Which Khan can Save Pakistan ?
Despite that, prospects seem to have changed with the sudden meteoric rise of Pakistani cricket legend and opposition leader Imran Khan. When he first entered politics fifteen years ago to found Tehreek-e-Insaf (the Justice Party), he struggled to translate his sporting fame into votes. But in October last year, when up to 250,000 people turned out to support him in Lahore and Karachi — an unprecedented number — it became clear that Khan was a force to be reckoned with. No wonder that earlier this year Khan himself predicted his party would win a landslide victory at the upcoming national elections in 2013.
Khan’s grassroots popularity is driven by the very essence of his political campaign. As a relative newcomer to Pakistani politics who has never held office before, he is the only candidate to remain untainted by allegations or rumours of corruption. This lends unique credibility to his core campaign pillars — fighting corruption through political reform, promoting real democracy, transforming Pakistan’s relationship with the United States and, most of all, creating a meaningful welfare system and generating a robust and vibrant economy.
However, as Pakistanis look to Imran Khan as the country’s best — if not only — hope, questions remain about how much one man can really do to transform decades of accumulating social, political and economic challenges. Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is poverty. Currently 61 per cent of the population lives on less than $2 a day. Adult literacy is at 56 per cent, with overall female literacy even lower at 36 per cent. Sanitation coverage is only 58 per cent, and 40 per cent of the population lack access to safe drinking water. Overall, Pakistan ranks 145 in the human development index — a slide down from its position at 138 in 1999.
Why all the gloom? Pakistan has an unfortunate tradition of privileging military over development spending. In 2011, defence spending comprised a total of 22 per cent of the budget whereas health, education, infrastructure, and social spending amounted to a measly 2.1 percent of the total budget.
So despite his obvious popularity, many fear that Khan’s political plan lacks substance in dealing with such entrenched issues. Pakistani journalist Farooq Sulehria, writing in The News, points out that Khan’s political ideology simplistically “blames corruption for all the ills plaguing this country”, but lacks a clear manifesto for transformation. “The external debt is approaching $70 billion. Population growth and environmental catastrophes are depriving an increasing number of Pakistanis of their livelihoods. Nuclear waste holds our future hostage. Will Mr Khan solve all these problems by persuading politicians to make their bank accounts public?”
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