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
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.
IMRAN ADDRESSES ARALLY
AT LAHORE’S IQBAL PARK