Simply Khan – M Saeed Khalid

The skipper is miffed because no one wants to play. The gauntlet thrown on Peshawar’s Ring Road fell by the wayside. Neither Islamabad nor Washington cared to pick it up.

Both were irritated but chose not to overreact. Some days passed before the Pentagon simply called off the match. The banned but alive TTP did not share its thoughts on the blockade of Nato convoys.

In contrast, liberal analysts were incensed to the extreme. Some of them stressed how devoid of reason the PTI’s blockade of Nato containers was. Others substantiated their writings with statistics to prove how badly Pakistan would lose from annoying the US-led coalition by disrupting Nato traffic. Some called the blockade plain stupid and others saw it as (dirty) politics all over again.

The US announcement about stopping their convoys through the Khyber Pass reminded us that when Uncle Sam is in retreating mode, he doesn’t want ennui. But for Khan, the feeling of relief may be mixed with that of reaching an anti-climax. Just when he had unleashed his stratagem to force the US to stop the drone strikes or face the blockade, Washington pulled the rug from under his feet. Nothing was said about the drones.

Meanwhile, the centre’s melodramatic approach to drone attacks around the time of Sharif’s visit to the White House has started to look like a return to real politik. They chose to let Imran agitate, while posing as reasonable interlocutors of the west.

It is perhaps time to have a closer look at the PTI’s stance on drone strikes. According to Imran, there has been a spur in terrorism, particularly in KP, after the US started hitting the tribal area with drones. He also believes that the tribal people are honour bound to take revenge when attacked.

Imran must tell us what would happen in a hypothetical situation where drone attacks had ceased. Would the TTP have then renounced its declared intent to destroy the republic? Has he received any indication in that direction? Would he then have formed a political alliance with them like he has with the JI?

These questions point to contradictions in the PTI’s narrative. It is hard to reconcile the thinking of liberal minds around Imran with the party’s overt alignment with retrograde elements in society. Worse, it is seen as an apologist for the militants.

Imran must explain how the killing of minors in drone attacks justifies sending other minors to a certain death (by using them as human bombs). Will those who recruit the children of poor folks for suicide missions ever send their own flesh and blood to do likewise? Only if the PTI leadership could try to find an answer to this simple question, will they realise that the TTP’s mission is gone far beyond taking revenge.

Another indicator of the PTI’s predicament is Imran Khan’s claim of not bartering the country’s honour for the sake of dollars. Yet, when a columnist pointed out that the blockade of Nato convoys would lead to Pakistan’s isolation, the party rebuts that argument, claiming that their actions have resulted in the first visit of by the US secretary of defence in four years.

The US has let it be known that if there is any connection between Hagel’s visit and the PTI’s sit-ins, it is a negative one – unless the PTI considers Washington’s ire as a positive phenomenon. From that reckoning, a suspension of US aid would be considered a crowning achievement by the PTI. Never mind if the rupee goes through a freefall like Iran’s currency did.

The PTI’s pro Taliban stance does not appear as logical to many. There has to be some explanation of Imran adopting a rigid position on drone war and issuing statements in favour of people who are hand-in-glove with foreign fugitives. Since no clues are available, figuring out the method to their madness is a matter of guesswork.

Could Imran be aiming at a larger rightist coalition to pose a bigger challenge to the centre right PML-N? Imran must be conscious that an alliance with the militants in KP could alienate voters in Punjab and Sindh. So he will use the energy crisis and a crippling rise in the cost of living, and not the drone war, as his planks to hit the ruling parties in these two provinces.

The PTI has moved from the stage of smelling power to actually tasting it. It may not be in a position to defeat the two big parties in their traditional fiefs but will employ all available means to push the PML-N out of power at the centre. Islamabad could be their next aim after Peshawar.

Khan can either clash with the centre on Nato convoys and consolidate his nationalist credentials. Or, he can show statesmanship by not pushing the drone issue too far and thereby winning credit with Pakistan’s western partners. It is not the drones and Nato convoys that will determine the outcome of electoral battles but issues of keeping body and soul together.

If the situation is compared to a chess board, the centre and the PTI have one move each. Before they make a royal mess of the situation, there is another party which might have something to say. Just remember that during his short visit, Hagel also had a meeting at the Rawalpindi end of Murree Road.