Imran’s task ahead - BY: Syed Talat Hussain (With Compliments of Akram Zaki)

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If Imran Khan could for a few moments decouple his thinking from blaming others and exhale, he may find out that he has landed his party in a pretty glorious mess. The quest for getting the Sharifs’ scalp isn’t turning out to be the grand prize he was hoping to win and display for lasting political glory.

Although a petitioner in the Supreme Court, he and his party have to now act like respondents in the court of public and general opinion. They have been explaining their position on a daily basis, defending serious charges of poor homework, absence of relevant documentation from their submissions and less-than-ordinary pleading before the honourable judges.

The loss of Hamid Khan in the middle of case proceedings is a huge setback. This has left the party in an unenviable situation of either resort to the PPP’s legal minds (Aitzaz Ahsan) or remaining content with Naeem Bokhari: a man without any serious legal standing and one with a history of undermining judicial authority starting with his campaign against former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on behalf of General Pervez Musharraf which launched the lawyers’ movement.

It is fair to ask how Imran Khan is responsible for legal actions and counter-actions. He is not a lawyer. It is the job of his team to best represent the case in the court and represent him in a potent and convincing manner.

If it were a simple case and did not have an overbearing and even pressing political context, Imran’s responsibility in the whole affair would have been negligible. But it is not. The case and the petition is not just a legal battle: it is a war from which only one can come out as the winner. Regrettably, for his party, Imran made certain assumptions when he pushed the idea of getting rid of the Sharif government through the Panama Papers. However, most of these assumptions collapsed around his ears. It was just that he was not listening.

The first assumption was that this case would get decided before it went to the Supreme Court. The theory of the lockdown hinged on the calculation that this would create enough sound and fury that the army would come in and tell Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that the latter should step down voluntarily and let the truth be ferreted out either by a commission made on terms prepared by the combined opposition or dictated through the PTI. That did not happen. The army high command simply sat out the lockdown episode. And the more the proceedings of the lockdown pointed towards it being a non-event, the more the army’s stance was endorsed that this was an inconsequential controversy.

The second assumption, on which Imran Khan loaded his plan to knock out the Sharifs, was the perceived potency of a media manoeuvre which, as one retired general advising Imran’s advisers put it, “would soften the target and create an enabling environment for the swift fall of the target.”

By raising the daily quantum of exceedingly pointed and blunt attacks on the Sharifs, Imran Khan hoped to delegitimise their stay in power. For a while it did have impact. The public discourse did change for the worse for the government and the tales of corruption and crime became the talk of the town.

However, all propaganda bombardment must either be followed or accompanied by real action. Otherwise repetitive attacks and threats without hard steps become their own antidote. Then there comes a point when they become plain counter-productive.

This is something the pack of advisers whose services were hired for planning the media strategy failed to point out. Imran Khan kept on insisting that the Sharifs’ corruption is an open and shut case and that a simple inquiry would also document this fact in no time. His public stance reached a point where he either had to deliver a mortal street punch to the Sharifs or provide incontrovertible evidence that could devastate the government’s counter-claims. He has not been able to do either (so far) and that is a very tight position to be in.

Here Imran’s closest advisers, Jehangir Khan Tareen primarily, may have done their leader in. Imran Khan is not a man of minute details. His understanding of political complexities is limited. Combined with his desire to be in the news all the time, projecting a strongman image, these fallibilities get him to take positions that are either unviable or just factually wrong.

It is the job of his team and his close associates to keep him on track and keep him at a safe distance from the brink. This has not been happening and now it has become a pattern. Imran Khan comes out steaming, sets out on imagined adventures in his media talks (most interviews are choreographed with pre-decided questions) and then finds himself on self-created crossroads of either climbing down red-faced or marching on towards dead-ends.

His associates, instead of facilitating timely course correction, egg him on –cheering and flag-waving. In this case, Imran should have been told about the quality of evidence that his team could gather for him to base his public stance on and for his lawyers to plead their case upon. It appears he was misled and then allowed to continue the free fall without anyone willing to catch him.

Now the stance is that the Supreme Court is supposed to find out facts and his party is only assisting the court. This is a remarkable turn-around. His stance has always been that there is enough proof to disqualify the Sharif family even without an inquiry and a trial.

The Sharifs, on the contrary, are producing document after document in support of their contention that all the allegations are a mere figment of a malicious imagination. Imran Khan’s knee-jerk reaction is to question the authenticity of these documents which, though useful, adds no value to the quality of the evidence that he has put before the judges. At the end of the day, the court will go this far and not more in launching its own inquiry about the veracity of the Sharifs’ claims. Any foolproof probe will take months, if not years.

We are dealing with money, real estate, and a largely undocumented history of the trail of both. Supreme Court judges are not Arthur Conans Doyles who can launch Sherlock Holmes from the push of their pens to unearth this mystery. They will have to go by what the parties have presented before them and then whatever else they can demand from them in the course of their inquiry before making up their minds about the case. And it is this critical point that Imran and his advisers have understood rather late in the day.

But even now it is not late for Imran to draw the right conclusions from the fundamental mistakes he has made in handling his opponents. His party is still the only viable political alternative the country has to ensure democratic balance. The PPP is still many miles away from reviving itself in the country’s political heartlands like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. Imran cannot reduce this massive political force to a stage show directed by Shaikh Rashid, funded by Jehangir Tareen and legally represented by Naeem Bokhari. Stuntmen, showmen and businessmen live for themselves. They don’t care about the people. Or the party. They are here today, they will be gone tomorrow with someone who can give them what they want. They have no vision.

Regrouping his team, purging it of undesirable elements and resetting his political strategy is the way for Imran Khan. His real task is to lead himself back to normal politics and discover that enormous opportunities are still there for the taking. In that sense, Imran is actually fighting a case against himself in his own court.

The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.

Email: syedtalathussain@gmail.com

Twitter: @TalatHussain12
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With Compliments of Akram Zaki

Posted on Dec 05, 16 | 2:08 pm