Let’s get some things straight.
Will Imran Khan peace march to South Waziristan, which ended in Tank, succeed in stopping drone attacks? No.
Will the march bring immense relief to the victims of drone attacks and lead to a deluge of international support for them? No.
Will Khan now be able to change the political dynamics of this region and force other parties to ape him? No.
Will the march change the contours of the national and international debate on drones? No.
Is then PTI’s peace march nothing more than a political stunt? No.
The much-publicized rally, which was originally meant to culminate in North Waziristan, ultimately did so in Tank. Amid rousing sloganeering and cheering, Imran Khan delivered his victory speech, thanked his supporters (and the police) and headed back. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief that no untoward incident took place. It’s very rare in Pakistan for a crowd of thousands to have a face-off with law enforcers and avoid a clash. A good precedent was set.
The inevitable question however is: what did Imran Khan achieve?
Achievement is normally weighed against targets and objectives. Khan’s stated objective was to highlight the plight of drone victims and get the world to focus on the havoc that drones are wreaking on innocent men, women and children in North and South Waziristan.
Measured against this specific objective, what he was able to achieve was modest. Sure, the media coverage of the event brought the issue of drones to the fore, but this coverage was clearly not a game-changer in any way. The event dominated local airtime over the weekend, and also got covered in foreign newspapers and TV, but let’s be honest, it did not really have a mega-impact that would affect hard-nosed policymaking. And plus the focus of the coverage was less the victims of drones and more the trials and tribulations of the journey, the obstacle-crossings and the suspense of whether Khan would reach Kotkai or not.
The media, both local and foreign, and the international participants were also not able to meet drone victims since they were not allowed access to South Waziristan. So if anyone was expecting the victims’ faces and the stories to be splashed across the world media, that did not happen. The victims remains blanketed in cruel anonymity despite Khan’s march.
The march then achieved nothing concrete. Perhaps it was not meant to, since marches usually don’t lead to policymaking. The government, and the army, will not face increased pressure from the public, and the public is not much the wiser about the issue in any substantive way since Khan left Islamabad for the journey.
So what did the journey then actually achieve?
Quite a bit, actually.
For starters, it proved that Khan’s opponents never really had a convincing argument against this initiative and this reflected their ill-formed ideas on reacting to a not-so-complex political manoeuvre. The rally was a bold political move that could not be countered with equally bold arguments.
More importantly however, was the fact that an emerging national party like PTI was successful in generating national-level political activity all the way from Mianwali to Tank and a bit beyond. Thousands thronged the roads, cheered the cavalcade, joined it from adjoining areas, honked, cheered, sloganeered, waved flags, removed barricades and generally pumped some serious physical and political adrenalin that traversed through cameras and beamed across the nation. This wasn’t your typical political stuff – jalsas, corner meetings and press conferences – no this was heart-pumping, in-your-face, made-for-TV kind of activity that generates hype and discussion for days and weeks.
In other words, it was brilliant politics.
Some PTI purists may be horrified. How can you reduce something as noble as an anti-drones exercise to petty politicking, they may protest. But they miss the point that this is the kind of politics that strengthens democracy. Such politics is inclusive, not exclusionary. The success of Imran Khan is that he penetrated these areas with the point of his political spear, bringing in excitement, enthusiasm, vigour – and oh yes, the cameras – to shake up things and remind Pakistanis in big metros that this region needs national focus. Yes focus, not just for drones, but for improving the lives of the people who live here.
Khan did not say all this, but he did not need to. Politicians from here guard this turf of theirs jealously. The traditionalists among them have their constituencies where the gravy train flows thick and fast. An absence of constant media attention here ensures the deficiencies remain un-highlighted, unlike what happens in say Karachi or Lahore or Islamabad.
For one weekend however, these towns were the focus of national attention. And by bringing this attention here, Imran Khan will reap political dividends. Those thousands of youngsters we saw on the screens running alongside the cavalcade and removing barbed wires and parked containers, all these enthusiastic youngsters may not be PTI voters but they surely saw one politician come here with thousands in tow to speak to them. This in itself may amount to a lot.
Imran Khan is neither the first nor the last politician to engage with them. But he picked an issue which appeals to his base – and of others – and he succeeded in bringing it to their doorstep more effectively than others have. Maulana Fazlur Rehman should lose some sleep.
Drones will keep raining death as per American policy. The Pakistani government will keep on sporting an ambiguous posture as per its policy. The army will keep on engaging the Pentagon and CIA to bargain on drones as per its policy. And Imran Khan will keep blasting everyone as per his policy. Nothing really will change.
Except one thing: Political parties will now be under greater pressure to appear bold and go where they normally don’t. As an unstated objective, that’s not a bad achievement for Imran Khan.
The writer is the host of “Tonight with Fahd” on Waqt News. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @fahdhusain