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Political test for Imran

Print edition : Dec 02, 2011

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Imran Khan gestures on arrival at a rally in Lahore on October 30 organised by his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf demanding that President Asif Ali Zardari step down.-ARIF ALI/AFP

Imran Khan gestures on arrival at a rally in Lahore on October 30 organised by his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf demanding that President Asif Ali Zardari step down.-ARIF ALI/AFP

GIVEN his cricketing background in a cricket-crazy nation, Imran Khan has always got media attention. But, there has been a qualitative shift in the coverage since October 30 when his jalsa' (rally) at Minar-e-Pakistan in the Sharifs' stronghold, Lahore, catapulted him to the centre stage of Pakistani politics 15 years after he ventured on this path. Now even his bitterest critics accept reluctantly that the cricketer-turned-politician and his politics, however limited it may be, will have to be taken into account while strategising for the next elections that are technically over a year away.

While analysts preoccupy themselves with his brand of politics to figure out whether he will be a game-changer or a spoiler, his support base essentially the urban apolitical youth and the equally apolitical middle class are not bogged down by such issues. To them, he represents a change from the present crop of politicians, all of whom are deemed to be corrupt and ineffective.

That is Imran Khan's biggest selling point. Though he has been in politics for a decade and a half, he is still untested in governance. His rivals are all in governance either at the federal level or in the various provinces. Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have no such baggage and the man himself has the advantage of his reputation of captaining his team to World Cup victory and setting up a cancer hospital against all odds.

Such is the general disenchantment with Pakistani politics and its failure to deliver that his supporters are not concerned with whether he has a solid policy plank. Neither does it bother them much that he is believed to be the latest in a series of politicians unleashed on the Pakistani polity by the establishment', the chief arbiters of Pakistan's destiny.

His anti-Americanism feeds into the street narrative as does his diatribe against politicians. That has been his bugbear from his maiden days in politics. He entered politics saying all politics and politicians were bad, and that remains his refrain. While it has gained currency now that democracy has returned to Pakistan, this rant against politics may also rain on his parade. In the prevailing circumstances, Imran Khan cannot hope to win seats in the next elections without poaching on other parties and opening his stables to disgruntled politicians seeking an assured ticket. This contradiction is lost on his supporters.

That the PTI has remained a one-man show until now is in itself a reflection of the limited nature of Imran Khan's politics. Herald's editor Badar Alam said in Dawn about Imran Khan's politics: His is, in fact, anti-politics an ideology that discredits what he calls professional politics' in order to replace it with, you guessed it, politics. His party is a cross between a social movement, a think tank and a loosely organised collection of highly educated technocrats and avowed Islamists.

While the middle class is pinning its hopes on Imran Khan and the PTI is reportedly rolling up its sleeves to reap the dividends of the Lahore rally with a similar one planned in Sindh, the Pakistan People's Party stronghold, his detractors worry what he signals for Pakistan's fragile democracy.

Anita Joshua

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