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August 26, 2018

Pakistan Pinning Hopes on Imran Khan

They live around the globe, non-residents for decades, many have become naturalized citizens of their host country; still they are a heartbeat away from their native land. Pakistani diaspora rejoices and celebrate at its victories on the cricket pitches and are stumped when they see the appalling inequities, endemic corruption and the untold sufferings in their native land. They pour their hearts out and rush to help when natural disasters strike their beloved country. Such is the nature of their relationship. With Imran Khan's emergence as the newly elected leader, people are rallying around him. There is hope for Pakistan.

There is a direct correlation between the depths of the gloom in Pakistan and the high expectations of salvation from Imran Khan. The greater the despair in the country, the more fervent the hopes in one man as saviour. But just as we must not underestimate the problems facing Pakistan, we must not underestimate Imran's capacity to meet a challenge. He took all this with stoic dignity.

A new section of vocal urbanized middle-class Pakistanis demands to be heard. So, do the young. They are looking for alternative voices to those of their present leaders. In Imran, they see a viable alternative.

Pakistan has a new prime minister, who after a 22-year struggle has reached the pinnacle of power. Bringing home, the 1992 World Cup as captain of the Pakistan cricket team made him a national hero. Still, he will need all the skill and tenacity he has displayed in his dual career to cope with Pakistan’s current political and fiscal problems. 

In claiming victory, following unofficial results confirming his triumph in the July 25 elections, Khan said; "God has taken me to that level, given me an opportunity of a dream. God has given me that chance to fulfill that dream." Appearing calm, Khan promised to improve Pakistan’s governance, widen the tax base and shun the VIP lifestyle of previous rulers. He said he would be “ashamed” to live in the lavish prime minister’s house and would turn it into an “educational institution”.

During his speech, he struck many of the right chords; followed up on his narrative of improving governance, clamping down on corruption, elevating the status of the marginalized and the opposition parties’ claims of rigging in the elections. In a press conference Michael Gahler chief of the European Union Election Observation Mission, a 120-member monitoring team told a press conference; ‘the election results that gave cricket star turned politician Imran Khan a win was credible.’

While Khan is making the right noises early, it is evident that the greatest challenge for Pakistan’s prime minister will be detaching himself from the strings of the all-powerful Army. How much freedom it will have to operate under the military's close gaze which has facilitated his rise to the top.

His new job will be much more daunting — he inherits a nation riven with economic woes, security threats and a resurgent military looking to increase its grasp on political life. In a televised address to the nation from his house in Bani Gala, a wealthy suburb of Islamabad, Khan struck a unifying tone, pledging an anti-corruption stance, populist champion of change, to rise above personal attacks and lift the poor. If he can diminish the influence of enormously wealthy landowners and corrupt industrialists and make a significant dent in the feudal society outside of urban areas, that itself would be a signal achievement.  He has already made woeful inequality a cornerstone of his platform.

The world should no longer see Imran Khan as merely a former Test cricketer. He could become Pakistan’s most recognizable leader mobilizing a mass movement and articulating a fresh political vision. Although he fits the westernized mould of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir, many of Khan’s messages — whether over drones and military intervention or on the position of religion in society — may be painful to some western ears.

Against this backdrop of difficult economic, administrative and political problems, Imran Khan's temperament and staying power will be the subject of intense expectation and public scrutiny. His ex-wife Jemima Goldsmith has this to say in her congratulatory message; “It's an incredible lesson in tenacity, belief and refusal to accept defeat. The challenge now is to remember why he entered politics in the first place.”

The writer can be reached at

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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