Imran Khan is considered a hero by the masses since 1992 when Pakistan Cricket team won the World cup under his captaincy. After his retirement from cricket, Khan started participating in social activities. Fifteen years ago, he constituted his political party- Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) - in the hope that his popularity as a cricketer will help him gain political ground. But it was not so easy. Wherever his party fought elections, it had to face rout. But now things seem to be changing.
All of a sudden, people of Pakistan seem to be getting attracted towards Imran Khan. There are many factors behind increasing popularity of the PTI. Major reason is the economic collapse of Pakistan due to corrupt politics and policies at work since last six decades.
Pakistani people are also unhappy with the negative global image of Pakistan. Repeated coup d’états have put a question mark on the validity and viability of Pakistan’s traditional democratic system and political parties. It has become necessary for the people to look for a political alternative. Cashing in on this alienation of people, Imran Khan has managed to attract people, though it remains unclear whether Imran Khan will be able to deliver. For instance, there are more than a hundred thousand foreign soldiers in neighbouring Afghanistan combating the Taliban. People are against the repeated American drone strikes on Pakistan border territories. Pakistani government or Army have done nothing but paid lip service in the name of opposing this American practice. Those affected from drone strikes claim that innocents are being killed in these strikes. Imran Khan has bluntly echoed the people’s sentiments.
Another factor contributing to increase in popularity of Imran Khan is the issue of Kashmir. In his gigantic rally at Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore, where he condemned the US drone attacks, Khan also termed as “unjustified” the presence of Indian troops on Indian side of Kashmir, though he stopped short of using the “Occupied” word. Sounding somewhat like Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed, Khan said, “I want to tell India that it will get nothing by deploying seven hundred thousand troops in Kashmir valley.” He said that never ever any army could provide solutions to a country’s woes. He asked if the US succeeded in Afghanistan. Is Indian Army more powerful than Americans? When the Americans couldn’t succeed in Afghanistan, how can India think of controlling Kashmir? Imran also said that his party is with Kashmiris and will continue to support their cause of freedom. From such provocative statements, it is evident that Imran Khan is also trying to exploit extremist and anti-Indian sentiment among the Pakistani people to broaden his mass appeal.
General elections in Pakistan are likely to be held in 2013. PTI will try its best in these two years to establish itself as a third alternative. The ground of Minar-e-Pakistan, where Imran has managed to pull such a huge crowd, holds special significance. This is the spot where the Muslim League passed the resolution for creation of Pakistan in 1940. It is being said that this is the second time since then that such a huge crowd has gathered on this ground. Middle classes, who usually stay away from political activities, formed a major part of this mass.
While the success of this rally will boost the prospects of the PTI, overall positive coverage by the media will also help Imran Khan in his image makeover. But the main problem is that there is no other big leader in his party than Imran himself. It cannot be said how much it would benefit the PTI even if some leaders from the PPP and the PML (N) cross over to it. Only the elections in 2013 will tell whether and to what extent this huge crowd turns into votes. If Imran manages to do so, it would certainly establish a solid third pole in the politics of Pakistan.