14 November 2011

Imran Khan rising in Pakistani politics

Imran Khan, best known outside Pakistan for his accomplishments on the cricket field, gained worldwide attention last year when he and Jemima Khan led efforts to set up relief efforts for victims of the flooding in Pakistan.  An article in the Guardian suggests that he has become a force to be reckoned with in national and world geopolitics:
Khan is visibly buoyant. For years he has campaigned on a platform of what some call "anti-politics" – virulent criticism of the graft and patronage that infect Pakistani politics. Now, he says, he has been proved right.

Sitting on the veranda of his hilltop farmhouse outside Islamabad, he pointed across the city at the presidential palace. "[President Asif Ali] Zardari is a crook, nothing more," he said. "We've broken all records in corruption."

His plan for the economy is to "inspire" Pakistanis to pay tax – currently only 2% do so. "We just need to have some austerity and collect taxes. If we do that, we can balance our budgets," he said.

In power, Khan said, he would cut off American aid. "I want to be a friend of the Americans, not their lackey. Aid is a curse for a poor country; it stops you making the required reforms and props up crooks."

But perhaps most alarmingly for Pakistan's western allies – and some Pakistanis – Khan says he would negotiate with instead of fighting the Taliban militants who have been bombing Pakistani cities.
"Anyone who thinks this country will be taken over by Taliban are fools. There's no concept of a theocracy anywhere in the Muslim world for the past 1,400 years. If I came to power, I could end this conflict in 90 days – guaranteed."...

Khan enjoys a reputation for probity, having set up a cancer hospital in honour of his mother, who died of the disease. He also has a flash of glamour. A famous Pakistani pop band, Strings, opened last week's rally; supporters include his former wife, Jemima Khan, who attended a recent press conference in Islamabad to protest at CIA-led drone strikes in the tribal belt.

For some Pakistanis, Khan simply represents a protest against a moribund political system. "He's a bit of an idiot," said an architect from Lahore. "But he's better than the rest. I would vote for him."...

Pakistan's next election is set for February 2013 at the latest, although a snap election is a possibility... Although a self-styled "revolutionary", Imran Khan's politics are far from the fevered streets of the Arab Spring. The difference is democracy: whereas across the Muslim world, dissidents are fighting for the right to vote, Pakistanis already have it. But many dislike the leaders those elections have thrown up, hence the current upheaval.
More at the link.

Addendum Dec 25, 2011:  An article at Dawn.com reports that over 100K people showed up for a rally in support of Imran Kahn.

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