Imran Khan and the well-oiled PTI jalsa machine have done it again. 25 December 2011 will go down in history as a day when the people of Karachi gravitated towards the Mazar-e-Quaid in their hundreds of thousands to join Imran Khan in his mission to change the political landscape of Pakistan. As expected, there was wall-to-wall media coverage locally, despite several attempts to hijack attention away from the scenes at the Mazar. Including high drama at the cabinet meeting, where a tearful Information Minister offered to resign on live national television, in what was, in my view, an elaborate performance designed to attract, what is known as, “footage”. Nevertheless, acres of newsprint, hours of air time, many millions of tweets and countless Facebook updates were only focused on one topic: Imran Khan’s tsunami of change!
Globally, too, media coverage has been extensive. From the Sydney Morning Herald to the Los Angeles Times, from the Independent in the UK to The Hindu in India, from CNN to Al-Jazeera, every major news organisation has reported and commented upon the mega-jalsa in Karachi.
The BBC News website headline stated “Pakistan Imran Khan rally draws tens of thousands” and Aleem Maqbool’s report highlights the sentiments of the Pakistani public, who are looking for a leader they can trust, who they know will not set out to deliberately mislead them for their own personal gains:
One supporter there told the BBC: “I’m highly optimistic that Imran Khan has the potent power to bring in change which we highly need because our country can’t survive without a fair and just leadership. It doesn’t matter that he’s a cricketer or something else. Whatever he is, he is not a diplomat, he is not a liar.”
Major news networks commented on the impetus that the PTI has gained recently. CNN International stated “Pakistani politician Khan gains momentum” and reported on Imran Khan’s vision for a just society, free of corruption:
Khan said if elected prime minister next year, he would bring a team that would help transform Pakistan into a welfare state and ensure equality. “In Tehreek-e-Insaf’s rule, a civil system will be introduced which will ensure justice and equality is followed on all fronts – in which even Imran Khan’s car is stopped for speeding,” he told the crowd, promising corruption would be ended within 90 days of an election.
In addition to reporting, Al-Jazeera ran a feature entitled “Imran Khan: Pakistan’s saviour?” asking the question: “Famous cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan has galvanised the political scene in Pakistan, but is it enough?” and concluded:
Whether or not Imran Khan is the man who will “save Pakistan” is yet to be seen. Analysts say that if he is able to keep this momentum going he will become a major political player. But what is becoming more apparent is that the country is ripe for change. Pakistanis want someone to get them off their sinking ship.
In another feature, the UK’s Independent newspaper published a piece by James Caan, CEO of the UK-based private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw and former judge on the BBC television show, Dragon’s Den with the title “Pakistan, at long last, may have found the leader it needs” in which he reflects the thoughts of millions of Pakistanis when he says:
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… What Imran brings to the table is something so extraordinary, that he may well be our best shot at good fortune… 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… and is probably one of the most dedicated servants of Pakistan… 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.
Other UK publications and news organisations that ran reports or features about the jalsa included the Guardian reporting that “Imran Khan draws more than 100,000 to rally in Karachi with anti-corruption message in Pakistan’s largest city” and The Telegraph with an interview of Imran by Rob Crilley, entitled “Imran Khan: I have the opposition on the mat. My time has come,” in which he writes:
As a cricketer, he was initially dismissed as having average ability before captaining his team to World Cup glory. For the past 15 years his political party has stumbled from one election humiliation to the next. Now though, he is convinced his time has come.
Australia’s two key newspapers also gave the event coverage. The Sydney Morning Herald referred to issues faced by the country and PTI’s use of social media to mobilise the youth of Pakistan, in its report “Imran Khan’s anti-corruption bid draws 100,000 Pakistanis”:
All roads in the port city of Karachi near the rally venue were jammed for more than 10 hours, and hundreds of thousands of people waved party flags when the former Pakistan cricket captain arrived. Mr Khan, who drew more than 100,000 people to his October 30 rally in Lahore, brimmed with confidence that he could solve the problems in Pakistan, which is plagued by terror attacks, corruption, a weak economy and power and gas outages. His party has tapped social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to reach the all-important 18-30 age group, which represents about one-quarter of Pakistan’s population of 174 million – and more than the usual voting pool. Nearly 600,000 people have joined Mr Khan’s party in recent months by sending a text on their mobile phone.
The Australian on the other hand, in its report “Imran Khan becomes a serious player in Pakistan” focused on Imran’s points on foreign policy and equitable treatment for the less fortunate.
His message – a mix of self-reliance, anti-Americanism, anti-corruption and redistribution – was enthusiastically received by the crowd. “We want to start a new Pakistan,” he said, promising to introduce “a new foreign policy that will free Pakistan from the clutches of slavery” and a welfare state modeled on that of Britain paid for by an effective tax system.
In the US, the Los Angeles Times reported “Pakistan’s Imran Khan draws another huge crowd to political rally” and also made an oblique reference to the Memogate scandal afflicting the Zardari government.
Once regarded as a fringe player in Pakistani politics, Khan is building formidable momentum at a time when the country’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, is struggling for survival amid rumors that the powerful military could engineer an overthrow of the government.
Other US publications focused on their perceived anti-American stance of Imran, including the San Francisco Chronicle which refers to Imran’s “message of cracking down on corruption and standing up to the United States has found new resonance at a time when Pakistanis are fed up with the country’s chronic insecurity and economic malaise” and Bloomberg Business Week which refers to Imran’s “stance that Pakistan should pull out of a security pact with the U.S. is winning support amid criticism of army offensives against Taliban militants since 2007 that have triggered retaliatory bombings”.
Across the border, in India, there was also extensive coverage, focusing on the “tsunami” label. The Times of India states “Imran’s ‘tsunami’ rally bowls over Karachi” and Zee News reports “Thousands turn up for Imran’s ‘tsunami’ rally” and commented on the scale of the organisation and massive crowds:
All roads leading to the Quaid-e-Azam park, the venue of the rally adjacent to the mausoleum of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, were jammed with buses, trucks, cars, motorcycles and pedestrians who were eager to reach the place. Mindful of the response to Imran’s call for Karachiites to attend the rally in large numbers and show their support for a change in the country and against corruption, the organisers had set up giant video screens outside the park for people who could not find a place inside. A sea of people, including women, children and even disabled persons, stood shoulder-to-shoulder braving the afternoon heat as they listened to Tehreek-e-Insaf leaders’ speeches, but waited for Imran to make his much-awaited appearance.
In the Middle Eastern media, the Khaleej Times wrote “Imran vows to turn Pakistan into Islamic welfare state” and reported:
PTI and national flags were visible all around the venue as well as carried by young, old and children across this mega city on buildings, buses, motorcycles, cars and rickshaws. The entrance to the venue and the main area were divided into four sections, with one for women, another for families, the third for youth and the fourth for the general public with special seating for hundreds of media personnel. The rally itself was well organised with everyone entering the venue had to go through electronic gates and frisked by volunteers besides nearly 2,000 law enforcers were deputed to provide security for the rally.
The Gulf News reported “Cricket legend Imran Khan revitalises political scene” and the Oman Tribune says that “Karachi looks up to Imran as apostle of change”.
Very clearly, the world, which was already starting to take Imran Khan seriously, is now seriously sitting up to take notice.
The party is evolving, the new leadership is taking shape and there is an immense amount of scrutiny. The weight of expectation is leading to examination of every policy statement, every speech, and every press release under a microscope. Analysts, commentators and critics alike are picking holes and pulling threads to try and unravel Imran’s credibility. A million questions are out there, and a million more will arise. It is now up to Imran and his team to respond to them.