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November 8, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 4262

Concerns in Pakistani Press Over Successful Political Rally Of Rising Politician Imran Khan

November 8, 2011
Pakistan | Special Dispatch No. 4262


Imran Khan (in black jacket) at the October 30 rally in Lahore (image courtesy: Roznama Express)

On October 30, 2011, cricketer-turned-rising Pakistani-politician Imran Khan held a massive political rally, called "Pakistan Bachao" ("Save Pakistan"), in Lahore, the political capital of Pakistan and a stronghold of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party which is led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif. The rally attracted huge crowds, thereby threatening the established political parties like PML-N and Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of President Asif Zardari.

Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is a small party with no countrywide mass base of support. However, due to his anti-U.S. campaigns this year, especially against the U.S. drone attacks, Khan has attracted a new generation of Pakistan youth, who are disillusioned by corruption, deteriorating economic situation and lack of prospects for Pakistan's future.

Following the success of the Lahore rally, the PTI leader is being seen as a major contender for the country's political leadership, and some established political leaders are accusing the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of propping him up. Commentators in Pakistan have said that in the wake of the October 30 rally, Khan cannot be ignored in Pakistani politics.

At the rally, the PTI leader threatened civil disobedience against the federal and provincial governments in Pakistan if the government leaders do not disclose their personal assets. It should be noted that almost all political parties – barring the religious-political parties – are in power in Pakistan either in the provinces or at the federal level. There has been speculation over the past year that the ISI wants to engineer a political future for Khan when the country goes to polls in February 2013.

Also at the rally, Khan sounded a clarion call for ending corruption and feudalism in Pakistan, slammed the U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, argued that military operations against the Taliban would not end terrorism, called for peace negotiations with the Taliban, and, while raising many other issues, did not criticize the military's excessive role in Pakistani politics.[1]

Immediately after the rally, several Pakistani newspapers published editorials assessing its impact, with some opposing his pro-Taliban standpoint and others criticizing him for his silence on the military's role in politics. Some Pakistani newspapers expressed concern that the success of his rally could be the result of support from the Pakistani intelligence agencies, while almost all newspapers in Pakistan noted that Imran Khan is a serious political leader to watch during the run-up to the February 2013 general elections.

From the MEMRI Archives: Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Accused of Supporting 'Test-Tube Politician' Imran Khan, Engaging Him in ISI-Taliban Peace Talks

Earlier this year, Imran Khan began holding a series of anti-U.S. protests in Pakistani cities, especially against the drone attacks. The Pakistani political parties were surprised by the presence of huge crowds at these meetings. On April 25, 2011, in unusually sharp criticism of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, opposition leader in the National Assembly, accused the Pakistan intelligence agencies of propping up politicians who could not even win a mayoral election.

The following are excerpts from editorials in the Pakistani media following Khan's successful rally, followed by MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 3792, "Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Accused of Supporting 'Test-Tube Politician' Imran Khan, Engaging Him in ISI's Peace Talks With Taliban," dated April 28, 201. [2]

Editorial in The Frontier Post, November 1, 2011

"Khan's Massive Public Meeting... Has Stunned His Friends and Foes Alike, As They Did Not Expect a Person Always Split Into Two Minds to Hold One of the Biggest Political Shows in the Political Capital of the Country"

"Khan's massive public meeting... has stunned his friends and foes alike, as they did not expect a person always split into two minds to hold one of the biggest political shows in the political capital of the country. And the slogan he raised in his hard-hitting rhetoric-ridden 'save Pakistan' speech demanding that the ruling classes declare their assets and threatened to launch a civil disobedience movement and a countrywide blockade if they did not do so. If politicians did not declare assets, the PTI will set up a commission to prepare a list of politicians and their assets into foreign banks that he put at $100 billion. Imran Khan laid out his future plan spelling out almost the entire of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's manifesto.

"Although the PTI chief said nothing new in his lengthy dialogue with the people, the huge rally will certainly help his party to maintain the momentum it has built with a series of rallies in Punjab and other parts of the country.

"The rally also revived the memories of the late 1960s, when the Pakistan People's Party [led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto] had just begun its political journey. It saw enthusiastic supporters, particularly youths and women, raising spirited slogans.... Caravans of youths from [the provinces of] Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were conspicuous by their attendance....

"As he has said many times before, the PTI chairperson declared [his goals:] an end to corruption, education emergency, improving tax collection, pursuing an independent foreign policy, bringing Baluchistan into the mainstream national politics, end the war on terror and protecting the rights of minorities and women. He said that most of the crises in the country were a result of the corruption of the ruling elite."

"As for Foreign Policy, He Said That Friendlier Ties With China Will Form Its Cornerstone – And This Seems a Popular Manifestation of the PTI's Engagement at Global Level"

"As for foreign policy, he said that friendlier ties with China will form its cornerstone, and this seems a popular manifestation of the PTI's engagement at global level.

"Imran Khan founded the PTI in April 1996 but was a nervous starter in politics. This was because of his personal right-wing mindset that always led him close to PML-N and Jamaat-e-Islami that made him redundant in politics. Now that he has praised the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as a nationalist and anti-imperialist leader, he seems on a right track of winning popularity, even making an appeal to the 'ideological' PPP workers who now feel betrayed.

"His manifesto that speaks of the rights of women and minorities can also fill the vacuum left by the PPP in its recent political discourse. What, however, appears an immediate gain is that Imran Khan has dented the popularity of the PML-N than the PPP. Khan has little success as a politician. The only gain so far is that he was once elected an MNA [member of the National Assembly] in 2002 and when swayed into the All Parties Democratic Movement to oppose Gen. Pervez Musharraf's bid to become the president, he was among 86 lawmakers who resigned in protest.

"Later, he again passed into political oblivion until he managed to stage one of the largest political shows in the country's recent history. If Sunday's rally will prove a harbinger of change, is still premature given the 'partnership' of PPP and PML-N in the race for power."

Editorial in The Daily Times, November 1, 2011

"Khan Talked about Reconciliation with the Taliban; He Needs to Be Reminded That More Powerful People and Forces Have Tried This Policy and Failed"

"The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) rally was held at Minar-e-Pakistan; the symbolism of the location not being lost on anyone. It was a massive rally with over 100,000 people who came to show their support for PTI chief Imran Khan. That the PTI managed to attract one of the biggest crowds in Lahore in over two decades – over a million people came to Benazir Bhutto's rally in Lahore back in 1986 – without the help of any government machinery must be recognized.

"It goes to prove that the people of Pakistan are disillusioned and fed up with the political class across the board. In reaction to the void created by the ruling incumbents, the people are looking for change. Anybody who comes along and seems to give a different message is bound to gain some traction.

"It is not so much that the things Imran Khan is saying are resonating with the people, but the fact that he presents a possible alternative to the dreary spectrum in the next elections. Add personal charisma and hero worship and Imran Khan comes out as a seemingly ideal candidate for 'change.'

"Mr. Khan's speech started with attacks against President Zardari and the Sharif brothers [who govern the influential Punjab province].... Mr. Khan's politics revolves around mainly two issues: elimination of corruption and systemic administrative structural change. Even if Mr. Khan somehow manages to end corruption, is there any guarantee that the existing system will not regenerate it? How the PTI intends to save our economy is something that is virtually conspicuous by its absence in its program.

"Mr. Khan talked about the patwari (land record officer) system and the thana (police station) culture, but provided only half-baked solutions. Giving superficial solutions is a sign that Mr. Khan has failed to recognize the actual depth of the problem. He needs to come up with better plans.

"Once again Mr. Khan talked about reconciliation with the Taliban. He needs to be reminded that more powerful people and forces have tried this policy and failed. How can we expect those who kill and maim innocents for their fanatical objectives to think rationally?"

"By Keeping Quiet About the Military's Role in Pakistani Politics and the Consequent Mess We Are In Today, Mr. Khan has Certainly Aroused Suspicion; Many Believe He has the Blessings of the [Military] Establishment"

"Imran Khan talked about the rights of the Baloch [i.e. the people of Baluchistan] and ending the ongoing military operation in Baluchistan. How he plans to persuade the army and the FC [Frontier Corps] to end their 'kill and dump' policy is anyone's guess. While he talked of educating women and the rights of minorities, he did not talk about the discriminatory laws that are loaded against women and religious minorities.

"He also failed to talk about the persecution of the Ahmadis and sectarian conflict. Mr. Khan's main targets were the politicians. By keeping quiet about the military's role in Pakistani politics and the consequent mess we are in today, Mr. Khan has certainly aroused suspicion. Many believe he has the blessings of the [military] establishment.

"The jury is still out on whether to call the success of PTI's rally a game changer or not. PTI lacks the required party machinery and electable candidates. Mr. Khan also made some tall claims, such as calling for civil disobedience and shutting down the cities if the politicians in power do not reveal the full extent of their wealth, but on this he may well be tested in the coming months.

"While the successful rally has added weight to Imran Khan's political standing, the next general elections will show whether the PTI is able to translate a successful rally into parliamentary strength."

Editorial in The News, November 1, 2011

"As the Crowds Poured into the Minar-e-Pakistan Grounds [in Lahore] to Welcome Imran Khan, It Could Be Reasonably Said that Imran Had Arrived on the National Political Scene"

"As the bulk of the political firmament begins to lay down the planks of their electoral campaigns, one man and his party already seem to be miles ahead of the game. But the question: is Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf a jalopy or a juggernaut? It is too early to claim that the PTI is a success in the full meaning of the word.

"It will be weeks before we can properly assess the impact of Sunday's 'Pakistan Bachao' [Save Pakistan] rally and months before the party's real prospects at the upcoming general elections become clear. But as the crowds poured into the Minar-e-Pakistan grounds [in Lahore] to welcome Imran Khan, it could be reasonably said that Imran had arrived on the national political scene.

"The Sunday rally was important for many reasons, not least because Imran has spent years in the political wilderness and his message has failed to secure votes. His first campaign ended in universal defeat in the 1997 polls while in 2002 he won his party's only seat. In the 2008 general election, Imran never even left the pavilion. But true disputants, as they say, are like true sportsmen; their whole delight is in the pursuit. Thus, 15 years of tiresome wanderings in the political boondocks seem to have paid off and Imran has managed to decisively challenge the PML-N in its very heartland."

"One Also Hopes that Imran Will Be Able to Demonstrate That His Success Is Not the Result of... [Support From the Military] Establishment, Which Many Claim is Cautiously Working Events To the Cricketer's Favor"

"But the massive turnout at the rally has made it ever more important for Imran to rise above mere rhetoric. In the months ahead, he will have to work very hard to prove that he can turn the PTI's popularity with certain segments of the electorate into votes, and seats, at the next election. For starters, Sunday's rally has convinced even the biggest cynics of the PTI's worth as an electoral ticket and may thus push a large number of undecided political heavyweights in Imran's direction, giving his party the winnable local candidates it has so far been missing.

"One hopes Imran will be able to make the important judgment calls as he talks to politicians across the spectrum. One also hopes that Imran will be able to demonstrate that his success is not the result of an impartial umpire, that is, the [military-intelligence] establishment, which many claim is cautiously working events to the cricketer's favor.

"Finally, since the lowering of the voting age to 18, a new constituency has emerged and it is increasingly clear that Imran is the biggest contender for its vote. He must play his cards well. The change he offers to the graft-ridden political culture of the country is both real and needed. If enacted, it will roll back the political decay that has plagued the country since independence. And this, for Pakistan, is no small deal..."

Editorial In Dawn, November 1, 2011

"The Gathering at the Rally was Varied As It Was Big; Young and Old, Men and Women, Children, Professionals, Political Activists..."

"Lahore has broken the monotone and created space for Imran Khan to send his message across.... Mr. Khan highlighted some salient features of his 'Save Pakistan' campaign. He threatened a countrywide blockade if those in government did not declare their assets; he vowed he would rather die than beg for money [such as U.S. aid]; he said that he would never use the army against its own people. This was more or less a repeat of his recent speeches.

"It was the size of the rally and its venue which lent greater significance to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf challenge. The rally was easily one of the biggest in Lahore in recent times – a surprise to both detractors and old fans frustrated by Mr. Khan's inability to live up to the promise he made when his party was set up a decade and a half ago.

"Imran Khan the politician has taken a long time to arrive in his hometown. His arrival now has been facilitated in large measure by the popular disillusionment with the old power politicians. These old players are viewed by people as being too involved in their own persistent duels to allow a surge for real change in Pakistan. In a way, Mr. Khan today stands at a distance from the deeply polarized Pakistani politics where a debunking of President Zardari is often equal to support for the Sharif camp, and vice versa. His recent rise as a popular leader has coincided with his attacks on the PML-N.

"His stance on the judiciary [in favor of judicial independence] has helped as have his relatively bolder positions on serious Pakistani problems such as the war on terror and the drone attacks.

"The gathering at the rally was varied as it was big; young and old, men and women, children, professionals, political activists – many drawn from the PML-N and the PPP [Pakistan People's Party of President Zardari]. Some among them may have an issue with certain parts of Mr. Khan's emerging ideology, but it appears as if they are prepared to, for now, ignore these details and commit themselves to a drive for dismantling the old and for creating a third option in Pakistan. They have made a start but the task will take some doing, still. The successful PTI show on Sunday has led to comparisons with Benazir Bhutto's rally held at the same venue in 1986...."

From the MEMRI Archives: "Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Accused of Supporting 'Test-Tube Politician' Imran Khan, Engaging Him in ISI's Peace Talks With Taliban"

"[Imran Khan] Can be Trusted in All Quarters – by the Taliban, Political Islamists, Liberal Secularists, Western Capitals, India, and Other Regional Players"

"Imran Khan, the former Pakistan cricket captain-turned-politician, is in the spotlight as Pakistan develops a roadmap for reconciliation with the Taliban that aims to close down the war theater inside its borders.

"Khan, who leads the opposition Tehreek-e-Insaf party, has emerged as a potential prime minister after the country's military oligarchs built a consensus that peace is unlikely in the absence of outside- the-box thinking and that an internationally credible person is needed to lead the process.

"Serving and retired military officers and academics, businessmen, and politicians sense that neither the current Pakistan military and political leadership, nor Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has the ability to deliver results. They believe the best hope lies in a person who can be trusted in all quarters – by the Taliban, political Islamists, liberal secularists, Western capitals, India and other regional players.

"Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani led an unprecedented entourage, including Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the director general of the Inter-Service Intelligence [ISI], to Kabul last week [April 16] to officially inaugurate the peace reconciliation process with the Taliban under the auspices of Washington and London. The decision had already been made that the Afghanistan and Pakistan governments will occupy a central role in a reconciliation process that could bring the Taliban into the mainstream Afghan political process.

"Khan, 58, is leading a two-day sit-in outside Peshawar, capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, planned for Saturday and Sunday [April 23-24] to block supply convoys ferrying goods to North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in Afghanistan. People displaced by the war have vowed to join the protest, which is against United States drone attacks. Khan has been a fervent critic of the Pakistan government, claiming it is subservient to the United States in the region."

"[Several Months Ago] the Pakistan Military Establishment Began Preparations for Reconciliation [with the Taliban] and It was Agreed that Khan would Be Suitable for Leading the Peace Process"

"Several months before the leaders of the two countries met in Kabul [on April 16], the Pakistan military establishment began preparations for reconciliation [with the Taliban] and it was agreed that Khan would be suitable for leading the peace process.

"A prominent Urdu media commentator of right-wing leanings, who is close to both Khan and army chief Kayani, arranged a series of meetings between the two which eventually led to a consensus around Khan becoming the next leader of the country.

"While no formula was finalized, according to sources, general elections scheduled for February 2013 could be brought forward and a political alliance engineered that would result in a simple majority under which Khan would be installed as prime minister. Another scenario would be for Khan to take the lead in an interim government.

"Khan's leadership role has found favor across Pakistan's political spectrum, including the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the second-largest party in the ruling coalition and largest urban party in Sindh province. The Awami National Party (ANP), the largest Pashtun nationalist party, which governs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, the two main Islamic parties, also back the role.

"ANP president Asfandyar Wali Khan, a strong critic of the U.S. drone attacks, has backed the process started in Kabul and said his party had always supported dialogue with 'saner elements' among the Taliban.

"Imran Khan's position has been lauded by the militants, and his popularity in Pakistani tribal areas is unparalleled. In 2007 in Afghanistan, Naseeruddin Haqqani, the son of legendary Afghan commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose Haqqani Network is regarded the most lethal network against the Western coalition in Afghanistan, met with Imran Khan and in that way Khan indirectly entered into a dialogue process with the Taliban..."

"[Former ISI Chief] Hamid Gul... Began Working on a New Plan for the Future Leadership of the Country; He Chose Three Prominent Pakistanis... Imran Khan Agreed to Take a Political Role"

"Imran Khan captained the winning Pakistani cricket team in the 1992 World Cup in Australia and returned to Pakistan a national hero. He then pursued the cause of establishing a free cancer hospital in memory of his deceased mother Shaukat Khanum, who died of cancer.

"At the same time, Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul retired from the Pakistan Army and began working on a new plan for the future leadership of the country. He chose three prominent Pakistanis; namely, former governor, renowned social worker and reformer Hakim Mohammad Saeed, the social worker and philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi, and Imran Khan. Saeed refused to take part in politics, and was gunned down in front of his clinic in 1998. Edhi left Pakistan in the mid 1990s, alleging that Pakistani intelligence was trying to force him into politics. Imran Khan agreed to take a political role.

"The transformation of an Oxford University political sciences graduate seen as a sex symbol in the West into a politician who penned articles in leading Urdu newspapers against the Western lifestyle and Westernized thinking in Pakistan stunned many.

"After the October 12, 1999 military coup [by General Musharraf], Khan jumped on Musharraf's bandwagon but by 2003 he had distanced himself from the president. The military establishment continued to engage him. However, Khan has remained a major campaigner against the Pakistan military's oppression of Islamic forces. Even in 2009, as all Pakistani politicians including Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Group [of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif] supported military operations in Swat, he insisted that they could only breed militancy..."

Endnotes:

[1] Roznama Express (Pakistan), October 31, 2011.

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 3792, April 28, 2011, http://www.memri.org/report/en/print5234.htm

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