Tens of thousands responded to PTI Chairman Imran Khan's call to attend his March 23 rally at the Minar-e-Pakistan if they wanted to create a 'new Pakistan'. Aside from some 80,000 newly-elected office bearers - a feather in his cap for holding genuine intraparty elections - as is the common practice at such gatherings, aspiring candidates for party tickets had brought along workers and supporters to make a show of strength.
Also present in force were the urban middle-class youth inspired by Imran's slogan of change, responding enthusiastically to every one of his six pledges to never break a single promise, to end oppression, to wage jihad against exploitation and injustice, to keep his money in Pakistan, not to indulge in nepotism, to stand by his stance on US drone strikes in the tribal areas, and to turn government leaders' palatial residences into libraries. If his last public meeting at the same place proved he had 'arrived', the one on Sunday showed he stays as a formidable alternative to the two other major parties although it is yet to be known how the PTI is perceived in the rural areas.
The important question at this point is whether or not he will be able to convert this groundswell of support into votes. One major positive development on that score is the just concluded intraparty elections. The exercise has created a large body of stakeholders from the union council, to tehsil, and district all the way up to provincial and national level, although the top positions have been filled unopposed inviting criticism from detractors. Then there is a newly raised cadre of a million 'Tabdeeli Razakars' (change volunteers) who are to propagate the party programme and bring out people to cast their votes. The urban youth who have been participating in his rallies are active on the social media spreading the party message. The fervour for change though may still be dampened if the usual electable types rather than new faces are dominant among the party ticket holders who are to contest assemblies' seats. An equally, if not more, serious problem could be Imran Khan's own misjudgements. His support for Tahirul Qadri's campaign did not sit well with many. His hobnobbing with the Jamaat-e-Islami has long been a source of unease among urban middle-classes wanting to see this country rise as a progressive forward-looking society. Yet at a recent party meeting the PTI, contrary to its earlier declarations not to forge any pre-election alliance, decided to make seat-to-seat adjustments with the JI and Sheikh Rashid's Awami Muslim League.
It remains a mystery as to why should the PTI make any kind of alliance with Rashid's one-man party. Seat adjustments with JI can be a mixed bag of gains and losses. Small blocks of JI votes may benefit PTI candidates in Karachi and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. But then the PTI on its own is believed to have a large following in KP. If the hope is to dip into religious types' vote, it is already divided in KP where the JUI-F has a strong presence. Alliance with the JI may bring more loss than gain. It is likely to alienate a large number of liberal elements who think Imran, despite his right wing leanings, is a social liberal. Also, for those who may be willing to accept Imran's position on negotiating with the Taliban on the ground that much of the violence in the tribal areas is the result of the US war in neighbouring Afghanistan and the anger generated by drone strikes, it would be an outrage to associate with the JI, whose chief Munnawar Hassan, has consistently been refusing to condemn suicide bombings killing innocent people all over the country. Imran needs to rethink his present strategy to turn the waves of support into 'tsunami' that, he says, is to destroy the old system for him to build a new Pakistan.
Imran's promise of a new Pakistan | Business Recorder