Public frustration at the turmoil in Pakistan was manifest in massive rallies staged in Lahore and Karachi by Pakistan Tehrike-Insaf – the political party of famed cricket player Imran Khan. He formed the party 15 years ago and has repeatedly tried to break his way into politics, but never before had any success.
This time, however, he has pulled politicians from other parties across the spectrum, including a cabinet minister, to defect to join him, and he drew an estimated 125,000 people to the rally this week in central Karachi. He promised the crowd that when elected, he would “end big corruption within 90 days;” they cheered him and danced beneath party flags for hours.
Mr. Khan has come in for sharp criticism from pundits, who note that while he continually pledges to end the current style of crony politics and to wipe out corruption, he has yet to articulate anything resembling a foreign policy or a real plan for rebuilding the economy.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and the man who up to now has been his chief opponent, Pakistan Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif, have made much of his close relationship to military chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and say he is dangerously cozy with the military.
Nevertheless, the emergence of Mr. Khan as a real political force is viewed as favourable even by his critics because it widens the choice past the two parties that have had a lock on Pakistani politics for so long.
“The support he is seeing now is unprecedented, and it’s going to be significant [in the next election]” said Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, director of the Pakistan Institute for Legislative Democracy and Transparency in Islamabad. “It’s already a good thing because there is an entire new segment of the population which is now getting involved because they think they have a choice.”