The Choice of a New Generation
Pakistan cannot afford another political experiment. Or Khan it?
When in 1987, Pepsi decided to launch this slogan in Pakistan and use cricket superstar Imran Khan as its brand ambassador, little did it know that some 24 odd years later, it would ring more true than ever.
At a time when an estimated 63% of Pakistan falls under the age of 25, the new generation, disillusioned with democracy and failed governance, is swiftly drifting to the man who promises change. Despair has gripped a country run by inept leaders and marked by rising inflation, permeating corruption, dismal educational standards and a serious threat of terrorism. Not to mention, Pakistan has been embroiled in a war for the past decade: a war that has cost us dearly in terms of lives (a conservative estimate places it at 35,000) and finances.
Many in Pakistan often question the indifference of the government yet few realize that perhaps we, the average people, are meant to be the harbingers of change. That Imran Khan was able to gather an impressive crowd of close to 100,000 people in Lahore – the main city in Pakistan’s politically important province - is no small feat. As people grow disenchanted with the PPP and distance themselves from PML-N, PTI emerges as a possible third option.
But is Imran a man with a plan? Pakistan today, more than ever, needs a leader who understands politics and diplomacy and is also well-versed in military strategy. Proposing a dia- logue with the Pakistani Taliban and demanding a stop to drone attacks is much easier said than done, especially in a country where corrupt bureaucratic practices are the norm. In many ways, Khan symbolizes a leader sincere about solving daily grievances such as load-shedding, lack of access to health and education, rights of minorities and women; agendas that
should ideally be undertaken by all political parties. Weeding out corruption and enforcing transparency have always been at the heart of PTI’S agenda and it is befitting that Imran Khan, a politician with a clean slate, rallies for the cause.
However, critical issues such as ending target killings, bringing Balochistan into mainstream politics, convincing India to withdraw troops from Kashmir or ending drone attacks requires flexing some serious diplomatic muscle. Refusing to “accept slavery of America” and promising to restore the dignity of the people of Pakistan makes for great rhetoric but arduous implementation. Pakistan’s next generation needs an emboldened and confident leader who will staunchly defend his country no matter which superpower tries to dominate it. If he doesn’t have it now, like many before him, he will learn. Adopting a hard-line approach, Khan has certainly jolted some U.S policymakers, including “Chaachi Clinton,” who now have a new force to reckon with.
It is true that PTI competes against old parties that have been tried and tested and have failed at the expense of the Pakistani state. However, one rally doesn’t guarantee success and much remains to be achieved before PTI can start denting the loyal votebank of PPP and PML-N. However, given the national response and the international attention that his movement has received, there is little doubt that PTI will develop a stronger direction, serious policy proposals and perhaps work extensively on its second tier representation.
Idealism in the form of an ambitious leader certainly galvanizes a crowd. However, much like relationships based on fiery passion find their end too quickly, the same can be said for idealism that finds itself washed away when reality hits too hard. Imran Khan like Barack Obama, depicts an uncorrupt, young, idealistic and ambitious politician. Obama who also campaigned on the romantic slogans of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ saw the same rhetoric take a strong blow once he entered office. Many also agree that struggles in America pale in comparison to the hardships and cacophony of grievances consuming Pakistan. Reviving a dwindling economy, stamping out anti-state actors, addressing daily grievances and restoring the people’s confidence is not an easy task. One wonders if behind Khan’s idealistic rhetoric lies a strong, optimistic leader with a serious vision or a young and naive philanthropist, still searching for direction.
Whatever the case, Pakistan Tehrik-e-insaaf has jolted the people. The youth will be Imran Khan’s lifeline and many feel, will be the deciding factor in the 2013 elections. The real test will, however, happen in the months to come. PTI will undoubtedly see numerous elite and politicians joining its ranks. Whether Khan will fly solo or form a strong alliance that won’t threaten the crux of his political arguments, remains to be seen. In any event, what he has achieved by rallying an apolitical society and convincing people of hope is unprecedented. “Those in Raiwind and Islamabad should know that it is not a flood that is coming, but a tsunami.” Iqbal Park has not seen this kind of reception in the past 25 years and in the eyes of some, Imran Khan has already won. The writer is Assistant Editor at Southasia Magazine. She holds a Bachelors degree in International Relations, with a focus on foreign policy and security studies, from Boston University.