Tens of thousands turn out for Khan

 

More than 100,000 people rallied in support of Pakistani cricket legend and opposition politician Imran Khan in the southern city of Karachi yesterday, further cementing his status as a rising force in politics.

His message of cracking down on corruption and standing up to the US has found new resonance at a time when Pakistanis are fed up with the country's chronic insecurity and economic malaise.

Khan, 59, is riding a wave of dissatisfaction with the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, who co-chairs the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), and is facing challenges from the military, the supreme court and political opponents after a year of cascading crises.

Police estimated the rally had been attended by between 100,000 and 150,000 people. Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI), or Pakistan Movement for Justice, estimated the crowd at more than 500,000.

Even at the lower estimate, it is among the largest political rallies held in Karachi in recent years.

Khan, in a rousing speech punctuated with patriotic musical refrains, pledged, if elected, to curb Pakistan's endemic corruption.

"We need a government that changes the system and ends corruption, so we need the PTI to come to power," Khan told the crowd. "The first thing we need to do is end corruption."

"I promise we will end big corruption in 90 days," he added.

Khan's massive rally comes at a time of crisis in Pakistani politics. Tensions are rising between Pakistan's civilian leaders and its generals over a memo that accused the army of plotting a coup after the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.

There are signs that Pakistan's powerful army is fed up with Zardari and wants the supreme court or early elections to force him from office. The army chief dismissed any rumours of a coup, however, as "speculation".

Several recent polls have shown Khan is Pakistan's most popular politician. He is especially favoured in urban areas.

"He is riding a wave of popular politics right now," said Mutahir Ahmed, a professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi. "There is a lot of frustration among ordinary people, as well as political workers right now, which he is cashing on."

"He has ... managed to bring people out on the roads, and this is a big achievement, especially in Karachi, where three months back people were not ready to come out of their houses because of rampant violence and killings," Ahmed said.

But popularity doesn't always translate into political power. The majority of Pakistan's voters are rural, where feudal relationships determine generations of political loyalty.

Khan, for all the enthusiasm shown for him among young people and the urban middle class, has yet to demonstrate the party machinery that the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League-N faction have had decades to perfect.

In the last 15 years, the PTI has only briefly held one seat in parliament - Khan's. Most analysts say Khan could score an upset of 20 to 30 seats in parliament, but that's not enough to give him the premiership. It is enough to make him a major political player, however - or even a kingmaker.

"It's too premature to get into speculation of whether he becomes prime minister or not but the chances of his party getting into parliament look very good," said security analyst Imtiaz Gul.

He also has a touchy relationship with the United States, Pakistan's ally and aid donor.

He says that if elected prime minister, he would end cooperation in the fight against militants based in tribal areas, end the covert campaign of bombings by US drones and refuse all US aid, which totals some $20 billion since 2001.

Relations with the United States have reached a crisis point because of a Nov 26 cross-border incident in which NATO aircraft killed 24 Pakistani troops. Pakistan has since shut down NATO supply routes into Afghanistan and demanded an apology.

REUTERS

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Recruitment Consultant

competitive + incentives + uncapped comms: SThree: Did you know? 98% of our di...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

competitive: SThree: Did you know? 98% of our directors started with SThree as...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Are you passionate about sa...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Sales Executive - OTE £28,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen