After years of political wilderness, former Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan believes that his party Pakistan Tehreek–e-Insaaf (PTI) will sweep the approaching general elections, announced this week to be held in May this year. His supporters claim his idealism and unquestionable honesty make him an ideal candidate to pull Pakistan out of the mess it finds itself in. His detractors however think little of his rhetoric, suggesting that his megalomaniacal promises are a sign of his immaturity in politics. Yet if elected Prime Minister, there is little doubt that Khan's policies will change the landscape of the country's politics.
On the domestic front, corruption happens to be the foremost issue in the country. In the 2012 report published by Transparency International Pakistan, it was stated that over 12,600 billion rupees worth of corrupt activities had engulfed the nation in the past five years. The report further asserts that since its last assessment, corruption is at an all time high.
Well known for his financially integrity, Khan is perhaps the only mainstream leader who is not riddled with charges of corruption. As his party came to prominence over a year ago, he and his party had decided to declare all assets of their senior leadership. This has been a welcome move in the landscape of party politics in Pakistan where many established political stalwarts fail to show their net worth, and hence accusations of embezzlement and money laundering are leveled against them.
A central feature of the past decade has been the precarious security condition since 9/11. As the escalating terrorism has paralyzed the state, President Asif Ali Zardari and his government have been hapless as the law and order situation in the country deteriorate, even when trying to protect their own party members from assassination attempts. Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continues to wage its war against the state — which it accuses for colluding with the Americans in the War on Terror.
For the past several years, Khan has been advocating a negotiated settlement with the TTP and its affiliates. Denouncing the ongoing occupation in Afghanistan, Khan has been consistent in demanding a peaceful solution to the conflict, arguing that the ongoing battle between the Pakistani military forces and the Taliban has bankrupted Pakistan, as well as spearheaded the rise of extremism in the country. Many intellectuals and analysts have criticized his stance on tackling the issue, often referring him to as 'Taliban Khan.'
However, with the Obama administration now open to conducting talks with certain sections of the Afghan Taliban, Khan's solution to end this detrimental battle with the TIP has started to gain acceptance. Last month, in a proposal by the TTP for talks with the PPP government, several parties held an All-Party Conference (APC) to find a suitable path to end the crisis in a non-military fashion. The PTI boycotted the proceedings, calling it a gimmick for gaining extra mileage with voters in the upcoming elections.
Pakistan's relation with foreign nations, especially with the United States, has remained troubled to say the least. The drone strike program in the tribal and mountainous region of Waziristan has been severely criticized by Pakistani civil society as well as numerous human rights organizations. An assessment by Stanford University has claimed that less than 2% of fatalities include top commanders. The rest are either non-combatants or alleged suspects.
The PPP while condemning the blatant violation of Pakistan's sovereignty has been quite complicit with the U.S. on the issue of drones. The Wikileaks cables reveal former Prime Minister Yousuf Gillani claiming, "I don't care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We'll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it."
Imran has unequivocally condemned the use of drones since the program began in the past decade in obscure and mountainous region of Waziristan. He believes that drone strikes are detrimental in trying to win the hearts and minds of the tribal people, as they only embolden the Taliban in propagating their call for Jihad. Last Year in November Khan led a protest rally of thousands in solidarity with the people of Waziristan to denounce the predator drones. This brought worldwide attention to the issue as prominent peace advocacy groups such as Code Pink and Reprieve participated with him in the march.
One of the biggest challenges Khan and his party face is advocating for a free and fair election. Khan has claimed that a level plane field for the upcoming polls could not be guaranteed under the incumbent president. Nevertheless, if his party were to win a majority come this May, Khan would potentially be the biggest threat to the 65 years of seasonal politics that have brought the country to its knees.