Whither PTI? – Nadir Hassan

Nothing good has ever come from a marauding militia roaming the streets menacingly demanding of anyone who crosses their path, “Papers, please?” The sinister belief that patriotism can be judged by papers has now slunk into Peshawar, courtesy the PTI and its allies. Those to be tarred, blacklisted, excluded from right-thinking society are those truck drivers who have the temerity to deliver goods meant for Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Legality and morality are two entirely different beasts so let us distinguish ourselves from Imran Khan’s vigilantes and not judge whether the truck drivers are right in aiding the US war effort. What we cannot deny is that they are entirely within their rights to earn a living this way.
The Pakistan government has an agreement with the US and Isaf forces to allow our territory to be used as a transit point. We can suspend or revoke that permission at any time – as we did after the Salala incident – but the proper authority for doing so is the duly elected government. This may sound like Civics 101 but there are many who seem to believe that there is an Imran Khan veto carved out in the constitution. If the PTI leader doesn’t like anything it stands invalidated.
The truck drivers may be making an honest living doing lawful work but the PTI as a party has explicitly endorsed mass lawbreaking across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Private citizens, even if their patrons happen to lead the provincial government, do not have the right to brandish weapons, demand identification and then take whatever action they see it. That is how mafias, normally a suffix we append to those organised elements illegally profiting from land, timber, construction etc, operate.
Until the PTI keeps up this shakedown they should be considered a mafia, not a political party. In this regard, the PTI is a lot like the MQM which shuts down the city every time its sensitive feelings are offended.
For a columnist to point out the hypocrisies of politicians is like Dale Steyn bowling to Mohammed Hafeez: there is just no way to miss the target. The job description of politicians forces them to pay tribute to virtues that no human could consistently maintain. Even accepting that a certain amount of vice is to be expected, maybe even tolerated, among the political class, the PTI has demonstrated staggering hypocrisy. Here they are forcibly and illegally trying to deny truck drivers their income because they believe that US government money has been tainted by their illegal drone war.
At the same time, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government continues to gobble up money from the same US government. More than 10 percent, or Rs 35 billion, of the province’s revenues come from foreign aid. The US is one of the largest contributors of foreign aid. A single stroke of the pen and the PTI can rid itself of this tainted money. Instead it sends vigilantes to deny a living to those who need the money most.
Even when the PTI is right about something, it manages to end up being wrong. The drone strike in Hangu was an outrage, as were all the other attacks before that. The legality of the strikes is questionable at best. But even an entity like a political party that has little to gain from nuance should be able to hold more than one thought at a time. Yes, drone strikes should be condemned but the condemnation should be proportional to that dished out to other actors who are massacring us.
The party may also warn about causality. To claim that an end to drone strikes will cause an end to terrorism is ludicrous.
A far more credible argument would have been that the fear and loss of life caused by drones adds to terrorism by minting fresh militants who may not have otherwise signed up for the cause. But ‘drones are pretty bad but everyone else is even worse’ is not the sort of rhetoric that brings out the repressed inner cop in thousands of overexcited supporters.
The tempting analysis is that the PTI has failed to mature from a party that existed only to generate fervour among the apolitical and condemn everything the PPP and PML-N stood for. That they haven’t yet learned that governing requires patience and compromise and lots of hard work. Such an interpretation wouldn’t be quite true. The party’s chief minister is a practiced politician – imbued with all the good and bad that entails – and the first budget it presented in the provincial assembly was impressive in its attention to detail. The Right to Information Law the party has championed is much better than the one that exists at the federal level.
Still, the PTI continues to succumb to its desire to suck up all the media oxygen on issues that could do with a lot less sensationalism. This is why Imran Khan asks for drones to be shot down, even though he must know that it will trigger an unwinnable war with the US. This is why he doesn’t stop his activists from taking over the streets. This is why his first inclination is to indulge in theatrics every time he disagrees with the ruling party.
There is a danger that the PTI will end up becoming like its ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami – a party for which street power is more crucial to maintaining its influence than representation in parliament. Instead of becoming a truly national party that can break the PPP-PML-N rut, the PTI may just end up becoming an irritant, there only to agitate against the ruling parties rather than govern itself. Our democratic project would be the biggest loser should this happen.