Posts Tagged ‘ Pakistan Elections ’

Imran Khan’s accident triggers wave of sympathy in Pakistan

By Jon Boone for The Guardian

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Imran Khan, a leading candidate in this week’s general election in Pakistan, was rushed to hospital with a skull fracture and injured back on Tuesday after falling off an improvised platform attached to a forklift truck at one of the final rallies of his campaign.

The images of the dazed and bloodied leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) being rushed to hospital with a skull fracture and back injuries has added another element of uncertainty to an election that even seasoned observers are hesitating to call.

But just hours after falling from an overcrowded platform attached to a forklift truck, Khan was recording video messages from his hospital bed, urging his countrymen to vote for his party in the coming polls on Saturday.

“I did whatever I could for this country,” Khan said while lying flat on a hospital bed, his neck partially restrained by a brace. He went on to urge people to vote for the PTI.

“Now I want you to take responsibility. If you want to change your destiny, I want you to take responsibility.”

Earlier yesterday the 60-year-old politician had been pulled off the platform used to raise him to a stage at a political rally in the city of Lahore after one of his guards lost balance and toppled over the side.

The accident triggered a flood of concern and support on social media, where Khan already has a passionate following.

Crowds gathered outside the Shaukat Khanum hospital, a private cancer hospital named after his mother that Khan established, after he was transferred there.

When news came through that a scan had shown Khan had not suffered internal bleeding, the gathered supporters cheered and waved cricket bats, the official symbol of the PTI which will appear on ballot papers next to candidates’ names.

The extraordinary twist to an already drama-filled election complicates the guessing game over how many seats the PTI, a relatively young party that has only ever held one seat in the past, will win.

Although most analysts do not think the PTI will emerge as the biggest party, Khan had appeared to be gaining momentum in recent days with a frantic schedule of back-to-back campaign events that have helped to galvanise a young, middle-class fanbase with huge numbers of supporters flocking to his events.

The more seats he wins, the harder it will be for frontrunner Nawaz Sharif, a two-term prime minister who heads a wing of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), to win an outright majority or even enough seats to form a strong coalition.

Sharif’s campaign was quick to respond to events, announcing the cancellation of all campaign events on Wednesday and the dropping of all ads attacking Khan. The country’s interim prime minister, Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, also expressed concern over Khan’s injury and wished him a quick recovery.

Khan’s political rallies have been full of energy but also chaotic at times, with security guards powerless to prevent the PTI leader throwing himself into heaving crowds despite the terrorist attacks that have cast a shadow over the election.

In 2007 the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed after she was attacked by militants. The incident helped her party, the Pakistan Peoples party (PPP), ride to power on a wave of sympathy.

The runup to the elections has been marred by near-daily violence by militants targeting candidates and their election offices.

On Tuesday 12 people were killed and more than 40 injured by a suicide bomb attack on a candidate for Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, a rightwing religious party, in the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Later in the day a roadside bomb killed another five people, including the brother of a PPP candidate standing for the provincial assembly.

So far more than 100 people have been killed by the Taliban’s campaign of violence, largely directed against candidates standing for secular parties that back army operations against the militants.

Khan believes the Pakistani army should withdraw from the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan and resolve the conflict through negotiations. He has also been an outspoken opponent of the US drone programme targeting al-Qaida and Taliban militants in northwest Pakistan.

Some of Khan’s supporters, pictured left, took the accident as a good sign, citing the example of the 1992 cricket World Cup, in which Khan led Pakistan to victory despite suffering acute pain in his shoulder.

“Imran Khan won 92 World Cup with a shoulder injury, this time he’ll win Elections 2013 with a head injury,” said one Facebook commenter.

Dr Mohammed Shafiq, who treated Khan after the fall, told Geo News the former all-rounder had received seven stitches to a 15cm wound in his head, but expected him to recover. “He is fully conscious and he was complaining of backache,” he said. “He is fine, but he must have some rest for one or two days.”

“Imran Khan wants his supporters to remain peaceful and united, and he says he will soon be among them,” his sister, Rani Hafiz Khan, told the Pakistani ARY news channel. According to a recent poll by the Pew research centre, 60% of respondents viewed Khan favourably. However that figure was slightly down on a year ago, and now Khan is slightly outranked by Sharif.

The election will mark a historic transfer of power from one democratically elected government fulfilling its full term to another, something that has never happened in Pakistan’s history.

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Return of an Erstwhile King

As Reported By The Economist

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PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, a former army dictator and president of Pakistan, returned from London on March 24th to the country he once commanded, after an absence of more than four years. He finds not a trace of the power and significance he once wielded.

He came, he said, to contest elections, scheduled for May 11th, and “to save Pakistan”. Though the country could certainly do with rescuing, Mr Musharraf faces stiff competition among those offering themselves as saviour. They include a former prime minister and his bitter enemy, Nawaz Sharif, and a notable cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan. Meanwhile, the outgoing government of the Pakistan Peoples Party achieved little, but its re-election is not out of the question.

A small crowd of supporters gathered at Karachi airport to welcome Mr Musharraf. “I cry when I see the state of Pakistan today,” he blustered. The rally his people had planned that evening had to be cancelled, apparently for security reasons. That may have been just as well: participants looked likely to be few.

Mr Musharraf lacks popularity and a political base. He also faces threats from the Pakistani Taliban and allied extremist groups. In office, he survived two well-planned assassination attempts. He will now have nowhere near the level of security that saved his life then. The Pakistani Taliban threatens a special squad that will “send Musharraf to hell”. When Benazir Bhutto returned from exile to Pakistan in October 2007, extremists bombed her motorcade after it left Karachi airport, killing around 140 people. She was unhurt in that attack. But a suicide bomber at a rally assassinated her two months later.

Mr Musharraf seized power in 1999 after the prime minister at that time, Mr Sharif, tried to sack him as army chief. He ruled Pakistan, first just as a general and later as president, until 2008, when rising unpopularity forced him to hold elections that his party lost.

He also faces a series of court cases in Pakistan and was careful to arrange pre-arrest bail before arriving. He is accused in the Bhutto murder case (though no direct evidence implicating him has emerged), as well as over the killing of a tribal leader, Akbar Bugti. And then he faces charges of treason, too, for staging his coup in 1999.

It was under Mr Musharraf that extremists turned on the state, after the attacks of September 11th 2001 led him to forge an alliance with America. Yet Mr Musharraf never turned on all militant groups, some of which operated with a degree of latitude. The Pakistani Taliban even seized a territory in the heart of the country, Swat.

Pakistan enjoyed a period of rapid economic growth during his time in office, but it was a bubbly time for Pakistan, and the bubbles burst as Mr Musharraf was leaving office. At least he managed to keep prices under control, especially for food.

Mr Musharraf is a big name internationally, but within Pakistan he now seems an irrelevance. His presence may become a sideshow in this election season.

More watched now will be the campaign of Imran Khan, who staged a huge rally on March 23rd in Lahore, Pakistan’s second city. After suddenly growing wildly popular in late 2011, with a promise of a new politics to break the established and corrupt two-party system, Mr Khan has lost much momentum in recent months. His showing in Lahore was an attempt to regain the initiative—and it proved that he can still pull a crowd. Mr Khan will win votes across the country but, with Pakistan’s first-past-the-post system, it may not translate into many seats.

This election, assuming it takes place, will mark the first time that one elected government completes a full term and hands power over to another. That is something, but the job of saving Pakistan remains, as ever, up for grabs.

Pakistan Prepares For Election

By Farhan Bokhari in Lahore and Victor Mallet in New Delhi for The Financial Times

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Pakistan’s government stepped down at the weekend after a full five-year term, paving the way for an election and change of administration that would be the country’s first constitutional democratic handover since independence and partition from India in 1947.

“It is true that in the past five years we have not been able to make rivers of milk and honey flow in the country,” said Raja Pervez Ashraf, prime minister in the Pakistan People’s party (PPP) government of President Asif Ali Zardari, in a televised farewell speech.

“We have used all our resources to strengthen the foundations of democracy and – by the grace of God – today democracy is so strong that no one will dare to dislodge it in the future.”

The PPP and its leader Mr Zardari, who was elected after his wife Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, claim credit for strengthening democracy in a country that has been ruled for long periods by the armed forces – most recently under General Pervez Musharraf in the decade up to 2008.

But the government’s popularity has collapsed during its time in office, undermined by bombings and the killing of civilians by the Pakistan Taliban, and by power shortages and other economic problems.

Even the process leading to a change of government is deadlocked, with mainstream politicians so far unable to agree on a caretaker prime minister to run the country for up to 90 days, and to oversee the general election. Among the possible candidates for the position are Ishrat Hussain, a former central bank governor and World Bank official, and Nasir Aslam Zahid, a former judge.

“The immaturity of our democracy is nowhere more evident than in the failure to agree on a way forward,” said one politician from the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). “This decision should have been made weeks ago and we still seem to be haggling over it.”

Pakistanis mostly welcomed the completion of the government’s term – a feat that had sometimes seemed in doubt – but criticised Mr Zardari’s inability to curb extremist violence or to start restoring the economy to health.

In a recent incident on March 9, Muslim zealots in Lahore burnt down 178 homes belonging to Christians – a tiny and poverty-stricken minority in Pakistan – following the arrest of a young Christian man on blasphemy charges. More than 250 Shia Muslims have been killed this year in attacks blamed on militant Sunnis.

Senior officials have also been murdered during the government’s term. They include Salman Taseer, governor of the populous Punjab province, killed by one of his police guards after Mr Taseer publicly defended Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman arrested in another blasphemy case.

“It would be utterly crazy to celebrate this coming of age of democracy,” said Nadeem Masih, a Christian office worker in Lahore. “The government has left more Pakistanis insecure than when it came to office.”

Investors are equally sceptical, noting the fall in the value of the Pakistani rupee and the state of most of the country’s infrastructure. “The economy is in shambles, there is more corruption and cronyism,” said one businessman from Karachi, who asked not to be named. “Should we still celebrate this democracy?”

Western diplomats say one reason why Pakistan might be able to keep its democracy alive is the refusal thus far by General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the army chief, to seize power in response to calls from some of the government’s opponents.

“General Kayani has played a very sobering role,” said one diplomat in Islamabad. “He has remained true to his promise of letting democracy flourish in Pakistan.”

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political commentator, said it was a success for the government to have lasted five years. “But the government has left behind more problems for Pakistan than they inherited. Maybe the hope is that we will evolve into a more stable democracy in the long term, but that’s still on the distant horizon.”

The Khan of the Season

BY E. Shahid for The Khaleej Times

When Imran Khan is around, there are more jealous husbands than worried batsmen. The famous remark made about the handsome Pathan cricketer, who took the subcontinent by storm in the 1970s and 80s, is symptomatic of the aura of the man that transcended sporting excellence. Despite the fierce cricketing rivalry, Imran was admired both in India and Pakistan, and continues to be a revered figure across the world of cricket.
Intensity and self-belief stood out in his performances on the field and charisma and poise surrounded him off it. Imran added virtues of honesty and missionary zeal to his personality when he single-handedly launched a cancer hospital for the poor and, more recently, a rural university in Pakistan. With his coming of age in the world of politics, it appears that the same set of qualities will hold him in good stead. Or is it?

To an outsider uninformed about the intricacies and conspiracy theories of Pakistani politics, Imran brings a breath of fresh air. He offers a glimmer of hope to an embattled country and a much needed respite from its present set of politicians. He combines neo-liberal political thought with a comprehensive worldview, traditional approach and a clean image in the face of rampant corruption. As a package, he promises a political transformation that can be invested in.

It appears that Imran has managed to bring a fragmented country under one umbrella defying the politics of identity, regionalism, sectarianism and even feudalism. He appears to have appealed to all segments of the society at least across a large swath of urban population, especially the youth who hold key to the future.

Imran has lured into his fold senior statesmen, veteran politicians, some even controversial ones, artists and army men. If the grapevine is to be believed, Imran Khan’s biggest catch is going to be former army general and President Pervez Musharraf, who is also trying to make a comeback into Pakistan politics.

Imran’s political discourse has also matured. In his public speeches, he stresses on programmes and policies and seems to have prescriptions for most ills facing the country, especially its ailing economy. If all this is taken at face value, Imran Khan is a godsend not just for Pakistan but also for the neighbourhood and the region as a whole.

Interestingly, not everyone is willing to label this as genuine transformation. People who matter – namely Pakistanis in and outside the country – often take disparaging positions on the subject. An Abu Dhabi taxi driver who hails from Swat valley paints a completely different picture from that of a Karachiite IT professional working in Dubai Media City.

One such individual says the rise of Imran is ‘escapism’ on a mass scale. Expecting an ‘elitist’ like him to change things is superficial, even idealistic, way of looking at the state of affairs in Pakistan. The argument is that Imran only promises to be a messiah and doesn’t have the wherewithal to become one.

The bottom line is that a lot of Pakistanis still do not see Imran’s upsurge as change, a positive one at that, and unless a majority believes in this change, it is going to be a futile exercise. There are bound to be differences of opinion but stakeholders must see change as a necessity and not necessarily as a means to an end. Pontification apart, outside perspective on Pakistan will always be interesting because it will reflect what the country should be instead of what it really is and is going to be. Unfortunately, the response usually ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous and is seldom a balanced one.

Imran is not making waves as a run-of-the-mill politician. Far from it, he is promising change in Pakistan and change doesn’t come easy. There is a natural resistance to such transformation, especially in a country where change has meant military rule or martial law. Imran is bound to make mistakes in the process but by putting faith in him the country would have at least tried and failed instead of reposing faith in those who breed inequality and deliver squalor.

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