Imran Khan, the charismatic leader of Pakistan’s second-largest political party, the PTI, might have gotten too close to the Taliban for comfort. His vocal opposition to American drone strikes, his hesitation to condemn the Taliban’s deadly attacks (he invited them to open an office too), and his insistence on peace talks over a military operation against them have led his detractors to call him “Taliban Khan.”In recent weeks, Khan has changed his rhetoric somewhat. He has switched from “talks are the only option” to “we’ll talk to the militants to who want to talk.” In a similar, but more overt shift, a senior PTI member said that his party is a “liberal, nationalist party,” and that the party’s “weak perception and media management presented us as far-rightists.” Dawn newspaper has the report:
The far-right perception, he admits, damaged the party’s following among the middle-class youth, once considered to be the base of the PTI.The PTI is not pro-Taliban but pro-peace, he seeks to clarify, recalling Imran Khan was the first and only leader to condemn Lashkar-i-Jhangvi after the killings of Hazaras in Quetta.He did not agree to the proposition that the recent change in the party’s stance on the Taliban in which it announced supporting the army operation against the extremists was forced by the situation.
Unfortunately, bad PR is hardly the reason why the PTI has been branded a far-right party. It’s has been branded far-right mostly because it is. After a spate of particularly deadly attacks on it, Pakistan’s powerful military has little tolerance for Khan continuing his insistence on peace talks. Also, with the drumbeat of American drone strikes apparently having come to a halt (the last one was in January), Khan can’t get enough traction from railing against America any more. He is losing support, especially in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the province his party controls but also the one worst hit by terrorist attacks. His effort to rework his image and, in his own party’s words, to get better at “media management” might have more takers if Khan’s policies change along with his rhetoric.