Tuesday, 2 September 2014

‘You have let us down’ - An open letter to Imran Khan, Salma Yousef

Dear Imran Khan,          17 August 2014
 You have let us down.
 Last April I arrived in Islamabad to support PTI in the upcoming elections and witness what I thought would be the democratic equivalent of the Arab spring; the arrival of a tide of change.
 Along with an overwhelming majority of overseas Pakistanis, young and old, I had bought into the hype of a ‘naya Pakistan’. We were elated that a clean and committed leadership might replace the corrupt political dynasties that had leeched off Pakistan almost since its inception, repeatedly bringing it to the brink of bankruptcy. We wanted to be part of this historical event. The dawn of a new era. Everyone was united that we needed change, and in opposition you sounded totally persuasive.

From the minute we checked in for Islamabad, there was a  PTI frenzy, an excitement. Change was in the air, literally. Numerous chartered flights of PTI supporters went out to Pakistan, hardly surprising given the millions of overseas supporters your party attracts. If there is one thing about Pakistanis, equally true of overseas Pakistanis, it is their patriotism, and this was out in full force. I campaigned extensively on social media in the lead up to the elections and on the whole it seemed the media and the people were behind you.

Despite hailing from a strong PML-N supporting family, in Islamabad I hung the PTI flag high on our balcony, and with your autobiography in tow, I was fully converted, inside and out. Daily debates took place in our family home as I was determined to show everyone the light, dismissing their concerns about PTI’s lack of experience or potential. The mantra of ‘change’ rolled off my tongue. I was mesmorised by the PTI election fervour, (or was that fever?). I remember the eve of the elections at Islamabad Club – many politicians were in the midst. Every table was discussing the same thing; the potential of PTI. This new party had become the force to be reckoned with and posed a real and viable threat to those parties that had taken their right to the government leadership to be akin to a family heirloom. I was proud to support PTI.

And then the election results. PTI came a relatively close third – an incredible achievement for a new party, gaining the leadership of a whole province; your province, as well as some key seats in the major cities. I was delighted. For PTI supporters this was our party and our victory. And this was your opportunity to convert your words into actions, to silence those who said that you were just a cricketer with no political experience. After all you are also an Aitchisonian and an Oxford Graduate; an accomplished individual by any standard.

But unfortunately over the last year you have let your supporters down and have somewhat proved your critics to be right. You demonstrated that your forceful speeches lacked the corresponding leadership and strategy. Time and time again you have made bold statements, followed by inaction, or a complete U-turn. Just one recent example of this was when you made a compelling speech in relation to the atrocities in Gaza at the PTI iftar in London. But the following week-end when hundreds of thousands protested on the streets of London you were out watching cricket. Was this the depth of your sincerity?

Your stated role model was none other than the great Quaid e Azam who sacrificed his personal life and any professional gain to create Pakistan. And I believe you have certainly sacrificed your personal life. I attended your wedding which took place minutes from where I was studying at the time. I followed the developments in Jemima’s life in Pakistan and the obstacles she faced and tried to overcome, something even very few British Pakistani girls would do. But alas your political career cost your marriage. The sacrifice was noted. But that is now history, and we need to focus on the present.

The past few weeks have been a test of your sincerity and unfortunately you have failed. You demonstrated that you do not have the endurance to stand side by side with your supporters through thick and thin, an essential trait for a leader. Prior to your arrival in Islamabad, close members of the PTI ranks were asked whether you would remain outside during the ‘dharna’.

They were absolutely convinced you would. They said you love the rugged common man experiences. But you didn’t. The first night you came, you didn’t conquer, but you did return to Bani Gaala and the luxury of your home whilst your supporters endured the rain and damp under the open sky. No shelter, no food, no water, no sanitation. Some of these people had travelled a distance of 350 km over 40 hours to support you, and you abandoned them. To add further insult to injury the Chief Minister for KPK danced on stage whilst the IDPs in his province suffered in tents and eighteen passed away due to the weather conditions. Many questioned whether this? was the type of ‘alternative’ leadership you were promising.

And for many supporters from near and far, it was these straws that finally broke the camel’s back. You had failed a basic test of sincerity, the very trait that was supposed to distinguish you from those in their ‘mahals’ that you oppose. You were supposed to be the politician that represented the common man of Pakistan but when put to the test you fell short.

Perhaps you felt let down; that the ‘azaadi’ march had neither the drawn in the numbers you repeatedly cited (itnay se log?), nor the substance. Frankly speaking, it was not comprised of the significant element of students and intelligentsia you need behind you if you are to remain a political force to be reckoned with. And whilst you displayed a façade of unflinching confidence, most people could see though it, a desperate and defeated man on whom it had dawned that 30,000 or even 60,000 in a country of 182 million was not sufficient to force a resignation no matter how many days his cohort remained out.

Your speeches were amusing but unrealistic and if they continued, would have resonated much with the boy who cried wolf. Moreover whilst you spoke vehemently against corruption and financial mismanagement, in the space of a few days your reckless games inflicted a colossal loss of Rs 3 trillion to the Karachi stock exchange. This was on 14 August. I dread to think where the figure stands right now. Schools were forced to delay opening and naya Pakistan was beginning to look far worse than the old one.
So then you returned with a new plan with extra zeal, and a generous dose of irrational and impulsive ideas. These ideas were sans frontier; naya Pakistan now had an agenda of political terrorism. You unashamedly incited your followers to civil disobedience and lawlessness. God forbid that even thought about the repercussions? Is this your sincerity to Pakistan? To cause anarchy? What kind of precedent are you setting, particularly to the young generation who see you as a role model? ‘If you don’t get your way legally, then take the law into your own hands’?

The recent focus on six tangible demands was an improvement in strategy, and comprised issues that the vast majority of people were agreed on; all sincere Pakistanis want to rid Pakistan of the pervasive corruption that exists. But these legitimate points are being overshadowed by the absolute demand for resignation from the Prime Minister which is insufficiently substantiated and quite frankly immature. The longer you drone on about that, the more U-turns you will have to make, and the harder it will be for you to leave this debacle with any level of dignity.

Watching from afar, its making me cringe. Whilst I desperately want you to redeem yourself I cannot see how that will happen. I pity the people who left their homes almost two weeks ago and have been on the streets day and night because you promised them something you were never going to deliver, and for the rest of our country that you have been holding hostage.

By contrast, the government are riding out the storm. They have agreed to five of the six demands relating to the elimination of corruption and if you had accepted this, your march and mission would have been a success, but your ego has got the better of you.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that during this drama, that the government are demonstrating a maturity that your party lacks. They speak with a respect that is absent in your speeches. And this skill is integral to political leadership. We cannot have a volatile leader who has no parameters or respect, and who speaks like an uneducated ruffian when attacking his opponents. Given the microphone and you are like a bull in a china shop.  I feel seriously embarrassed by your crude, haphazard speeches, which I suspect are a reflection of your insecurity. And I am embarrassed by the image that your words and actions present to the international world, an image we are already struggling with. If you have you sights on the leadership of Pakistan, you need far more astute political advisors to help PTI address these weaknesses.

Today the political arena is at a crossroads metaphorically and right now, literally. The country is on the brink of bankruptcy, battling with terrorism and weighed down by its domestic challenges not forgetting the international ones.

You can either work in the interests of Pakistan or against it. Derailing democracy, as imperfect a model as it is, a year into the new government’s current term is not in the interests of Pakistan. PTI has followed the democratic process since its inception almost 20 years, whilst the most corrupt leaders came and left. So what has changed now? Without doubt there was rigging during the elections, but would the overall result have been significantly different? No domestic or international election observers support this contention. So focus your demands on those which are meaningful, realistic and constitutional; on election reforms and accountability.

At each stage PML-N have extended the hand of cooperation, and the offer of talks is further evidence of this. If you are sincere to Pakistan and its people, it is high time you accepted this and break the impasse that has brought the country to a halt. You have made an impressive start in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and should focus on developing this to make it a model province, and progress the anti-corruption strategy, and if you follow this path you will stand in good stead to be sitting in the PM seat in 2018.

But if you think there is a fast track route to PM house by bringing people onto the streets and storming Parliament, this suggests an insincerity which should never be associated with PTI. Do not ignite the people with statement after statement to lead them into the realms of disrespect and lawlessness. Do not play into the hands of your greater opponents who are benefiting from this far more than you realise. Treat the soil of Pakistan and it’s people with the respect they deserve. And If the Qaid is your leader then let’s move forward and rekindle the principles of unity, faith and discipline.

A disillusioned PTI supporter

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