Imran Khan and united Muslim League

Imran Khan, who had been absent from the political scene for nearly two weeks on account of the campaign he had launched for the collection of funds for the flood victims, is back again with a bang. He said two things upon his return that have significance.

While his remark about launching a civil disobedience movement has received attention, what he said about joining the new alliance being cobbled together by Pir Pagara is equally important. The way the move has suddenly brought together politicians who till recently had been bandying insults at one another like Chaudhry Shujaat, Ijazul Haq, Salim Saifullah and the convenor of the alliance himself to top them all, was bound to raise eyebrows.All these politicians had shown unwillingness to sit with one another since after the 2008 elections. Some were not even on nodding terms. Which magician’s wand had suddenly brought them under one roof? Why raise the ghosts of the past at a moment when there was talk of conspiracies being hatched to destabilise democracy?

What witches’ brew was being concocted amid political thunder and lightening in the heaths of Sindh? It has been suggested that Pir Pagara is to undertake a repeat of the action he had performed in the 1977 movement to overthrow Bhutto at the instance of the offstage actors. The talk about Zardari having lost the Sindh card could only send negative signals, fanning parochialism. Many in Sindh who otherwise oppose Zardari and the PPP are worried about the implications of the Q-League, which draws both leadership and parliamentary strength from Punjab, putting its weight behind Pir Pagara’s practically insubstantial PML-Functional?

While responding to a question about joining the proposed Pagara-led alliance, Imran kept his options open. He remarked that he would consider the suggestion only if the PML-Functional chief put forth an alliance capable of bringing about a change in the country.

Was this a polite way of saying that there was no possibility of his joining the alliance as it was not going to bring the kind of change Imran has been advocating? Or conversely, was he mulling joining the venture in case he was given a prominent position in it?

Joining an alliance of the political old guard characterised by its conspiratorial style had been the undoing of Asghar Khan before. He was a rising star when he entered the anti-Ayub movement to sustain the struggle after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s arrest. Widely respected as a war hero, he was a man with an unblemished past. While Bhutto’s derogatory epithets did little to dent his reputation, Asghar Khan’s letter to the army brass to intervene was really a blemish.

He retrieved his reputation though by subsequently dissociating from the anti-ZAB PNA and refusing to join Ziaul Haq’s cabinet. When General Zia announced the holding of general elections in 1979, Air Marshal’s Tehrik-e-Istiqlal became the hot favourite, as a perception was formed that it had the potential to reach the corridors of power through an electoral victory. A large number of political figures, who rose to prominence later, rushed to join the Tehrik-e-Istiqlal. The list of entrants makes formidable reading.

It included Nawaz Sharif, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Aitzaz Ahsan, Javed Hashmi, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Mushahid Hussain, Gohar Ayub Khan, Nisar Khurho, Nafees Siddiqui, Ashraf Liaquat Ali Khan, Zafar Ali Shah, Allama Aqeel Turabi, Manzoor Wattoo, Syeda Abida Hussain and Syed Fakhar Imam and many others.

As Zia postponed the elections and Asghar Khan remained under house arrest for more than five years, his popularity as a potential saviour touched new heights. Asghar Khan joined the newly formed Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in 1983 and was detained by the government. In 1986, Asghar Khan committed the blunder of leaving the MRD, leading several Tehrik members to resign in protest.

Some of the decisions taken by the former Air Marshal subsequently led to irretrievable consequences; his participation in the 1988 elections as a part of the newly formed platform of the Pakistan Awami Ittehad (PAI), which suffered an ignominious defeat, being one. Contesting the 1990 elections by joining the Peoples Democratic Alliance, a united front of an altogether different chemistry, proved to be his undoing.

Imran Khan’s suggestion that instead of taxing the already taxed, those avoiding taxes should be brought under the net, would appeal to many. Agricultural incomes, too, need to be taxed. This can be done if the leaderships of the PPP and PML-N agree to successfully persuade their members in the provincial assemblies to vote for the new law that they need to bring jointly in the four assemblies.