Imran Khan Sees ‘Revolution’ as Pakistan Middle Class Seek New Leadership
By Haris Anwar and Ritu Upadhyay - Bloomberg
Imran Khan, the former Pakistani
cricket captain and now the country’s rising political star,
said anger over corruption and the sluggish economy is fueling a
“revolution” that will oust the ruling coalition in elections
he predicts will be held this year.
Buoyed after drawing more than 100,000 people to rallies in
two of Pakistan’s biggest cities last year, Khan forecast in an
interview that his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or the Movement for
Justice party, will be able to feed off the sense of public
grievance to end 15 years on the political margins.
“If the two big parties get together against us, they will
still lose because Pakistan has changed,” Khan, 59, said Jan.
21 at his 38-acre estate outside the nation’s capital,
Islamabad. “There is a revolution that has taken place.”
Khan’s challenge comes as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani
is engaged in confrontations with the Supreme Court and the
army, raising the chances that polls scheduled for February 2013
may be called early. Political turmoil risks deepening a near 40
percent annual slump in foreign investment in the $175 billion
economy and hindering U.S. efforts to mend a strained
relationship with Pakistan that’s central to its bid to
While Khan says middle-class and youth frustration over the
failure of the Pakistan People’s Party-led government to create
jobs or end power shortages that have closed factories will
enable his party to “sweep” to victory in the next election,
analysts such as Rashid Khan dismiss such claims as unrealistic.
“Attracting big crowds doesn’t mean an election victory,”
Khan, a professor of international relations at the University
of Sargodha in central Pakistan, said by phone Jan. 22. “There
is no doubt that he’s attracting young and first-time voters,
but completely uprooting established political parties is a tall
claim in a country where linguistic and regional influences run
Gilani’s four-year-rule is under threat after the country’s
top court began contempt proceedings that could force him from
office for failing to re-open corruption cases against President
Asif Ali Zardari. In an unprecedented hearing last week, Gilani
defended his actions before the judges, saying the constitution
grants the president immunity from prosecution. The court will
examine that issue when it meets again Feb. 1.
“Public opinion is firmly behind the Supreme Court,”
Imran Khan said from the veranda of his home dressed in a
jacket, jeans and a red scarf. “If the court passes a contempt
judgment against Gilani, then the people will be standing behind
the court. And I will certainly be there if Gilani tries to take
on the court.”
The top court also today resumed hearing claims that
Zardari sought U.S. assistance to help prevent a possible coup
as the army stood humiliated by the American strike that killed
Osama bin Laden in a garrison town north of Islamabad in May.
The allegations have renewed tensions with military chiefs, who,
along with the principal opposition Pakistan Muslim League, have
backed the court probe.
Khan discounted rumors in Pakistan that the army may be
positioning to oust the government as it has done on three
previous occasions. “I don’t see the chance of military
intervention,” he said. “Pakistan has moved on. The time of
military coups has gone.” The military has ruled Pakistan for
half its history.
Khan, who led Pakistan to victory in the 1992 cricket world
cup, managed to win just a single seat, his own, in the last
election his party contested in 2002 as he struggled to
translate his sporting renown into poll success. His playboy
image during his early cricket career and his failed marriage to
Jemima Khan, the daughter of the late financier James Goldsmith,
impeded his political journey in this Islamic nation of 196
That changed as unemployment, crime, terrorism and
corruption eroded support for established politicians, according
to the U.S.-based Pew Research Center. Its 2011 survey found
Khan to be the country’s most popular political leader, with 68
percent of those asked expressing a favorable view of him. That
compared to 11 percent for Zardari and 37 percent for Gilani.
In a country where only about 1 percent of people pay
income tax, Khan has demanded that leading politicians,
including Zardari and Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif, declare
their wealth. He set an example last year by disclosing at a
press conference in Islamabad his income and the amount of tax
he has paid.
Pakistani politicians have become too removed from the
struggles and insecurity facing ordinary people, Khan said,
citing their “bullet-proof cars and cavalcades of armed
guards” and their “palatial” homes. His own has a swimming
pool and views of the forested Margalla hills.
Pakistan’s economy may grow 4 percent in the year ending
June 30, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said Jan. 21.
Expansion of 2.4 percent the year before, when output was
curtailed by the worst ever monsoon floods, was among the lowest
in a decade.
Foreign direct investment fell 37 percent to $531.2 million
in the first six months of the financial year. Inflation (PACPGENY) slowed
to below 10 percent for the first time in two years in December.
Textile shipments, which account for 60 percent of export
earnings, may drop by about a third this fiscal year as gas
shortages force factories to close, according to the All
Pakistan Textile Mills Association.
Khan repeated his call for an army cease-fire and
negotiations with Islamic guerrillas based in the country’s
northwest who continue to kill civilians and security personnel.
“You can’t talk and fight,” Khan said. Militant strikes have
killed at least 35,000 Pakistanis since 2006, according to
He has also supported pulling out of a security alliance
with the U.S., arguing that American strikes along the border
with Afghanistan fuel violence in Pakistan and help the
Pakistani Taliban recruit followers.
“Pakistan can’t be a war zone and expect investment,”
Khan said. “Every day the government stays in power, the
economy is sinking. As a Pakistani, the quicker the election is
held the better.”
To contact the reporters on this story:
Haris Anwar in Islamabad at
Ritu Upadhyay in Dubai at
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Peter Hirschberg at
Haris Anwar, Islamabad