“Pakistan is passing through a terrible ordeal. This country, born in pain, is experiencing its gravest crisis. The nightmare of Pakistanis killing Pakistanis is not yet over. Blood is being spilled... Pakistan will live purposefully forever if we survive the turmoil of today; otherwise catastrophic convulsions will lead to total ruin. Much depends on what is done now.”
In 1971, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto wrote The Great Tragedy, documenting the state of the nation he would go on to lead. But his words could not ring more true than about the Pakistan of today. So much rests on the outcome of the elections on May 11.
This will be the first time one democratically-elected government is followed by another. And Pakistanis long to say, for the first time, we are proud of our leader. No one really knows what Imran Khan, head of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), can or will do, but there is hope. For the first time, there is a light, dim and flickering, at the end of the tunnel.
Mass hysteria has gripped the country, and Khan and the PTI draw crowds, flocking in their hundreds of thousands, waving flags, holding banners and loyally dressed in the green, red and black PTI colours. The next generation has woken up and has a leader it feels it can trust with its fate.
But it is not just Pakistan’s residents who are mesmerised. Overseas Pakistanis have played a big part in showing support, and are among some of his most generous donors. Even sceptics of Khan cannot deny he has ignited the people. Many will admit they are uncertain, but will no doubt give him their vote in the hope that something will change.
On Tuesday evening, at a political rally in Lahore, thousands watched in horror as he fell from a makeshift lift. Footage of a bloodied Khan being carried away was broadcast across Pakistani news channels. Social networking sites were flooded with prayers, and crowds waited outside the hospital for good news. He received several stitches to the head, and fractured a rib and three vertebrae. The people were anxious, but this unfortunate event, four days before the elections, may well have been his defining moment.
After a spine-tingling interview delivered from his hospital bed at the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital in Lahore - the hospital he built - swing voters made up their minds, and grown men cried. He was resolute. He has done all he can for his country but it is impossible for him to do it alone, he said, and if people want to see change, they must stand up and take responsibility for their future.
Khan’s determination has never wavered. After famously taking sole credit for Pakistan’s cricket World Cup victory in 1992 (during his victory speech as captain, he said, “Finally I’ve managed to win the World Cup”), he dedicated his life to politics. His marriage to Jemima Goldsmith broke down as a result of his ambitions, yet today she stands as one of his most loyal supporters, undoubtedly a testament to the respect she has for him.
On Thursday night, as Khan made his final speech from his hospital bed, the people came out like never before. Two hours before the D-Chowk Islamabad Jalsa was scheduled to begin, PTI’s Facebook announced crowds had amassed as far back as six kilometres from the main stage.
It is very easy to get swept away with the idealistic notions and dreams we have for a ‘Naya Pakistan’ (New Pakistan), but we cannot be under any illusions. It will take time, and if Khan is to succeed, he will need an abundance of patience and support, from the people and the world. Let us not forget the impact positive change in Pakistan will have on the rest of the world.
But Khan and his supporters may believe he is a magician of sorts. There is much to be done, so much so that it is overwhelming to imagine where they will begin on the mission for a democratic Islamic state. Politics is a complex game, and leading a country can never be an easy job. But Pakistani politics has always been particularly messy, and being the country's prime minister is up there with the hardest (and most dangerous) jobs in the world.
Pakistan is plagued by problems related to its cultural diversity. Ethnic groups across the country differ in language, customs, attitudes and beliefs. This sounds like enough of a problem to tackle, but add to that rife corruption on all levels, poverty, lack of healthcare and education, an unsustainable birth rate and the big one, terrorism, and you begin to wonder what exactly he is planning to do, and more so, how?
But it is disheartening to imagine what path the country will take if he does not succeed; if his main opponent, Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), wins. How will those hundreds of thousands of supporters who lined the streets for him respond to a different leader? That is not to say the country will become worse, but it will most likely remain the same, and that would be The Great Tragedy.
This election’s success does not depend solely on who is victorious. It is important to remember what this democratic transition symbolises for Pakistan’s political development, and it is hoped voter numbers will continue to grow. Those who are eligible to vote must realise the significance of their decision and exercise their right. Who knows when they will get this chance again?
This is Pakistan’s D-Day.