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  • Syed Hussain

A captain's crusade: Imran Khan's hardest innings against corruption


Just five years ago, ex-cricketing legend turned Prime Minister, Imran Khan, heralded a "new beginning" - a vision to transform Pakistan into a better version of itself. Yet, the past year, especially the last six months, exposed the complexities of Pakistani politics, unveiling turmoil within the state, not only unveiling the realities of the nation's political spectrum but also its deep internal power struggles.

Peering into Pakistan's political landscape carries a narrative of dangerous dynamics and evolving loyalties. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), founded by Imran Khan during his cricket-to-politics transition in the 90s, has spearheaded this transformation. The party emerged as a challenging force against mafia family dynasties whilst addressing discontent with ruling entities - chiefly the corruption-riddled Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

Khan's political motivation stemmed from bureaucratic barriers hindering philanthropy, including a cancer hospital in memory of his mother. This fueled PTI's formation, rooted in justice, integrity and human dignity, which resonated with disillusioned citizens and propelled his victory in the 2018 election. With Islamabad secured, Khan's aspiration to lead became reality.

Yet, challenges arose on this journey. Recent months have illuminated the intricate complexities of Pakistani politics, exposing the paradoxes within the system. The foundations of democracy being tested and rewritten, true power has once again shown to reside in certain quarters: ruling families, military establishment, and entrenched parties form the political hierarchy. The evolution of PTI's narrative and its role in reshaping Pakistan's political landscape serves as a microcosm of the nation's broader political transformation. The party's ascent to power mirrored a nation's yearning for reform, yet it also reflects the enduring challenges that politics, particularly in a complex and diverse nation like Pakistan, brings forth.

The course from cricketing legend to transformative political icon mirrors the nation's own journey, marked by triumphs, setbacks, and an unwavering pursuit of a brighter tomorrow. However, the past year brought a twist as Khan was ousted from his government in a constitutional coup. The former Prime Minister was imprisoned, facing dubious charges and grappling with nearly 200 lawsuits, ranging from corruption to terrorism allegations.

Leaks revealed an intricate tale involving Pakistan's military, covert US and opposition party meetings. News site The Intercept's leaked transcripts, supported by The Washington Street Journal, suggested a foreign-engineered plot to oust Khan, implying external forces could absolve national transgressions upon Khan’s ousting. Khan claimed his removal was reprisal for backing Russia amidst Europe's turbulence, and strengthening of Chinese ties. Russian confirmation and the US’ denial followed, but historical US-backed regime changes in nearby Afghanistan's PDPA party and Yanukovych's Ukraine cast doubt on the US’ evidence rejection, highlighting intricate geopolitical relations.

Khan's arrest swiftly unfurled the party's fabric, eroding its strength. The tumultuous protests triggered by Khan's detention in May resulted in an election candidacy ban. A notable exodus of PTI leaders ensued, accompanied by the ban on Khan's televised speeches - a stark departure from his once-unassailable standing. These protests, which even extended to military assets, catalysed crackdowns and subsequent military court trials, exposing the military's role in reining in PTI. A sort of undeclared martial law came, shortly after a military crackdown on Khan and his supporters resulting from forced abductions to even murder. The latest presidential denial of signing a law testifies to the army's total control.

Western media's silence on democracy abuses in Pakistan contrasts a history of criticism. The irony of the Biden administration’s silence, as they fund a war in Ukraine on the premise of ‘democracy’, is not lost. At home, figures like George Galloway highlight the dystopian media silence around peaceful uprisings being crushed. Galloway underlines, “We aren’t talking about some banana republic in South America but a nuclear armed state bordering a flashpoint zone around India, Iran and Afghanistan; the West fails to understand regime change as a universal formula is never the answer, not realising international consequences.”

Despite Khan's devoted following, PTI's waning support raises concerns. Their strained military relationship further complicates his leadership prospects. The emergence of the Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP), led by former PTI dissenters, exacerbates PTI's challenges. Party decline mirrors historical patterns rooted in establishment backing, along with Khan's charismatic politics that gained overwhelming public support, even during his confinement. The crucial query is whether PTI can revitalise its voter base and drive change without inciting violence. Amid skyrocketing inflation, a precarious current account deficit, and mounting debt, alongside diplomatic and security tensions, the nation stands at a pivotal crossroads.

Khan's unwavering demeanour might hinder his tactical consolidation, conversely becoming the beacon of hope. The path ahead is uncertain with a general election approaching, as PTI's endurance rests on adept crisis management and foundational renewal. The fight for freedom and democracy continues 76 years on, with Khan's crusade continuing behind bars, now in the match set. Khan’s only wicket in hand, the public. The future remains uncertain but far from game over…

Image: World Economic Forum/



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