Can PTI unseat the powerful PPP and PML-N?

Could this election campaign and the run up to it be the start of the Pakistan spring – our very own version of the tidal wave that swept the Arab world last year? The answer is still up in the air. This arousal of the voting populace that we are seeing, and the yearning for a better future, might be a different mutation of the Arab Spring.

Pakistan’s democratic struggles have been less than stellar in their longevity. Government after government has been struck down under one pretext or the other. This could be equated to a child learning how to walk and the first time he falls, being told that since he could not walk, he had better get knee and elbow pads. The great nations are born and tempered through struggles and failures, but Pakistan had inherited an establishment from colonial times that had been trained to rule rather than serve. And it was this arrogation of power that resulted in dismissals of the revolving door governments of the 1950s. And then, when Iskandar Mirza the army officer-cum- civil servant took over, he was quickly upstaged by his protégé Ayub Khan. Ayub had, for some time being holding the office of Defence Minister along with that of the army chief, the first foot in the door by the powerful military.

Ayub Khan’s Martial Law was a success, initially. A law of diminishing returns, Martial Law is a powerful antibiotic, which when overused, tends to lose its effectiveness. But the crucial problem with Martial Law is that when the Army Chief decides he is going to stay for an extended period, he tends to elevate yes men to the Army High Command. Were he to leave at the end of his three year term, he would be motivated to promote officers who would make the army stronger – a subtle but vital point. Ayub achieved much, but his decade of development came crashing down around him and to his credit he left without much fuss. Crucially, instead of handing over power to civilians, Ayub left his handpicked Army chief Yahya Khan in charge.

A pocket battleship of a man, Yahya was an excellent career officer, nicknamed Napoleon by his British superiors. A refreshingly candid and outspoken man, Yahya never let his enjoyment of the good life interfere with his work, at least until the later years when things spun out of his control. He was taken aback when Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman would come to meetings with the Bangladesh flag on his car. The writing was clearly on the wall. Ayub had been saying this to his ministers as early as 1960, that East Pakistan would soon go its own way and that he wanted to make it strong so that it was not swallowed up by India.

The upheavals of the second partition brought forth the populist Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. A man of great vision and energy, Bhutto envisioned his Pakistan on the model of the Scandinavian countries. His development of the nuclear bomb eventually proved to be his undoing. Gen Zia ul Haq had been appointed Army chief by him at the last minute following a phone call from a Middle Eastern potentate.

Zia was an armour officer known for his humility and obeisance to authority. He had received a bad chit from the Pakistan ambassador to Jordan where Zia was the military attache. The ambassador Lt Gen (retd) Nawazish Ali, found Zia as being “unworthy of an officer in the Pakistan Army”. On the surface a profoundly religious man, Zia was more of a Mullah, being the son of one. His views on religion were self serving at times. One of the changes he brought into the army was to add the section where an officer was to be judged on his piety and religiosity along with his professionalism in his annual confidential report.

Zia quickly realized that by hanging Bhutto, he had a tiger by the tail and quickly surrounded himself with likeminded people. His enemy’s enemy very quickly became his friend. Zia proceeded full throttle with spiritualism, the end result of which was that the lines between right and wrong got fogged up with the overpowering presence of spirituality. Morality and ethics took a serious hit. Hypocrisy in the name of selective, self serving religiosity became the order of the day. This was quickly latched on to by his minions and to this day, his followers display this mentality.

The Afghan War was won and the Russians retreated across the Amu Darya. The Afghan Mujahideen had taken a terrific pounding in the early years of the Soviet occupation. They had no answer to the MI26 helicopters which could appear from nowhere accompanied by Spetsnatz commandos. The war turned when the Americans introduced the Stinger missile and trained the “Muj” to use it. Suddenly aero planes started dropping from the sky and the Soviets had to start moving on the ground. That was the beginning of the end.

The Americans wasted an historic opportunity to win the peace after the Soviet withdrawal. Instead of investing resources in the uplift and stabilization of Afghanistan, like the Marshall Plan following World War II, they packed up and left, leaving a vacuum that was ultimately filled by the Taliban and their backers, Osama bin laden and Al Qaeda.

And this is where we stand some 25 years after Zia’s demise. The Sharifs and the Bhuttos have been going at it hammer and tongs, with a military interregnum under Parvez Musharraf playing a role in the first decade of this millennium.

Whether the Arab Spring has had an effect on Pakistan is not certain, but it seems that a momentum has evolved where the public has let it be known that they are sick and tired and they are not going to take it anymore. Enter Imran Khan. A cricketing star as well as a social worker, Imran’s PTI had been in existence for some 16 years without really creating a foothold. He was being mockingly compared to Asghar Khan and his Tehreek-i-Istaqlal. But the consummate cricket captain that he is, Imran bided his time, consolidated his party, bringing in people of his choice, setting up a compelling manifesto.

The middle overs of the ODI passed uneventfully as he saved his wickets for the final slog. As the people’s wave crested the PTI hit critical mass. The Kaptaan had done it again, like in the World Cup win of 1992. Huge, enthusiastic crowds thronged his rallies, people singing and dancing, an atmosphere in sharp contrast to the insipid rent-a-crowds of his opponents. The PTI Tsunami, as he called it, had hit shore.

The PTI brain trust is composed of highly motivated, smart people who have already churned out reams of pages on their post election plans. But the elephant in the room that few wish to commit on is whether the PTI can derail the artful Sharifs from the Takht Lahore. The Sharifs have been in the political game since Zia’s time and have a powerful network of alliances and supporters along with infinite resources. This has made them favourites to win in Punjab.

But Kaptaan Khan is now reaching the final five slog overs and feels as if he is destined to win. There is certainly a PTI wave (read Tsunami), but whether it can unseat the powerful PPP and PML-N is still a moot question. Perhaps, as Imran feels, the final fortnight, could be crucial and no betting man would wager against the man who has made a habit of winning from impossible situations. For him, it all depends upon how the final two weeks on the campaign trail pan out. - See more at: