Posts Tagged ‘ Pakistani Politics ’

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.

Imran Khan Laps Up Acclaim in Pakistan

Declan Walsh for The Guardian

For a decade Imran Khan has occupied the hinterland, if not quite the wilderness, of Pakistani politics. The cricket legend has won just one seat in parliament – his own – and been scorned by critics as a celebrity windbag at best and a Taliban sympathiser at worst.

But this weekend Khan dramatically transformed his standing at a stroke, bursting onto the national stage with an impressive show of street power that jolted Pakistan’s largest parties and turned received wisdom on its head.

At least 100,000 people gathered to hear Khan issue a rousing call to political “revolution” spiced with strident denunciations of government corruption.

“Declare your assets or face the wrath of the people,” he shouted, drawing roars of approval, in the largest rally for decades in Lahore, Pakistan’s political heartland.

The crowd reflected the vein that Khan has tapped – young, urban and mostly educated Pakistanis who have grown disillusioned by the chaotic politicking and inept governance of the traditional political elite. “It’s an activation of the upper middle class – people who, over the years, haven’t had a voice in Pakistani politics,” said political analyst Mosharraf Zaidi.

In contrast Khan enjoys a reputation for being incorruptible and straight-talking, polished by a glint of fame. Also in Lahore was his ex-wife Jemima, who remains a supporter, and Jennifer Robinson, a London media lawyer whose clients include WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. “Yes we Khan,” she tweeted afterwards.

The rally set the political scene abuzz with speculation; “Imran’s Lahore rally stuns opponents” read the headline in Dawn. But large questions loom about whether he can transform his acclaim into power.

Despite his claims of a “revolution” against President Asif Ali Zardari, Khan is more likely to hurt Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader who considers Lahore his political base. Sunday’s rally crowned a wave of smaller yet well-attended rallies across the surrounding Punjab province over the past three months.

“It’s been slowly taking root. People are getting disillusioned, they saw Imran as more dynamic and focused,” said Najam Sethi, a veteran journalist and analyst.

National elections are not scheduled until 2013, although a midterm Senate election next March – which is likely to see the Pakistan People’s party led by Zardari seize control of the upper house of parliament – has caused the political temperature to soar.

Electoral success for Khan would likely fracture politics further – a prospect that would please Pakistan’s spymasters and generals, who have traditionally liked their civilian leaders both shaken and stirred. Khan has faced accusations that his new-found popularity is being quietly boosted by the military, and his Lahore speech was notable for his lack of criticism of the army. Khan denies any link. “I think Imran and the army will get along very well – if he ever comes to power,” said Sethi. He entered politics in 1996 as one of the most loved public figures in a cricket-crazy nation, and the founder of a cancer hospital that remains one of Pakistan’s most respected charities.

But his politics have been more controversial. He supported Pervez Musharraf’s coup in 1999, sided with Islamist mullahs and, in 2009, opposed an army operation against the Taliban in the Swat valley, arguing it was better to talk than fight. He boycotted the 2008 election, a move that relegated him to the chat show fringe of politics.

But in recent years he has steadily built his popularity among young Pakistanis, capitalising on disillusionment with political corruption and anger at US drone strikes in the tribal belt.

His Lahore rally echoed many of those themes. Pakistan wanted “independence, not slavery” in its relations with the US, he said, before announcing that he would be leaving for China hours later. “I am leaving at the invitation of the Chinese government. Friendship with them will be pursued to the fullest,” he said.

But critics said that while his speech was high on inflammatory rhetoric – including gratuitous attacks at some rivals and one diplomat – it was lacking in concrete prescriptions. “His next challenge is to show that he understands Pakistan’s problems – and can formulate policy to deal with them” said Zaidi.

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