asad Umar says Pakistan’s economy is finally out of the woods; he promises a turnaround in two years. In recent days, he has also been heard refuting news that he had had a bitter exchange with another equally important member of the Imran Khan team — Mr Jehangir Tareen.

It was this news — or these rumours — that culminated in creating an almost believable scenario in which Mr Asad Umar was seen to retreat from the big stage. In this vociferously promoted script, the man forever tipped as Mr Khan’s economic saviour appeared to be settling for a lesser part not quite commensurate with the build-up that has gone into his current status.

As scenarios go, there have been likely replacements for Mr Asad Umar, all of whom are described as possessing qualities that will be more recognisable to international donors who must save us from the demons let loose on Pakistan by our previous rulers. This outside help was shunned during the time we were busy crafting our future saviours — such as Imran Khan, Asad Umar and Jahangir Tareen. Now we must spend this capital in our hands with utmost care and frugality.

An early and bruising brush with post-power reality has cost the PTI its most crucial slogan, ‘we will do it without foreign involvement’. There have been other compromises. There has been poor logic on display not all of which can be blamed on the PTI’s original economy minders.

Amid these happenings, the party will be hurting itself deeply if it were to quickly yield to these provocative calls urging Mr Khan to sideline PTI icons. Surely, the required focus and direction can be achieved without displacing a familiar face of the party that people have been so fond of.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2018