I am not writing this to suggest that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), somehow, is a perfect political organization. In fact, I have quite frequently criticized some of the contradictory stances taken by Imran Khan and the general PTI leadership. But despite my concerns and criticisms, I strongly believe that by making corruption a major issue in Pakistani politics and by relentlessly hounding the corrupt politicians from all political parties, PTI has unleashed a public habit of holding our politicians accountable. This relentless effort to expose the mega rich and to continuously highlight their financial, often nefarious, dealings around the world has drastically altered Pakistani politics and has made it increasingly difficult for the political elite to offer their riches as an emblem of their “birth right” to rule.
Another reason I think PTI is crucial to Pakistan’s political future is that it by now commands the majority of the youth vote not just in the urban centers but also in the rural heart of Pakistan. It has now, without a doubt, become a national party. Yes, there are other national parties as well, namely the PPP and PMLN, but both these parties are literally and ideologically “owned” by two dynasties. In the end whatever these parties do, their policies and politics are decided by those who, somehow, believe that they can “inherit” a political party.
The PTI, on the other hand, though dangerously reliant on the personality of Imran Khan has been able to develop a large base of voters and activists and almost all the members of this party are anti corruption. This implies that while the party has to be watchful of corruption in its own upper echelons, it also needs to be constantly monitoring and challenging all acts of normalized corruption by their opponents. Because of these efforts, on popular level corruptly gained wealth can no longer masquerade as normal: people have started asking questions about how and where from did the politicians gain their wealth. The politicians, on the other hand, have to constantly prove that their wealth was not ill-gotten. In a country like Pakistan where corruption at all levels of government and in all institutions is rampant and almost unavoidable, a party that makes a campaign against corruption its main slogan is not only doing this to mobilize its own base but rather also creating a wide popular base that poses these questions to all those aspiring to political office. Bear in mind that in some reports, Pakistan ranks 116 out of 176 countries in the corruption index.
Thus, this focus on corruption at all levels of government creates the kind of electorate that could be an anathema to traditional politics of money and power in Pakistan. If the voters start asking, before even deciding to vote, as to whether or not the candidates are corrupt or not, then, with or without higher literacy, the voting habits will alter and traditional regional and national politicians will have the burden of proving to the public that they are not corrupt. Furthermore, corruption does not necessarily have to be financial: the voters will also start asking how the people in power have used their influence in the public domain: have they transgressed against some common citizens? Have they sided with the strong against the weak? have they given jobs to their own family members? All of these questions are linked to one or the other form of corruption. The credit goes to Imran Khan and his party for not just making this an issue prominent but for also elevating it to the most central issue in Pakistani politics. Note that the Urdu name of PTI includes the world Insaf, justice, in it and since the party has, by and large, stayed true to this message about justice, the issues of corruption and undue financial and other injustices not only remains central to the party’s own ideology but has now have permeated all levels of its membership; this trend is likely to expand if the electoral process continues and if Pakistanis have the chance to regularly elect their governments. In the end, this focus on corruption and a relentless effort to create a fair society are two central themes of PTI and this precise focus has made PTI a party most important and crucial for Pakistan’s future.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I have been a contributing US member of the PTI, off and on, but in no way has PTI ever commanded my uncritical allegiance and nor would it ever do so.