Imran’s moment of Tareen By Ghazi Salahuddin


For sure, there is a twist in the tale. While the suspense that is building up may not be Hitchcockian in its impact, some exciting developments are emerging on the horizon. There is this sense of Pakistan’s politics moving into the realm of high drama where two leading characters are engaged in a contest of almost mythical proportions.

Yes, I do feel particularly attracted by the human aspect of what is more or less a crisis within the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Essentially, it is Imran Khan versus Jahangir Khan Tareen. And the story of how two close friends who worked together to win the struggle for power can become adversaries has classical dimensions.

What I see as a twist in the tale was Jahangir Tareen’s encounter with the media on Wednesday morning in Lahore. After his appearance before a special court for banking offences, he complained that his loyalty to the party was being tested even though he had remained silent for a year, despite the probe that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) was conducting against him.

“I was a friend. Why am I being pushed towards enmity?”, wondered Jahangir Tareen.

But his message for Imran Khan was enclosed in not what he said but what he did. With him were several MNAs and MPAs of the party. This could be seen as a defiant gesture, though all PTI leaders standing with Tareen pleaded their allegiance to Imran and the party.

Still, it was the beginning of something that could grow and have adverse consequences for a party that is numerically very vulnerable in the national and the Punjab assemblies. After that surprise on Wednesday, Tareen made a strong show of strength on Friday when eight MNAs and 20 MPAs attended his dinner. What this means becomes obvious when you know that Imran, with his allies, has only a six-member lead in the National Assembly.

Also on Friday, Tareen and his son Ali Tareen separately appeared before an FIA team to answer questions on charges of financial embezzlement and money laundering, though the spotlight stays on the sugar scandal. Cases against Tareen and members of his family were registered following the report of the sugar commission, released in May last year. On FIA’s request, 36 bank accounts of the family have been frozen.

On its part, the PTI leadership is insisting that by initiating cases against his close aid, Imran Khan is keeping his promise of conducting across-the-board accountability and establishing rule of law. Action, thus, is expected against some other PTI leaders who figured in the sugar commission report. At the same time, there are reports of bitter divisions within the party, with a strong lobby against Tareen. Even before the 2018 elections, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Jahangir Tareen were heading rival factions.

But there would be no dispute as to who, finally, guided Imran Khan to his seat of power, notwithstanding the help provided by powerful friends. In fact, Imran had to ditch some of his own cherished ideals and adopt Tareen’s politically expedient tactics to win the game. This is a story that signifies the inherent weakness and wickedness of our political structure. In addition, it provides evidence that the person now at the helm is not the Imran that his faithful followers had bargained for.

When Imran held his rally at Minar-e-Pakistan on October 30, 2011, the dynamics of politics in this country was seen to have suddenly changed. In some ways, a new leader was born on that day, an answer to the longings of Pakistan’s middle-class. For many observers, Imran was riding the wave of history, with his promise of a new generation of leaders who would eradicate corruption from this society.

But, incredibly, the PTI did not make an impressive show in the national elections of 2013. It was Tareen who persuaded Imran to learn his lessons and recognise the worth of ‘electables’ and the power of the local dynasties. A new strategy was devised for 2018 and Tareen presided over its execution. He would negotiate with and ferry reluctant independents in his private plane that was also a frequent mode of travel for Imran.

Though he had himself been disqualified by the Supreme Court and could not contest elections, Tareen remained the PTI’s main powerbroker and influenced decision-making at the top. Until something happened and the former general secretary of the party drifted away from Imran. An explanation that Imran is now convinced about Tareen’s corruption, in consequence of the findings of the sugar commission and FIA, is simply not tenable.

All this should have been present to Imran from the outset. A writer of a dramatised version of this episode, worthy of a Netflix original, could have Imran sitting in Tareen’s plane and thinking about the wealth that his generous host had accumulated. Would he, in that imagined scene, be thinking of the Supreme Court judgment against Nawaz Sharif in which the respected judge had quoted a line from The Godfather, saying that “behind every great fortune, there is a crime”?

For that matter, a visit to that house on the hill in Islamabad is also likely to inspire some disturbing thoughts in the mind of a dedicated supporter of the PTI, seeking a ‘naya’ Pakistan founded on democratic principles of justice and equity.

With all this anxious anticipation about how the Imran-Tareen conflict will play out and whether some form of reconciliation is possible, the reality of Tareen’s contribution to the making of what Imran is now cannot be erased. One is not sure if Imran is able to comprehend the shadow that Tareen has left.

And, meanwhile, there are other shadows that have deepened. A leader who had once lit the candle of hope in the hearts and minds of an enlightened community now seems wedded to a starkly orthodox and misogynistic mindset. That is how he can blame ‘fahaashi’ for a rise in rape cases. But the PTI, presently unhinged by the Tareen upheaval, has no time for these issues.

The writer is a senior journalist.