Khan closer to leadership as big names join his party


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The Independent Online

The former cricketing legend Imran Khan took another stride closer to his ambition of becoming Pakistan's next leader after a fresh slew of prominent politicians joined his Movement for Justice Party.

Pakistan's former cricket captain is the country's most popular politician, according to polls. After gathering more than 120,000 people at Lahore's Minto Park in October, critics who once said he would never amount to anything more than a political distraction now concede that he is a serious contender for Prime Minister.

"We have always been a party with credibility," Mr Khan told The Independent.

"The rally in Lahore was the tipping point that smashed the barrier and made us viable contenders. Now there's nothing that can stand in the way of this tsunami, God willing."

A political group from southern Punjab led by Jehangir Tareen, a former minister and leading businessman, yesterday became the latest to swell the ranks of Mr Khan's party. Within the space of a few months, Mr Khan has gone from being the only figure of national recognition in his party to leading a motley alliance of big names. The most high-profile signing so far is Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a former Foreign Minister who broke away from the ruling Pakistan People's Party. Another former Foreign Minister, Khurshid Kasuri, joined last week. Much of Mr Khan's appeal is to Pakistan's youth, in a country where the median age is just 21. The thrust of his message is that Pakistan needs "the rule of law" and "an end to corruption". To that end, the principal targets of Mr Khan's rhetoric are the two largest parties, the ruling Pakistan People's Party and the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N.

Mr Khan's sharp rise has rattled his opponents, sparking sharp exchanges. The leaders of traditional parties variously accuse the World Cup-winning cricket captain of running a "fan club" or "recycling" politicians once aligned with the former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf.

Political science experts say that Mr Khan may be peaking "too fast". His next step is a rally in Karachi that he hopes will be larger than his impressive gathering in Lahore.

Already, Karachi citizens are receiving calls with an automated message from Mr Khan urging them to attend.