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August 5, 2018

Perseverance commands success


August 5, 2018

Dil sey jo baat nikaltee hai asar rakhtee hai / par nahin taqatey parvaaz magar rakhtee hai.—Allama Iqbal (The whisper in your heart has strength / It may not have wings but it has the power to fly.)

When I was a teenager I played club cricket at Lahore Gymkhana with Imran Khan. Although my parents wanted me to just focus on my studies to become a doctor at the King Edward Medical College, Imran Khan, with a degree in political science from Oxford University, showed young Pakistanis like myself that if you possessed the "Junoon" you could do anything in life.

In 1985, I had the privilege to go on a cricket tour to Bangladesh under his captaincy. I witnessed thousands of enthusiastic Bangladeshis flocking to Dacca airport to catch a glimpse of Imran. Despite the painful memories and trauma of the 1971 civil war, I saw that Bangladesh still loved Imran Khan. On and off the cricket field, Khan sahib's rockstar status, his patriotism, dedication to hard work, focus on excellence and merit motivated Pakistani youth like myself to follow our hearts and reach for the stars.

Throughout my own career in arts and culture, Khan sahib has always been a voice of reason and guidance. My music and writing became a platform for my social and political activism as a result of Khan's struggle against the forces of status quo. Over the past 30 years as an artist, social entrepreneur and a UN Goodwill Ambassador I've been fortunate to work in diverse disciplines like music, medicine, film, international relations, philanthropy and human rights. For the past four years, as a Skoll fellow and goodwill ambassador, I've focused on working to eradicate Polio from Pakistan. In 2014, we we were struggling against violence and militancy. Over 100 of our Polio health workers, mostly women and security personnel were shot dead. From a dangerous high of 306 cases, we are now down to 8 cases and close to reaching Polio zero to create history for Pakistan.

Now, 22 years after Khan joined politics, he has his first chance to lead the nation. His "formula" for success has remain unchanged:He lives, breathes and dreams his Aitchison college motto: "Perseverance commands success". The PTI's 2018 triumph over arch rivals, the PML-N and the PPP, reflects one man's two decade long struggle to break the strangle hold of dynastic party leadership in Pakistan. However, Khan's vision, idealism and tenacity to take on a corrupt and entrenched status quo hasn't been a bed of roses nor a pleasure cruise. The honest disagreement is a sign of progress. Although I have supported Imran Khan as a friend and as a public figure but I have never been a member of PTI. Regarding my critique on the PTI taking electables who belonged to status quo parties, Khan Sahib assured me that all the PTI members would have to face rigorous accountability.

Earlier this year, he backed up his rhetoric with serious action. He expelled 20 PTI members for selling their senate votes. It sent a strong signal across the board and it took great courage to do this so close to the 2018 elections. Khan sahib's election campaign trail reflected the hopes and dreams of millions. I'm fortunate to have witnessed the "Junoon" at his "jalsas" across Pakistan. The recently concluded election campaign has been fiercely contested and many accusations by the opposition parties have surfaced. However, independent observers from the EU visiting Pakistan have reported that the 2018 Pakistan election have been far more free and fair than the 2013 electoral exercise. This election has had the highest voter turn out despite the violence and terrorism across the country. More women and youth came out to vote than ever before and the Pakistani media's 24/7 coverage of the various political campaigns were the key factors in helping millions to vote for hope and change. Khan sahib in his acceptance speech has already said that as the prime minister he will order a thorough, transparent and complete investigation into election rigging charges by the opposition. As far as cross border relations are concerned, many Indians that I know are curious about Imran Khan the politician and the new leader of 208 million Pakistanis.

It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that Khan is perhaps the most well known Pakistani across India. From Bollywood celebrities to Indian cricketing legends and across the world of business, philanthropy and politics, he has shown himself to be a man of his word. During his acceptance speech on Thursday, he pledged to be a partner for peace, trade and good neighbourly relations with India. Despite the rancour, violence and mistrust of the past, this is perhaps the best time for Pakistan and India to engage in a constructive dialogue. Imran Khan is a change-agent in the Pakistani politics. I feel great hope and optimism in Imran's leadership of Naya Pakistan.

(The writer founded the rock band Junoon and is author of the book, Rock & Roll Jihad. He tweets at @sufisal)

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