LONDON: Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan was recently introduced to Cameron Munter, American Ambassador to Pakistan, in the presence of General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the ISI chief, according to sources, The Sunday Times reported. Imran Khan is said to have gained the backing of the country’s powerful security establishment, which has grown tired of the corruption pervading the two traditional political groupings, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by President Asif Ali Zardari, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister.
Although they do not publicly admit to favouring any party, it is an open secret that the military leadership, and the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), are backing Imran Khan’s campaign, said The Sunday Times report.
A senior official confirmed that he had the support of the army, but said his rise would cause more political damage to Sharif, the opposition leader and an outspoken military critic, than to the ruling PPP.
Others view Imran Khan as a third force to break the dominance of Pakistan’s two largest parties. “Perhaps they think he will bring about cleaner and better-quality politics and put fresh life into the country,” said Talat Masood, a retired general. “The military are perturbed by the economy because that affects defence spending.”
Imran Khan is reluctant to criticise the military establishment publicly, but he emphasises that he will not be a puppet of the generals. “Obviously you have to work with them but it doesn’t mean you have to work under them,” he told The Times.
Nawaz Sharif’s PML claimed last week that “hidden hands” were propping Imran Khan up and threatened to trigger early elections by provoking mass resignations from the parliament. The perils of upsetting the army were made clear this week when Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington, was forced to offer his resignation after the leak of a memo allegedly sent by the civilian government in May to American officials, asking for help to prevent a coup. Many analysts believe Haqqani, who is unpopular with the military, was made a scapegoat.
Reports that several generals had snubbed a state banquet before tense meetings with Zardari added to speculation that the PPP has fallen from favour with the military. Despite his popularity, many Pakistanis remain unconvinced that Imran Khan has the political experience to win an election. Several newspapers have also questioned his ability to lead the country, with some describing his policies as naive.
“I think it’s more a vote of no confidence (in the government) than of confidence in Khan,” said General Mahmud Ali Durrani, a former national security adviser.Imran Khan himself attributes his rising fortunes to the public’s frustration with their dishonest leaders. “In recent years, never have the people of Pakistan faced such corruption, lawlessness, lack of governance — it’s total chaos,” he said in an interview last week.
“In the beginning people could not connect corruption at the highest levels with poverty and their own situation. Today people have connected it. People realise that unemployment, poverty, inflation are all because of the corruption of the ruling elite.”
The PTI chief has pledged that if he wins power, he will make all politicians declare their assets and start paying taxes. “The reason why Pakistan is bankrupt today is because we have the lowest ratio of tax to gross domestic product and we have the highest amount of corruption,” he said.
A combination of his charisma and the public’s frustration with both mainstream parties drew a crowd estimated at up to 200,000 to a rally in Lahore last month, one of the largest Pakistan has seen.
Describing the event as a “mini-revolution” and the start of a political “tsunami”, Imran Khan said he was confident that the crowds would be even larger at his next rally in Karachi. “People are looking for change,” he said.