Getting to Yes

Sleepy Imran KhanImran Khan said recently that “My party will never become a part of the proposed national set-up because I cannot compromise on principles.” My immediate reaction was that the PTI chief should have made a more honest statement: “My party will never become a part of the proposed national set-up because I cannot win the votes.” This weekend Imran Khan took his media show to Peshawar where he proceeded to take a nap on the Dharna stage and would not even get up to do interviews.

While Imran Khan was posing in Peshawar, bhatakta SMQ was having tea at nine zero and singing the praises of Altaf Hussain. Then he heard that Imran Khan was holding a sit-in at Peshawar so he praised him, too, while saying that PPP has split into factions. Meanwhile SMQ has forgotten to mention this PPP split to the party members who seem to remain united.

All of this reminds me of Mushy’s Facebook political party APML. It’s all celebrity ego, media flash and no real substance. All of these guys love to see their faces on TV and to read their names in headlines. But when it comes to actually getting elected and running the country…well…that’s harder than taking a nap or having tea. PTI has been consistently thrashed at the polls, never winning more than 2 per cent of the votes. SMQ may have fancied himself another ZAB when he split from the PPP over Raymond Davis, but building a movement requires more than sound bites.

Now SMQ is parroting Imran Khan and going around telling reporters that drone strikes should be stopped, but just like when he says that Raymond Davis doesn’t have diplomatic immunity, he only does so once it doesn’t matter. Qureshi has freed himself from the restrictions of party loyalty, but what good does it do? He can speak openly about whatever he wants, but it doesn’t do any good because he is no longer in a position that people will listen to him. If Qureshi really cared about stopping drones, why he didn’t remain in the government? Instead of talking to Jang’s news desk about drones, he could have been in Washington with Salman Bashir talking to his friend Hillary Clinton.

Imran Khan says that his party will never be part of the national set-up because he refuses to compromise. But refusing to compromise is not a virtue, and its no way to govern. In a nation of 180 million people, you have to make compromises if you’re going to get anything done. The only people who can govern without making any compromises are dictators. If the dictator does not agree with someone, he will ignore them or worse. Prime Minister of Prussia Otto von Bismarck said in 1867 that, “Politics is the art of the possible.” He was right. Politics is the art of working with people that you don’t agree with to find some common ground where you can make deals and compromises that will allow you to reach a consensus that moves the country forward, even if slowly. Sit-ins get you nowhere.

And SMQ’s plan to walk away from the party means that even if he has good ideas, they will not get further than his own drawing room. Yes, because of his standing in society he may get a small mention in the newspaper, but actually changing policies requires the organizational power of a political party. That requires a network of personal relationships that are built over time not only in Islamabad, London, Riyadh and Washington but in villages across the country where maximum number of Pakistanis are less concerned with Vienna Conventions and more concerned with feeding their families and making sure their children get an education so that they can have a future. Maybe there are one or two people in a century who can mobilize an entire country with their own charisma. The rest need well organized political parties to get things done.

Meeting the needs of the people requires compromise. It requires the willingness to work with other people – even those you don’t agree with. It requires the organizational capacity of a political party, not cheap publicity stunts and sound bites. It’s always easiest to say ‘no’. Finding a way to get to ‘yes’ takes real leadership.

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