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Pakistan: The ‘Captain’ Makes His Presence Known

Imran Khan, the former-cricket-star-turned-politician has sent ripples through Pakistan’s political arena with his mega-rally at Lahore, a city considered very significant to Pakistani politics. Sporting well over a crowd of 100,000 people, Khan has swept away all prior analysis of political pundits who are now forced to consider him a serious political contender.

What is most extra-ordinary about this show of power by Kaptaan (‘Captain’, Imran Khan being former captain of the cricket team) is that his rally was an event that brought the urban youth out on the streets, perhaps for the first time in well over two decades and for a political cause. No matter how one views his opinions, nearly all analysts and bloggers were unanimous in their appreciation for the fact that at least someone has finally stirred a sense of political activism among the youth.

Raza Habib Raja, wrote in Pak Tea House:

Imran Khan has been able to galvanize the students and the youth, including those who are often categorized as “Generation X”. Despite having severe disagreement with Imran’s conservative outlook, I could not resist myself from being appreciative of the sight.

And what a sight it was! I will be dishonest if I say that it was not an impressive show. Youngsters, women, children and those who had long become “cynical” were all there. Whether they are backing the right horse is a separate question but the fact is that they were participating. And yes even from the blurry video of YouTube, I could feel what the crowd was feeling in those moments: Hope.

Imran Khan addresses public gathering

Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman, Imran Khan addresses public gathering. By PPI Images. Copyright Demotix (21/10/11).

Whereas the rightists parties like Jamat-e-Islami seems to be fond of Imran Khan, primarily because of his anti-US rhetoric and his aim of ending the menace of terrorism by having peace talks with Taliban, the liberals have repeatedly and ardently criticized him.

What’s more interesting is that even the liberal coterie in Pakistan seems divided over Imran Khan – some, who have been against Khan so late as a few weeks ago, have shifted sides, taken in by the muscle shown by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in Lahore and pinning their hopes on him for a better, more peaceful future.

Yasser Latif Hamdani, a socio-political analyst and a popular name among Pakistan’s netizens, wrote on Twitter:

@theRealYLH: “Pakistan seems like a different country today. In @ImranKhanPTIwe have a leader and an aim. #Jinnah reborn”

Sabahat Zakriya, giving a detailed narrative of the rally, shows how the very environment of the event was enough for her to ‘convert’:

Strings came on for one song to boost sagging morales. Half-way through ‘Mayn tau dekhooN ga’ (‘We shall see’) I fished for the PTI flag someone had thrust in my hand earlier and I had promptly discarded under my chair, and waved it in thumping rhythm to Strings’ lyrics; for that moment one with the crowd and just as starry-eyed and hopeful as them. For who so hard-hearted that can resist the adrenaline-pumped optimism of thousands of people singing along to ‘Woh din phir aae ga jab aisa ho ga Pakistan', ‘jab roti sasti ho gi aur mehngi ho gi jaan', ‘jo duur gae thay bhoolay se, lotayN ge phir watan ko aek sham (The day shall come again when thus shall be Pakistan, food will be cheaper and human lives precious, the ones who wandered away, shall return home once again)’ (this last one particularly makes me misty-eyed).

She concludes her note with the following lines:

I came away feeling that Imran's never-say-die philosophy seems to be paying off once again. I made yet another mental note to get my vote registered the next day. If I manage that, I will be voting in the next elections for the first time in my 33 years. And that right there is a victory for Imran Khan.

However, those who still consider Imran Khan as a significant yet ideologically confused candidate have incessantly voiced their opinions too. And the blogosphere seems more fraught with such views given the fact that most netizens leading the digital scene have retained their anti-Imran stance. The major contention is that Imran Khan has openly declared his fondness towards Jamat-e-Islami, a right-wing political party. This, the liberals argue, shows what future policies can be expected of PTI.

Kala Kawa does an excellent post detailing some things which are wrong with PTI and Imran Khan:

Let’s start with Imran Khan’s associates over his political career. General Hamid Gul was an early adopter of Imran Khan. The man incidentally still quite proudly speaks of cobbling together the IJI; so that’s great company for a politician to be in. ….While speaking of Imran Khan’s associates one must never forget the Jamaat-e-Islami. The Jamaat has stood by Imran through thick and thin.

Khan has also been criticized by media personnel and bloggers for his tacit approval of all things military. This, some say, is a glaring proof that he is simply yet another person favored and perpetuated by the military establishment/deep state. In an attempt to balance all things for and against Imran Khan in my blogpost titled “Imran Khan – to vote for or not”, I wrote while highlighting what persuades one to vote for Imran Khan:

On a neutral stand-point, Imran Khan is someone who hasn’t been tested yet. Despite all the talk about Imran Khan being the ‘suicide’ option, even worse than status quo, the fact remains that so far, Imran Khan has never been found involved in any corruption charges. And the feats he has achieved in the past, from leading Pakistan to a run for World Cup to establishing the hospital and a university, all these clearly tell that here is a man who wants a social change and who has tried to bring it as far as he could. So, after all give and take, Imran is still someone who one seeks out as a possibly better option. In short, his past record shows him a man who is honest and incorruptible.

And while presenting the counter-argument:

The worst, of all things leveled against Imran Khan, is his alleged involvement with the deep state or what we know as military establishment. There has been talk of agencies supporting his cause and Imran’s tacit approval of army’s actions since he never talked against the army or it’s exploitations in Pakistan. And this allegation gains much currency when one sees that right now, PTI is only hurting PML-N’s vote-bank, the only party in the political arena who aims to bring army to accountability. Naturally, the logical path for army is to support Kaptaan and that is understandable – but Kaptaan’s support for army is what perplexes many since corruption simply can never be eliminated from Pakistan until army, too, is brought under accountability.

Whereas there certainly are a lot of points of contention when it comes to the Captain and even the moderates may feel uncomfortable at PTI’s expected alliance with JI, the fact remains that Imran Khan has infused a new spirit into Pakistan’s politics – not only has he stirred the youth and won many big scoops in a single shot, his act at Lahore is being deemed as a re-birth of youth-led political activism in Pakistan. And that, everyone agrees, is a very welcome sign.

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