Pakistan: Could Imran Khan clean up politics?

Khan's party, the PTI, gains momentum. The ex-cricket ace turned politician has spent 15 years on the campaign trail. Is this his time?

Online polls indicate popular support regularly exceeding 50%, as huge crowds gather to hear Khan deliver anti-corruption speeches. A new politics in Pakistan is in the offing. And former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has indicated he might opt for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) which translated from Urdu means the Pakistan Movement for Justice.

Elections are due next year, in all probability. Could 59-year old Imran Khan, who until now has failed to make a real impact on the parliamentary scene, be about to win outright? He'd be propelled into office with an enormous mandate from people tired of dynastic politics and endemic corruption. It's taken an age for Khan to reach this point. After leading Pakistan to glory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup, he married socialite Jemima Goldsmith in 1995. His extraordinary cricketing record was followed by work as a philathropist, and he founded the fledgling PTI in Lahore in 1996. Jemima and Imran divorced in 2004, after when he devoted his energies to promoting his policies and expanding the party membership. Rallies regularly attract vast numbers. In Lahore this month, around 150,000 people jostled together in a crushing crowd to hear Khan speak.

Pakistan sure needs help. Issues include:
  • Unprecedented floods displacing millions
  • Tortuous foreign relations with the Americans over drone attacks and the killing of Bin Laden
  • Rampant poverty
  • A discredited military
  • A resurgent home-grown Taliban
  • Reputed tacit support from Pakistani elements for the Afghan Taliban
  • Lawlessness in Pukhtunkhwa, the former North-West Frontier Province
  • Baluch separatist aspirations
  • Ongoing rifts with India over Kashmir
  • Alleged ISI involvement in Lashkar-e-Taiba's attack on the Taj Mahal Palace hotel and other sites in Mumbai in 2008.
Baluchistan is Pakistan's largest province and borders Afghanistan and Iran
ISI is Pakistan's intelligence service
Lashkar-e-Taiba is an Islamic terrorist organisation.

There's a lot to put right. And Pakistan needs vigorous anti-graft government to ensure effective foreign aid distribution and more rapid economic growth. Above all, the country deserves political stability and an environment which entices foreign inward investment and reduces emigration.

Khan's relationship with the army and security services is critical. However this man, whose reputation for integrity is probably well-deserved, has walked a fine line in his analysis of the military. Sporadic coups have regularly interrupted the development of democracy in Pakistan since independence after WWII, and Khan maintained in a recent book that "Only a credible government can save and strengthen the Pakistan army by making sure it stays within its constitutional role. We have no other choice: in order to survive, we have to make Pakistan a genuine democracy" reported Islam Times on 23 November.

To borrow and alter a phrase from Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, it appears right now that if anyone is able to clean up Pakistani politics, "Imran Khan". 

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