Have Your Say: Imran Khan: is he vital to Pakistan?

Following yesterday's front-page story, Gareth Price, head of the Asia Programme at Chatham House, answers questions on Pakistan environmental charity Waste Watch, answers your questions
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The Independent Online

How much support does Imran Khan have in Pakistan and why is The Independent making such a fuss about him?

His party won one seat in the 2002 election, and that was for Imran Khan himself. It's not that surprising his new party hasn't performed well. The main parties are pretty entrenched. As to his coverage in the UK, aside from Benazir Bhutto and General Musharraf, he's one of the few Pakistani politicians with global recognition, and the only one with an English former wife.

The UK and US governments have behaved as though Pakistan is a colonial toy, by orchestrating the return of Benazir Bhutto. Surely the country should be left to its own devices. But what would happen without the outside meddling – would there be a new military ruler?

A rapprochement between the general and the Pakistan People's Party has made sense ever since the coup in 1999. Whether Ms Bhutto and General Musharraf could work together, or whether any deal would just provide a short-term fix for the election, is a moot point. The UK and the US are concerned about political stability, but may have been better advised to have exerted gentle pressure on him a couple of years ago to genuinely democratise rather than giving a single personality total support.

India and Pakistan started out 60 years ago from the same position, and yet one now has a thriving democracy and its neighbour does not. Why?

They didn't quite start from the same position. India inherited a relatively well-functioning state with a well-grounded idea of what the new state was for. Pakistan was divided in two – East and West – with a hostile India in the middle, and had to create new institutions in an ethnically divided country intended to be a secular homeland for the Muslims of south Asia. But it did inherit a strong military, which sees itself as the guardian of the nation and has stepped in when "weak" politicians were threatening the state. Add in several wars with India, one of which led to the secession of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), and the military's role in government becomes easier to understand. India is the exception in maintaining and entrenching a democratic tradition after gaining independence from colonial rule.

Do we need to worry about Pakistan's nuclear weapons?

Talk of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the hands of militant Islamists is obviously concerning, but few people think it at all likely to occur in the near future. In the longer term, the greatest concern regarding Pakistan is that long-standing political instability leads to a situation in which radical groups step into the void, leading elements of the military to switch allegiance. At the moment, this is only happening in peripheral regions of the country, such as Swat and Waziristan. In the heartland of Pakistan – urban Sindh and Punjab, Pakistan's most populous state – this situation remains a long way off.

There has been a lot of talk about Pakistan being thrown out of the Commonwealth. Does General Musharraf care about the threat of suspension?

I don't think he'll be losing a lot of sleep over this. Things might get trickier for General Musharraf if an election goes ahead which is evidently not free and fair.

The story so far...

Imran Khan, the Pakistani opposition leader, was arrested on Wednesday, after 11 days in hiding and less than 48 hours after he sent a text message to his London solicitor saying he feared for his life. It is now 13 days since President Pervez Musharraf declared emergency rule, saying Pakistan faced threats from Islamist extremists

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