When Pakistanis go to the polls to choose a new prime minister on May 11th, one candidate could seriously shake up the race. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who led the country to victory in its favourite sport, now wants to lead the country. Our reporters followed him on the campaign trail.
Imran Khan claims a “tsunami” will sweep away the ruling elite and put him into the driving seat of a nuclear power rife with terrorism and burdened with a failing economy.
Disillusioned with the state of affairs, the public is looking for “change” that Imran Khan is promising.
The ruling elite he wants to unseat includes the husband of the late Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, currently president of Pakistan, and Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister and currently leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N. Both have been widely panned for their performance since General Pervez Musharraf resigned in 2008.
But Khan is not just campaigning against the ruling elite; he also wants Pakistan to review its policy on the War on Terror. It’s a war in which the country’s military has been playing a double role by unofficially talking with the Taliban while working closely with the West since 2001, when Musharraf made Pakistan a front-line state in the War on Terror.
Now, with the NATO pullout in 2014 from Afghanistan looming, Khan’s desire to review Pakistan’s foreign and internal security policy has led to him being dubbed “Taliban Khan” by his opponents, who accuse him of being the military’s front man.
Critics say the military wants to ensure that next year, a Pakistani-friendly government is installed in neighbouring Afghanistan once the NATO forces leave, and that then their double-dealing strategy could pay off.
Khan could be the man for the job, in a country where many ordinary politicians became head of state on the endorsement of the Pakistani military.
But Khan wasn’t always close to the military. He was once labelled a playboy due to his lifestyle in London, where he went to school and subsequently married the daughter of one of the richest families in the world.
Despite this, after Khan led Pakistan to victory in Cricket World Cup in 1992 his popularity soared. After retiring from the sport, Khan turned his attention to philanthropy and then politics, but he has been unable to make a real mark as yet.
Our correspondents Taha Siddiqui and Julien Fouchet take you on the campaign trail with Imran Khan around Pakistan, as he woos the urban population - especially its youth, with whom he is popular due to his celebrity status - to help him win.
But his real challenge is in winning in rural Pakistan, which comprises 70 percent of the country, and where powerful landlords own everything, even the votes. With a rightist agenda that suits the military, many feel he may be able to finally make a mark - provided that his popularity translate into votes on polling day.