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August 11, 2018

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In comes Imran: can a bowler bat?

In comes Imran: can a bowler bat?

In the next a few days, Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi is going to be Pakistan’s next prime minister. His opponents are also getting ready to make sure he regrets the career move he made a couple of decades ago hoping he would cleanse the Aegean stables of Pakistan politics. Polls, pundits and people were not expecting the results thrown up through the ballot on July 25th. But then politics in Pakistan remains eternally unpredictable.

For the last two weeks, Imran and his companions are busy stitching up the cabinets for the Centre and at least two provinces for they have won big. It can be argued if the PTI head honchos actually believed in what they themselves were claiming. That they would sweep the elections. Haven’t they claimed the same five years ago? They failed in 2013 but remained steadfast in their belief that miracles do happen only if.

And if Imran were to succeed, he would have to cast away his idealistic exuberance and learn something from men who created history on their own, like the father of the modern German state, Otto von Bismarck whose famous remark - “Die Politik ist die Lehre vom Möglichen” – is reminded almost daily by politicians all over the world. Teachers of western politics and history often quote the fuller message by the 19th Century Prussian statesman that politics is the science [some say art] of the possible, of the attainable, of the next best thing.

Successful practitioners of politics stress that politicians should not waste too much time explaining to their electors what is right or best or ideal. They should try to deliver within the mandated term what they actually can get done. In simpler terms they should understand the rationale behind concepts like realpolitik and prefer pragmatism to one’s ideological idiosyncrasies. Achieving all would be impossible and compromises would become compulsions in order to deliver what the next government would like to in order to prove they could do something. Refusing to compromise would mean hardly anything is delivered by 2023. That is if all goes to plan or desire. Worse still if the next government somehow manages to hobble to complete term.

Islamabad is brimming with future parliamentarians, PTI supporters, benefactors, patrons and backers. Modest restaurants at Kohsar Market are making a killing. Frequenting consumers know the menus by heart now. Afternoon snacks are swigged with a concoction of iced latte or cappuccino. Rural politicians are polishing their gastronomic vocabulary. Laughters are loud enough to be heard on neighbouring streets. Why not? After all diehard PTI workers have waited for this moment for decades. Droves of electables are detectable from a distance. Hopefuls move to Marriott or Serena in the evening depending on who is holding court there – the party chief of staff, the chieftains from south Punjab, the firebrands from down south or winners for Pashtun lands. As night falls, many drive to various houses in Banigala. Closeness to chief’s sprawling residence must add to cosiness of future certainty.

But all is not benign. Rifts are deep and disagreements are dangerously sizzling. Daggers of derision are drawn and swords of scorn and self-interest are unsheathed as the sun goes down. Those claiming brotherhood and political amity during daylight turn into fierce political rivals with nightfall. Howls of hostility replace hilarity of party harmony. What is worst for the worrying watchers is what they all leave for the leader to decide.

Can Imran satisfy the mad hunger for power wallowing in the bosoms of his “buddies”? He will soon march into the Parliament along with the strangest of bedfellows. His companions from the political wilderness, the recently converted electables who were his political rivals for years, the independents that preferred to contest on their own so they could ask for the best reward when the going gets tough and lastly the party reservists – feeble females and voiceless minorities.

For some the semblance of sanity is draped in a few decisions that the party leadership has somehow reached after much “blood and gore”. Young voices within the party are not happy about what is happening at the top. They discuss in hushed voices how the vested interest is “impacting” the decision making process. They wouldn’t agree to come on record to say how men “very” close to the leader are trying to get coveted posts for their fathers or relatives. They, however, believe the “great Khan” would astonish all by shedding the shady for the worthwhile. Indications so far are pointing in the opposite direction.

For a keen political observer, Khan’s political journey is not too complicated to unravel. He is an ardent Pakistani who felt saddened about the country’s nose-diving trajectory. His desire to reset its course sounds more honest than the promises by politicians tainted by accusations of corruption and deceit. He might not have delivered in the province that his party won the last time around but the media campaign was coordinated well enough to make many believe that he did actually deliver in KP. Millions of simple people of Pakistan trust that a man who won them a sporting World Cup and built a cancer hospital with charitable donations could run the state with equal brilliance.

But in their love for their hero or the hatred for others, they innocently overlook the fact that the primary reason for Imran’s primacy in Pakistani cricket was his skill to bowl, not bat. His bouncers, inswingers, leg cutters, indippers and yorkers would enthrall millions especially when the opponents were walking back to pavilion. He would have a shy smile on his face knowing full well his prowess and popularity. He delivered for Pakistan on the cricket field and Pakistanis returned the favour when he asked for their help to build the hospitals, first in Lahore and then in Peshawar.

It was his cricketing stamina that kept him going in politics too for he was trained for the Test genre. Since 1996, he has bowled against Nawaz Sharif, Musharraf and Zardari. They ducked him well. Musharraf ran out due to own follies. Zardari completed his innings. Nawaz retired hurt once again. Imran is entering the field with a weak team. He is finding it hard to select players of his own choice. The task won’t be easy.

Opponents are far too many. He has not made friends in politics. His political bowling was furious and spectators did not like the batters too. The cheers are over for now because losers have the ball. The bowler is to bat. Forget the irony. Imran have never opened in his cricketing career. Can he face the flippers, the googlies, the sliders, the doosras or teesras, the leg or off breaks as the opponents are no fast bowlers? But they have around the ground for a long time. And they are hurt. Imran trained for the Test. But spectators have been made to cheer for Twenty-20. Let the game begin.

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