30th October 2011. This was the day that changed my outlook on life and gave me an ambition.
My whole thinking process was revolutionised, and I set afoot on a way that led me to a firmer belief in my own abilities, and shattered the idols of fear within my heart. I was politically aroused, and became part of a movement that had set out with a mission of saving my country, my Pakistan; a movement that aimed to scratch off the rust that was eating through the very soul of my country, and re-make it into what it was originally intended to be; a movement that had set out to make a Naya Pakistan!
30th October 2011. This was the day when the wind of change began. And like thousands of Pakistanis, it roused me from my callous slumber.
I belong to a well-known political family of Southern Punjab, the Khichi family of the Chauhan Rajput clan, based in the Vehari district. For as long as the formation of Pakistan, my ancestors have been in and out of the ever-changing governments, holding at least one position of power at any given time. My family had taken an active part in Pakistan Movement and had associated itself strongly with Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and his sister Fatima Jinnah after him. This led to an unconditional affiliation with All India Muslim League from the very beginning which after the demise of Fatima Jinnah, transformed into a loyalty for Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and its chief Mian Nawaz Sharif for whatever reasons my forbearers had thought justified.
From the time I was born, in the year 1995, I would hear the lion, symbol of Nawaz Sharif’s political party, roaring in every corner of my household. My elders were always working with and singing praises of this PML-N and its chief, with my grandfather and later, uncle contesting and winning elections on PML-N tickets. I remember being inflated on seeing the lion symbolised beside the green posters, flyers and banners that bore the picture of my grandfather, Haji Mehmood Khan Khichi, for his election campaigns. Whenever someone alluded to the lion, my thoughts instantly wandered to the PML-N, such was the impression that had been ingrained on my mind by the conduct of my family. I considered Mian Nawaz Sharif as deserving to be Quaid-e-Azam’s successor, and did not, at that time, even know that this PML-N was not really the same political party which Quaid-e-Azam had been a part of and which had played so vital a role in bringing about the existence of Pakistan.
In the year 1999, when the then army chief, General Pervez Musharraf overthrew Nawaz Sharif’s government and established himself as the sole head of the country, I was of a blithe age of four, and thus with little knowledge and interest in the matter. I knew nothing of and cared little for either politics, or history and current affairs. Mian Nawaz Sharif was expelled from Pakistan after a short term of imprisonment, and returned years after, on 25th November 2007.
All these years, I listened to my family’s opinion on the matter routinely on dinner table; the shortcomings of Musharraf and his government, the [supposed] happy days of Nawaz Sharif’s rule, and how Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) was the only political party working in the country’s interests. I had no opinion on the matter myself, for I gave it little importance and no thought at all. Naturally, I believed that my family had the right picture, and felt the same reverence for Nawaz Sharif that my family did.
With the time being, my knowledge of the matters I previously knew little of was gradually increasing through the books I read and the conversations I now listened to with a greater interest and understanding. I was by now familiar with some history, and knew Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who had been hanged by General Zia, as brave and unflinching champion of the commoners, and respected his daughter Benazir Bhutto, Chairwoman of Pakistan People’s Party, Nawaz Sharif’s political opponent and the first woman Prime Minister in any Muslim country. I knew now that apart from being the Prime Minister twice, Nawaz Sharif had also been the Chief Minister of Punjab.
Sometimes, when I spared a thought for the condition of the province that had been ruled by PML-N for about twenty years, I would see a huge question mark on eligibility of Nawaz Sharif as a ruler. Exposure to factors outside my family had enlightened me to the side of picture that had up to now remained obscure and my naturally-induced admiration of Mian Nawaz Sharif had somewhat diminished. But at twelve years of age, I was still too young to care about what sort of ruler Pakistan needed and question anyone’s eligibility.
On 27th December 2007, only two months after her return, Benazir Bhutto was shot dead during a rally for upcoming general elections, in the same ‘Liaquat Bagh’ of Rawalpindi where first Prime Minster of Pakistan Liaquat Ali Khan was martyred. Consequently, PPP won the general elections of 2008, as Benazir’s martyrdom had diverted the nation’s sympathies to the Bhutto family which had suffered so much for [supposedly] the country. Benazir’s husband, the notorious Asif Ali Zardari, whom many people suspected as having a hand in his wife’s fate, came up with her will which named him as the Chairman of Pakistan People’s Party (So much for being champions of democracy!). With the success of his party, he established himself as the President of Pakistan. Consider the irony; the person who was now the President of Pakistan was until now serving sentences in prisons for God knows what crimes he had committed. But instead of confronting the criminal who was now the President, Nawaz Sharif gave him free hand, and even helped him in any way he could (for the sake of democracy, of course) while the former plundered the country for next five years of his term. This made me realize more than anything that I was mistaken when I thought that Nawaz Sharif was working for the country. He served no one’s but his own interests, and wanted nothing but to keep his own self sated. Six years of exile had rusted Nawaz Sharif’s politics, and to get it all shiny again, he befriended the husband of the woman who was his staunchest opponent, a person he knew to be clever, selfish crook. Nawaz Sharif consorted with the criminal he should have confronted, resorting to using the power of his brother Shahbaz Sharif who had been elected the Chief Minister of Punjab to loot their share of the plunder. This was selfishness at its peak, which no amount of justification from his supporters could veil from me. In the five years of Zardari’s term, Nawaz Sharif gradually lost all the respect I had ever had for him.
In younger days, I pictured Nawaz Sharif as leader, but now I realised that he too was and is only a politician; loyal to his own self alone, and wanting power not for the betterment of the country, but like everybody else, for his own pleasure and profit. He was a businessman by profession; of course he considered politics a business too, and served only to increase his bank balance.
PML-N had lost my respect, and the little respect I had for PPP died with Benazir Bhutto. Where I had been previously indifferent to politics, I now became averse to it. I wanted God to send someone who would change the country’s fate and make it what it was meant to be, someone who would use his power for the country and not for only himself.
It seemed like God finally heard me out, when on 30th October 2011, I listened for the first time to a person who was the Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, a political party which had been formed in 1996 and about whose existence I was up to now oblivious. I knew him as the former Captain of Pakistan Cricket Team who had led his team to victory in the Cricket World Cup of 1992, and now I realised that he may be the person who was destined to lead Pakistan to another, much more desirable victory very soon. I chose him as my Captain when I found out how he considered Quaid-e-Azam his political role model and Allama Iqbal his ideological leader. He was Imran Khan!
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the name was new to me. I knew Imran Khan as a cricketer, but was not aware of his role in politics. I had heard of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, a first-of-its-kind cancer hospital which ran on charity and treated thousands of cancer patients free of cost every year, but I did not know that Shaukat Khanum was Imran Khan’s mother who had died of cancer, motivating her son to build an international standard hospital entirely on charity, with nothing but his will and trust on God, so that Pakistanis did not have to go abroad for cancer treatment. On 30th October 2011, when I saw him speaking at a mammoth gathering in Lahore, I instantly knew this was the person I was looking for. This was the person who will lead us out of this darkness. This was the person who was to be my leader, my Captain.
It was the same place where Pakistan Resolution had been passed in 1940; the Manto Park of Lahore, the ground where Minar-e-Pakistan stands, reminding us of what Pakistan had been resolved to be. The ground was filled with millions of charged people of every age and shape, decked with red and green of PTI’s flag. Imran Khan stepped up to the dais, and began:
In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Beneficent Oh God, we kneel before you alone, and seek only your help.
He began with telling his audience that God had empowered them by giving them a free will, and if they intended to do something good, and strove for it, God will eventually give them success. He talked for three-quarters of an hour, and he spoke all my thoughts. By the end of his speech, I was convinced that if I wanted to see my country changed, I’d have to play a part in bringing about that change. As Imran Khan reminded his audience, God says in Quran that he does not change the fate of the nation which does not strive to change itself. I thought that if I remained silent any longer, I’d be equally responsible for the condition my country was in. My country needed me. Then I remembered Allama Iqbal’s verse, in which he says:
Afraad Ke Hathon Main Hai Aqwaam Ki Taqdeer
Har Fard Hai Millat Ke Muqaddar Ka Siyyara
[Translation: A nations fate is in the hand of its people, as every person is responsible for the destiny of the nation.]
Thus, from that time onwards, my indifference to politics turned into a fierce passion and determination to change my country for good, and I resolved to play any part that might be expected of me. Imran Khan ended his speech with a cry of
Tabdeeli Aa Nahi Rahi, Tabdeeli Aa Gayi Hai
[Translation: Change is not coming, it has already come]
and I enthusiastically agreed with him. Change had already come; in me, and in thousands of youngsters like myself, and we had woken from our apathetic stupor. I had realised that it was the time to let go of the fears, believe in myself, and make myself useful. This was the change that Imran Khan had brought about, and with the sleeping youth rising, I could see Pakistan on the doorstep of a revolution.