The rise of Imran Khan

Published: October 31, 2011
PTI chief Imran Khan addresses a rally in Lahore on October 30, 2011. PHOTO : AFP

PTI chief Imran Khan addresses a rally in Lahore on October 30, 2011. PHOTO : AFP

Many Pakistanis have either lived through or grew up listening to stories of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his electrifying rallies as he spearheaded the first grassroots political movement in the country’s history. A movement that, like Imran Khan’s, if one goes by what he said in Lahore on October 30, wanted a change in the prevailing status quo. And while comparisons between the two are perhaps premature (some people in the blogosphere and on Twitter were already wondering whether another Bhutto has been born) no one can deny that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader has quite substantially shaken the country’s political landscape with his massive rally in Lahore. Not only was he able to easily beat the numbers that the far more established PML-N was able to bring out at their own rally, with conservative estimates putting 75,000 people or more at the PTI rally, he did so with those who are normally not associated with the political process, those who have become disaffected with the mainstream parties and are tiring of what they see as elected governments whose leaders enrich only themselves and provide no semblance of good governance.

Whatever disagreements one may have with Imran Khan’s ideology or views, one can no longer dismiss Khan and his party as something of an irritant on the national political scene. From now on till the next election is held, he will have to be taken seriously and his party’s electoral fortunes will most probably be far better than they have been in the past — the best being when Mr Khan himself won a seat to the National Assembly from Mianwali in the 2002 elections. It will be fair to say that the PTI chief has now arrived as a political force to be reckoned with. The massive turnout at his party’s rally could, in all likelihood, garner it even more support, given that many voters who sit on the fence and are disillusioned with mainstream parties such as the PPP and the PML-N would have wanted to first wait and see what kind of support Imran Khan would get in his first major rally before throwing in their weight behind him.

So the coming weeks and months could well see some significant defections from some of the bigger parties. The most immediate threat is going to be felt by the PML-N, since the PTI managed to get far more people at its rally compared to the party of the Sharifs, and that too in the latter’s stronghold of Lahore. One would have to see how the ruling party in Punjab responds, but if the provincial law minister is a man of his word he may well have to relinquish his post, since he had said that if the PTI rally attracted more than 50,000 people, he would resign. Other than that, and perhaps it’s a bit early, it remains to be seen how the PML-N responds. The initial reaction has been one of confusion, with senior party leaders clearly put on the defensive by the PTI’s rally and trying to justify their own rally of two days earlier so that the parties now seem to have the same objective: that of ousting the PPP from power.

That said, it is important not to confuse approval of the youthful energy for change that Imran is tapping into with support for his agenda. For one, it is hard to claim to be an agent for complete change when tired has-beens share the same stage as you — many former legislators with not-so-good reputations have joined the PTI in recent weeks. This is a contradiction Imran may never be able to reconcile, especially given his ‘in-100-days-I-will-rid-this-country-of-corruption’ agenda. His only route to power is by playing the same grubby political game as everyone else and making alliances that force you to hold your nose, while at the same time his appeal is based on the fact that he promises to consign the prevailing political forces to the dustbin of history. And it also remains to be seen how many seats his party actually wins since to become prime minister, which surely would be his objective (and the dream of his passionate supporters) after October 30, a party needs to have dozens of candidates capable of winning seats on their own.

Imran’s full-throated declaration that the Baloch will be treated like friends and not colonised was a very welcome sentiment, all the more so given how much speculation there has been that Imran’s recent ascent was the result of support from the establishment. Distancing himself from the army’s Balochistan policy is a good first move for someone who wants to highlight his independence and integrity. Imran also reiterated his support for women and minorities which, when coupled with the fact that he was one of the rare politicians to condemn the murder of Salmaan Taseer, should be viewed with optimism not cynicism.

But those who believe Imran is hopelessly naive would also have felt vindicated after hearing portions of his speech. His stance on the Taliban, although not rising to the level of outright support, is nonetheless very dangerous. He pledged never to use the army to carry out military operations against its own people, and that tribal elders would be able to eliminate the scourge of terrorism if the problem is left to them to deal with. Leave aside the fact that even a personality as strong and charismatic as Imran will never be able to get the army to bend to his will, just the fact that he doesn’t recognise that the Taliban and affiliated groups have spread their tentacles outside of Fata to the rest of the country is reason enough to doubt his judgement. Imran also seems to believe that the singular, transformative act of voting him into power will lead to an immediate end to corruption and that the absence of corruption alone will strengthen our economy to such an extent that there will be no need for us to ask for any foreign aid. Political maturity is a twin process and along with a vote bank Imran Khan will also need to develop a coherent agenda.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 01st, 2011. 

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Reader Comments (31)

  • Kai Zaav
    Oct 31, 2011 - 10:27PM

    Imran Khan
    My Hero
    My Leader


  • Asif
    Oct 31, 2011 - 10:31PM

    Imran Khan is going to win because there is no other alternative.

    He has pointedly and properly stated that US must leave the region because their presence is the sole cause for instability within Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    Hence, in order for there to be peace, the US must leave as Afghans will not accept or tolerate their presence there.

    Imran Khan has made it clear where Pakistan will stand on this, and that there will not be any more toleration for US stooges like Mushraf who sold out the country.

    I am actually suprised that Musharraf has the nerve to be speaking from London.

    May he be banned from ever entering Pakistan again. in fact, it is best that the Supreme Court bring charges of national treason on him.Recommend

  • Cautious
    Oct 31, 2011 - 11:58PM

    He reminds me a bit of Obama when he was running for office — lots of promises but almost no details about how to accomplish them. Obama won office because people wanted to try something knew — unfortunately smooth talk wasn’t a substitute for competence. Khan can’t control the American’s, can’t control the Taliban, can’t control his own military, etc. – so just how much change can this guy bring? If he is elected – be prepared for disappointment.


  • Kareem
    Nov 1, 2011 - 12:15AM

    Keep it up Skipper!


  • Danish Kamal
    Nov 1, 2011 - 3:20AM

    This is not rise of Imran Khan, its rise of Pakistan


  • Nov 1, 2011 - 7:08AM

    He pledged never to use the army to carry out military operations against its own people

    Oh how horrible!



  • Khan
    Nov 1, 2011 - 7:51AM

    If I agree with the points you have made then IK is no different in those department from the rests.. so the score is equal there but then he is way better than current lot in all other departments. He is educated, dedicated and has leadership qualities which no one else posses in current politicians.
    Some would say I.K has no experience of politics and is just a cricketer but then he was no doctor and is running regions biggest and most successful cancer hospital from past 15 years free of cost besides his other works in education and as philanthropist are no less exceptional.
    I am no fan of his closeness with right wing parties but one can expect him to run govt like Musharraf did and bring some good changes at least. We have so many problems and current lot is unable to fix any of them .. He can fix half at least. Status quo is unacceptable.


  • Mirza
    Nov 1, 2011 - 8:11AM

    Imran Khan’s comparison with ZAB is like comparing apples and oranges nay eggs. ZAB was more popular at a much younger age and in its first year of PPP than Imran cannot even imagine after so many years in politics. ZAB’s political rise was meteoric not a slow crawl after languishing for decades as a low grade leader of a tiny party. While Bhuttos have won elections in all provinces they contested, Imran has yet to come even close to that. ZAB never aligned himself with any old ideas and mullahs; IK has yet to give any revolutionary manifesto, like food, cloth and shelter. ZAB never made an electoral alliance with rightwing parties’ especially religious parties; IK is very close to such parties. In fact most progressive and open minded Pakistanis are not with IK only due to his close ties with the fanatics.
    IK has just started his major league career in politics in only one city of Pakistan. He has to prove his popularity in most of the Pakistan not just like PML-N which is confined to the upper Punjab only. Unlike PML-N he has to prove his popularity in Sind and KP province as well. One major positive that shows IK’s has matured is he is not talking non-sense like Nawaz Sharif about overthrow of elected govt. The mature leaders should wait one more year for the next elections under independent judiciary and respect the will of the people. If NS and PML-N cannot respect the will of the people while in power in Punjab, how can they do that if they come in power in all of Pakistan?


  • Babar Khan
    Nov 1, 2011 - 9:18AM

    I am now convinced that the Tribune is biased against the PTI- Been reading it for almost a year now, and I see no other party get nowhere near the amount of criticism that PTI gets.

    Odd, considering it has been the other parties who have drained Pakistan dry.


  • Ali Hasan
    Nov 1, 2011 - 9:33AM

    *Imran also seems to believe that the singular, transformative act of voting him into power will lead to an immediate end to corruption and that the absence of corruption alone will strengthen our economy to such an extent that there will be no need for us to ask for any foreign aid.*

    Quite possibly the single most naive aspect to his entire campaign, alongside:

    *..tribal elders would be able to eliminate the scourge of terrorism if the problem is left to them to deal with.*

    If militancy rose in the tribal areas so easily so many times before, how will the ‘tribal leaders’ stop it in future? The can’t and they won’t.

    Pakistan future is not a game-show prize, where people should get a “chance”, as so many of his supporters demand.Recommend

  • Saim Tanauli
    Nov 1, 2011 - 9:38AM

    Imran Khan has always proved his mettle whenever he is expected to deliver !!! and he will surely rise to the occasion this time !!! best of luck Imran Khan !!!


  • khuram
    Nov 1, 2011 - 9:39AM

    its show time baby,imran rocks


  • MAD
    Nov 1, 2011 - 10:03AM

    Well the only way he can attempt to fix things is if he is voted to power. SO lets just get IK in the PM house and see how things turn out.


  • Gulfam
    Nov 1, 2011 - 11:10AM

    Incredible show by the youth of Pakistan. I’m proud of them. The change is already in the air.


  • Ebrahim
    Nov 1, 2011 - 11:19AM

    You forgot to mention that before ZAB “became” popular and launched PPP; he was for many years a member of Ayub’s cabinet and served as a foreign minister. It took him years before he became popular. Please don’t distort the facts.


  • Meher T
    Nov 1, 2011 - 11:29AM

    He seems like the only option right now, but he needs to have strong think tanks to support him and devise policies for him. Also, it is tough for him to win the next election as there are still masses out there who sell their ID cards for election days and this culture of buying votes, which was first introduced by the Shareefs, will bring back the same old faces again..


  • sharifL
    Nov 1, 2011 - 12:05PM

    IK should get a chance to improve Pakistan. But change does not come with fiery speeches, but with agreed agenda. Eliminating corruption is not going to be easy as it involves all sections of the society and nobody can change that unless you have a ruthless dictatorship like Taiiban or Sudan. Perhaps a few words on how this is going to be dealt with would be good knowledge for us all.
    On Women’s rights he has not suggested any changes to current laws. On minorities he refrains from giving us clues how he wants to make them equal partners. (They should stay at home, he once said)
    I have a feeling that he means what he says but does not know what he believes. Let us say he wins enough votes to rule, but not enough to have a majority. Who is he going to make coalition with? I think his credentials a s a democrat are doubtful. And how is going to improve the economy? Not a word about the exact strategy.
    But he should get a chance.


  • Zareen
    Nov 1, 2011 - 12:40PM

    Imran Khan is the ray of hope and change. InshAllah he will deliver! He deserves a chance and we ought to give him at least one chance. If we have elected each major and corrupt party and their politicians with such pathetic track record – why can’t we give Imran Khan ONE chance – with full conviction and belief that he can make a positive difference.


  • Nawaz
    Nov 1, 2011 - 1:40PM

    My good people this is what democracy is about!
    You give your votes to a party and they get elected and mess it all up and voila! five years later you get another chance to vote! Then you think to yourself, the last people we voted for turned out to be such corrupt, greedy and blubbering idiots, this time we’ll vote for someone else. And so this cycle continues until by a very natural and democratic system of filtering, the garbage is thrown out and the country prospers. This is what our neighbors are good at. They’ve given democracy a full chance and they have not been utterly stupid to elect the same again and again just because they fear the new faces.
    Denying Khan your support while you’re seriously dissatisfied by the current status quo, reasoning that you’re not entirely SURE of what he will be capable of is like throwing away a good plate of Biryani just because you were not sure it’d meet your expectations while you keep eating away at the stale daal that you’re used to.

    What Pakistanis need to do the most right now is to be rational and choose whoever they support very carefully. And in the name of all that is Pure and HolyRecommend

  • Genius
    Nov 1, 2011 - 1:50PM

    Changes come when people change their outlook and habits. The needed change will not come. Will never come. Not until people change their own habits. People who want to make Justice common will need to learn to bring the practice of justice in their everyday deeds and urge others to do the same. Indeed everyone who wants Tehreek Insaaf to become popular must learn to do justice and induce others through mass movement to bring justice into their thinking and practice.
    So nothing will change until people change themselves. By changing their habits for the better people then be in a better position to come together to create their collectives or Peoples’ Shoorah. Peoples’ Shoorah is an age old system and Divine Guidance is for the people to adopt this system to enable themselves collectively to be able to make the elected and the appointed “accountable”.


  • M. Ahmad
    Nov 1, 2011 - 2:24PM

    Imran Khan needs to be realistic about the Taliban and the terrorists – appeasing them is not the answer. Remember Swat? There is no such thing as a good terrorist, onr who aims to kill as many innocent civilians as he or she possibly can. As for America and the West, Pakistan to improve ties with both for assistance in trade, technology and cooperation to modernise and rise as an economic power. Also, we need to change the way we view and deal with our permanent neighbour India – being in constant state of war with it is not the answer. Lastly, Imran should realise that a majority of people want to move forward, modernise and keep up with the rest of the advancing world – and they have little appetite for laws of the Jirgas, tribal elders, ancient cultures and idealogies. People are looking to meet the challenges of the 21st century with more advanced thinking and technology than these tried and failed methods. Otherwise, he will fail to gain support of a majority of the liberal, educated and forward thinking millions of all walks of life, and that would be a tragedy indeed.


  • Sharoo
    Nov 1, 2011 - 3:09PM

    We love you Imran Khan ,,, You are our hero our hope for change


  • farah lodhi
    Nov 1, 2011 - 5:52PM


    It’s history marked by youth of Pakistan at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore.

    Imran Khan hit the national stage of Pakistani politics with an outstanding show at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore that jolted every political party in Islamabad. Today, he is on every news channel, in headlines of national/international media. Youth has just proved that they are not just on social networks to support him. They will support him on every forum.
    People are fed up of corrupt leaders now they are in search of an honest man and Imran Khan is the best available option.

    Thank you.



  • Imtiaz
    Nov 1, 2011 - 6:30PM

    It is the fervor and jubilation of the success, and everyone’s feeling for the need for change, that is driving this tsunami. But the real question is will this be a revolution like we saw in Egypt, and lately Libya where the initial drive was to oust the present regime, what after that? Mian Nawaz Sharif is suggesting exactly that – a coalition just to oust the present Government. Obama’s biggest reason for failure so far has been his lack of experience with the administration, Mr. Khan is exactly in those shoes. These same masses brought Bhuttos and Mians to power in the past, and now Mr. Khan feels lucky, and if he is unable to deliver the same people will hang him, and the defectors now will defect again for their personal gains. Imran has shown poor lack of judgement so far, he has tried to ally with JI in the past, and when they manhandled him, he took off, now he is again playing that card and siding with Taliban, who are known to have inflicted death and pain to innocent Pakistanis in the recent, and distant, past. Does he have establishment behind him or they will show him the ropes? sometimes they give you enough to hang yourself with it. These are some of the questions – the biggest being the road map after.


  • M Bilal
    Nov 1, 2011 - 7:09PM

    Imagine the change that youth have started to inquire about their enrollment as voters, after seeing Imran rising. The same youth who never ever blinked an eye on what happened to their vote, if registered either.


  • hamza khan
    Nov 1, 2011 - 8:16PM

    musharraf and imran 2013!!


  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Nov 1, 2011 - 8:50PM

    The frustrated people of Pakistan have no option except to stand behind Imran Khan to bring change which is going to be big revolution after the creating of Pakistan.

    At this juncture Imran Khan needs proper guidance to make smart moves in the entire country to attract the voters.

    Experienced hands should play vital role in changing the mindset.

    While awarding party tickets for the forthcoming general elections, Imran needs to pick up such candidates whose background from every aspect of life should be neat and transparent.

    Imran Khan needs to brake the shackles of feudalism and Jirga System from the country to bring change in the lives of ordinary citizens.

    Imran Khan does not need to make collaboration or seat adjustments with any political party in the country, as people have made up their minds to vote for Imran Khan to bring the real change.


  • aami
    Nov 1, 2011 - 10:42PM

    Imran khan is the only hope in next elections.lets not to waste our votes on tested ones this time please.Recommend

  • Fauzia Haider
    Nov 2, 2011 - 1:02AM

    @Ali Hasan:
    The Tribals didn’t set up camps for Taliban on their own. It was the Pakistan Govt that sent these thugs there to set up camp there. Musharraf sent LET and LEJ when they were supposedly banned in Pakistan to go and set up camp in tribal areas too. Tribals have not much say in what goes on in tribal areas anymore in case you forgot they are not an independent state but, Federally Administered Tribal Areas ( FATA).


  • J .Ali Husnani
    Nov 2, 2011 - 2:47AM

    The emergence of Imran Khan and his party PTI as potent political force is the result of disillusion by Pakistani Masses who were not only cheated and fooled but led to believe in false promises by corrupt politician like Zardari off PPP and Nawaz Sharif of PML

    The overwhelming crowd that Imran was able to attract not only included young, urban and educated Pakistani but at large families consisted of women both educated professional and housewives –Their participation in this historical rally reflected not only their disillusion, but frustration due to chaotic politicking and lack of governance by inept, and corrupt politician like Zardari , Nawaz

    The corruption of these politician has given valid reason in the past to have Pakistan being governed by ruthless military rules like Pervaiz Mushraf and General Zia who not only sold the national interest to supper power to perpetuate their regime but indulge into corruption.

    In order that Imran Khan be successful he has to do the following
    1- To deliver his promises
    2- To eliminate corruption that has engulfed this poor nation since its inception
    3- To bring about transparency in judicial system
    4- To bring about laws to eliminate corruption in law enforcement agencies like police
    5- To eliminate feudalism & Jirga System from the country & improve standard of living of Pakistani citizens.
    6- Eschew parochialism from Pakistani politics
    7- Implement a fair and sovereign foreign policy

    And achieve this object he should be selective in awarding party ticket to those candidates who are educated neat and transparent –Above all he should not form an alliance with any political party for seat adjustment that will tarnish all his reputation which he has gained over the year

    J Ali Husnani


  • Omar Elahi
    Dec 28, 2011 - 12:43PM

    Well said air @Babar Khan:


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