The news that Imran Khan launched an anti-corruption manifesto at a rally of over 100,000 in Karachi yesterday, as a lead up to campaigning for the 2013 elections, filled me with a sense of hope. But a last hope, as Pakistan now hangs by a thread. From assassinations to suicide bombings, corruption to terrorism, little seems to be going well.
We forever ask ourselves why Pakistan struggles to find its feet and to develop into a great nation like its neighbour India, one of the world's leading economies. With an abundance of natural resources, human capital and powerful friends, it should be doing better. But those who control this country have always fallen at the hurdle of corruption. Propelled by ambition for money and power, its leaders do not consider the common people – 180 million of them – in their plans. Typically, people in Pakistan go into politics to make money, not to make a difference.
Statistically, Pakistan is a disaster: 24 per cent live beneath the poverty line; 70 per cent are under 30 and face very limited opportunities; 15 per cent are unemployed. Only 2 per cent of the annual GDP is spent on education, hence there are 6m primary school-aged children not enrolled. It has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world.
But after such depressing figures, can there be a light at the end of the tunnel? With elections in 2013, I ask myself time and again, will there be a different outcome, or will the charade of puppet leaders continue to stifle our prosperity? I believe this may be the turning point. Because for the first time in my life, there is a credible candidate who is everything a Pakistani politician is not: Imran Khan, the sportsman turned politician. What Imran brings to the table is something so extraordinary, that he may well be our best shot at good fortune. He has already satisfied any craving for recognition and wealth, becoming one of the most famous cricketers in the world and being hailed as a phenomenal philanthropist. He doesn't need to become the leader of Pakistan to line his pockets or rub shoulders with the famous.
He's the real deal. He has sacrificed much to be in politics. He lives fairly modestly, considering his achievements, and is probably one of the most dedicated servants of Pakistan – taking the time to travel the length and breadth of the country to inspire people not to give up, to assure them that someone is looking out for them, who understands them, their needs, their frustrations, their deficiencies and their potential. He is likened to many a common man in Pakistan, resilient, hard-working, just waiting for his break – and in 2013 he might just get what he has been waiting for.
So, all things considered, is Imran the country's last hope? For me, it comes down to evaluating the considered risk and return. If I was investing in someone to run Pakistan, would it be Imran Khan? Could he deliver the necessary change? I would say he is definitely an investment worth making.
James Caan is the Founding Chairman of the British Pakistan Foundation and a former panellist on the BBC's 'Dragon's Den'