Like the young Pakistani who never thought of voting until Tehreek-i-Insaf became a serious political player, Muhammad Hammad Azhar never thought he would get into politics until Imran Khan came along.
As the son of former Punjab governor Mian Azhar – who started out as a politician in the PML-N and then played a large part in the formation of the PML-Q – Hammad had had offers. In 2007, he says, he refused party tickets from both the PPP and PML-Q.
“I was firm on my decision not to take part in politics,” says Hammad. “The politics which revolved around clans discouraged me.”
But the PTI was different, he says. “He [Imran Khan] wanted to change those realities which had repelled me from politics for long,” says Hammad. He and his father both joined the PTI in 2011.
“These elections will be about issues, not clans and traditional groupings,” thanks to the PTI’s efforts to raise awareness, he says.
At 31, this barrister-turned-businessman-turned politician is among the youngest candidates running for a National Assembly seat in Lahore. He began campaigning at NA-121, where he faces Mehr Ishtiaq of PML-N, in April. His first stop every morning is his party office at Gulshan-i-Ravi, where his daily schedule of activities is drawn up on a whiteboard. From noon to 4pm, he goes door to door to drum up support, after which he attends corner meetings till late into the night.
If elected, Hammad says, he will improve the most under-developed regions of NA-121, like the areas near the banks of the Ravi. “People are living in sub-human conditions there,” without electricity, water and gas, he says. “They are crying out for a change but we see funds being allocated for relatively developed areas.”
The PML-N government in the Punjab, he says, ignored basic amenities like safe drinking water, electricity, health and education, and invested in roads and buses instead, which he describes as “a gross misallocation of funds, if not a misuse”.
The government’s youth initiatives, like the handing out of laptops and solar lamps, he says, were shallow attempts to buy votes that fooled no one. “These handouts don’t work on youth, they can see right through such gimmicks,” he says.
He says while other parties are bringing in fresh blood and new ideas, the PML-N is spouting the same tired ideas through new faces like Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz. “They have the same political ideology as their predecessors, there is nothing new and reformed,” he adds.
But as the scion of a political family, does the same criticism apply to him? Hammad says not. “My father was a misfit in the political system from the beginning, but by luck he bounced back,” he says. “As far as I am concerned, I’ve never felt a misfit in the PTI, nor do I have any affiliation with any other party.”
Looking to the future and a potential PTI government, Hammad says the 90-day deadline imposed by the party chief for the solution of myriad problems will help motivate legislators to take effective measures.
One of the government’s main concerns, he says, would be the elimination of terrorism. “We believe that the government’s dysfunctional policies are forcing people towards terrorism,” he says.
For the party, he says, one of the major challenges will be to adopt an identity beyond that of Imran Khan’s party. “The PTI has to transcend from being a party focused around one personality to a democratic party,” he says. This was why the internal party elections were important, he adds.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2013.