SHORT ROAD TO POWER

Im­ran Khan’s rally elec­tri­fies La­hore, con­sid­ered a bas­tion of the Sharif broth­ers, and sig­nals a shift in Pak­istan’s pol­i­tics

India Today - - NEIGHBOURS - by Qaswar Ab­bas in Is­lam­abad

Im­ran Khan proved he is Pak­istan’s most pop­u­lar politi­cian af­ter over 1.6 lakh peo­ple at­tended his rally in La­hore’s iconic Iqbal Park on Oc­to­ber 30. The cap­i­tal of Pun­jab prov­ince last saw such numbers in 1986 when PPP’S Be­nazir Bhutto re­turned to Pak­istan af­ter two years of self-im­posed ex­ile.

The mas­sive turnout was un­usual for a coun­try where po­lit­i­cal ral­lies don’t pull in more than 10,000 peo­ple. More so be­cause it was held in the strong­hold of the Pak­istan Mus­lim League (Nawaz) headed by the Sharif broth­ers Nawaz and Shah­baz.

Khan, 58, has the tacit sup­port of the pow­er­ful Pak­istan Army. The army is yet to in­di­cate its po­lit­i­cal pref­er­ences in the 2013 elec­tions and clearly, the hawk­ish crick­eter-turned-politi­cian played to the mil­i­tary’s sen­ti­ments. He railed against US drone strikes, asked the army to pull out of the tribal ar­eas and said he would force the In­dian Army out of Kash­mir. “My party will never aban­don its sup­port to our Kash­miri broth­ers and sis­ters. We will force In­dia to quit this ter­ri­tory,” he thun­dered. He later jet­ted to Bei­jing to meet se­nior Chi­nese lead­ers.

The youth-dom­i­nated crowd at the rally, in­clud­ing pop stars She­hzad Roy, has been de­scribed as a tip­ping point for Khan and his strug­gling Pak­istan Tehreik-i-in­saf ( PTI) or Move­ment for Jus­tice. It is the first of the PTI’S ral­lies planned in Mul­tan, Pe­shawar, Mian­wali and the launch of the PTI’S 2013 elec­tion cam­paign.

Khan, a Pash­tun from Mian­wali in cen­tral Pun­jab, said tribal el­ders have as­sured him of rein­ing in mil­i­tants if US drone at­tacks stopped and the army halts op­er­a­tions in tribal ar­eas. He as­sured the crowd he would tackle cor­rup­tion, im­prove elec­tric­ity sup­ply and over­haul tax col­lec­tion to wean the coun­try from de­pen­dence on aid.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Aye­sha Sid­diqa says the numbers are im­pres­sive but it is still too early to pre­dict whether he will get seats in the 2013 elec­tions. “But the other po­lit­i­cal par­ties should defi-

“MY PARTY WILL NEVER ABAN­DON ITS SUP­PORT TO OUR KASH­MIRI BROTH­ERS AND SIS­TERS. WE WILL FORCE IN­DI­ATO QUIT THIS TER­RI­TORY.”

nitely sit up and take no­tice of these

numbers,” she says. A se­nior PTI leader claimed “dozens of sit­ting par­lia­men­tar­i­ans”, in­clud­ing former for­eign min­is­ter Shah Mah­mood Qureshi, want to join the party. “He is task ori­ented, has a vi­sion and is the need of the coun­try,” gushes pop star Roy who pro­vided the open­ing act for Khan’s speech with

his new song Uth bandh ka­mar kya darta hain, phir dekh khuda kya karta

hain (Get up, gird your loins, you will have God’s sup­port).

An­a­lysts say Khan’s anti-us stand may make it dif­fi­cult for Pak­istan to im­ple­ment US de­mands to move its army to at­tack mil­i­tant sanc­tu­ar­ies in North Waziris­tan, the lair of the Haqqani net­work. The move was the main item on the agenda of US Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton’s visit to Is­lam­abad in Oc­to­ber. “Af­ter this rally, it be­comes dif­fi­cult for the Govern­ment to do the US bid­ding in the war on ter­ror,” pre­dicts Hamid Mir, jour­nal­ist and po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst. Khan’s sim­ple for­mula to ex­tract Pak­istan out of its counter-in­sur­gency morass: quit the Us-spon­sored war on ter­ror and leave tribes­men to han­dle mil­i­tancy and ter­ror­ism in these ar­eas.

AFP PHOTO

IM­RAN AD­DRESSES ARALLY

AT LA­HORE’S IQBAL PARK

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