First the world, now Pakistan: Imran Khan seeks election glory

Imran Khan is often likened to US President Donald Trump for his populist flair and Twitter tirades. (AFP)
Updated 14 February 2018
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First the world, now Pakistan: Imran Khan seeks election glory

ISLAMABAD: Clad in a tracksuit and ankle weights, Imran Khan lounges in a plush chair and announces this is his political moment: the World Cup cricket champion believes power in Pakistan is his for the taking.
After years in the wilderness the former all-rounder is riding a wave of populism as rival parties stumble, decrying the venality of Pakistan’s political elite and promising an end to rampant corruption if he can win a general election due this year.
Often likened to US President Donald Trump for his populist flair and Twitter tirades, he prefers to draw parallels with former US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders or British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“It is one of the most ridiculous comparisons,” he sighs, when asked about Trump during an interview at his hillside home near Islamabad.
But despite once describing a potential meeting with the US president as a “bitter pill,” Khan says he would be prepared to work with Trump to stop the “insanity” in Afghanistan.
“This war will only end through talks,” he says. “The solution does not lie in more bombs and guns.”
In the West, the man who led Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup champion cricket team is typically seen through the prism of celebrity, with memories of his headline-grabbing romances and playboy reputation standing out.
Back home, the 65-year-old cuts a more conservative persona as a devout Muslim, often carrying prayer beads and nurturing beliefs in living saints.
To his legions of fans, Khan is uncorrupted and generous, spending his years off the pitch building hospitals and a university.
“(He) deserves a chance over all the other leeches,” says supporter Shahid Khan, a 26-year-old engineer.
But Khan is also described as impulsive and brash, too tolerant of militancy and fostering close links to Islamists, amid speculation over his ties to Pakistan’s powerful military establishment.
Khan entered Pakistan’s chaotic politics more than two decades ago promising to fight graft and build a welfare state in the nation of over 200 million.
But for his first 15 years as a politician he sputtered, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party never securing more than a few seats in the national assembly.
“Sports teaches you that life is not in a straight line,” he says.
“You take the knocks. You learn from your mistakes.”
In 2012 PTI’s popularity surged with hordes of young Pakistanis who grew up idolizing Khan as a cricket icon reaching voting age.
The wave of youth support accompanied festering dissatisfaction among the middle class with the country’s corrupt and dynastic political elite.
Khan admits his party was ill-prepared to capitalize on the gains in time for the 2013 election.
But that was then. “For the first time, we’ll be going into elections prepared,” he says of 2018.
He points to his party’s governance of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province as a blueprint for nationwide programs focusing on human development.
Rahimullah Yusufzai, a veteran journalist based in KP’s capital Peshawar, says the party has done well on legislation — but implementation has been slow, as PTI grapples with inexperienced political newcomers and indiscipline.
“He has been there for more than four and half years,” Yusufzai says. “People are trying to figure out, what change did he bring?“
Others fear Khan’s mercurial nature is unsuited to being prime minister.
Last month he made headlines after asking his supporters in a tweet to pray he finds “personal happiness which, except for a few years, I have been deprived of,” following still unverified claims he had married his spiritual adviser.
“Imran Khan is very, very impulsive — a trait leaders score low on,” says Harris Chaudhry, a 23-year-old student.
Detractors have also attacked Khan for his repeated calls to hold talks with militants and for his party’s alliance with Sami ul Haq, the so-called Father of the Taliban whose madrassas once educated militant supremos Mullah Omar and Jalaluddin Haqqani.
Khan defends the partnership, saying Haq is instrumental to reform and helping poor students at risk of being radicalized in Pakistan’s long war on extremism.
To his opponents, he is merely latching on to a groundswell of naked populism.
“Imran Khan is right now the beneficiary of a wave of celebrity politicians who are anti-politicians,” explains Husain Haqqani from the Washington-based Hudson Institute, suggesting Khan has also benefited from ties with the military, whose penchant for meddling in Pakistani politics is well known.
Still, many believe this is the best political opportunity Khan will ever have.
His arch nemesis Nawaz Sharif was ousted from the premiership in July, leaving the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in disarray; while the once mighty Pakistan People’s Party has wilted into a shell of its former self.
This election, Khan says, is PTI’s “biggest chance” at victory, even as doubts reverberate after his party lost a by-election this week.
But when asked if, should he lose, would he hand over the party leadership to a successor, Khan is cryptic.
“I’m the only cricket captain in our history who left when he still could have been the captain,” he says.


Sabika Shaikh’s family waiting to see her one last time

The coffin of Sabika Shaikh, 17, is carried during her funeral service in Stafford, Texas, on May, 20, 2018. Sabika was an exchange student from Pakistan. (AFP)
Updated 35 min 51 sec ago
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Sabika Shaikh’s family waiting to see her one last time

  • The Punjab administration has announced a scholarship in the name of the Texas school shooting victim.
  • Sabika’s body will arrive in Pakistan on Wednesday morning. Her father says he was greatly moved to see how many people attended her funeral in Houston.

KARACHI: Abdul Aziz Shaikh, father of the Pakistani victim of the Texas school shooting, told Arab News on Monday that he would have to wait to see his daughter for the last time due to a delay in flights from the US.

“Sabika’s body was due to arrive in Karachi on Tuesday morning; however, due to a change in flight schedules, we will receive her at 4 a.m. on Wednesday,” he said.

“It’s really difficult but we have no option but to wait,” he continued, adding that officials at the Pakistan Consulate in Houston were striving to make the best possible arrangements for sending her body back to her home.

The 17-year-old Pakistani foreign exchange student, participating in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program in the US, was killed, along with nine others, when a teenage classmate opened fire on fellow students in the Santa Fe High School in Texas on Friday.

Sabika’s funeral prayers were offered at a local mosque in Houston after the noon prayer on Sunday.

“We thought she was only loved by her family. But the way people showed up at her funeral in Houston — and the way everyone condoled with us in Karachi — shows that she was loved by everyone," her father said.

Shaikh said he saw the video of the Houston funeral, pointing out that it was not only attended by Pakistani-Americans but people from all Muslim countries. Many of those who attended the ceremony, he added, belonged to other faiths. They were all mourning her untimely death, he said.

“All this shows people’s exemplary attachment to her. It makes us very proud.”

Rana Mashhood Khan, a minister in the Punjab administration who visited the bereaved family on Sunday evening, told Arab News that the provincial government was going to introduce a “Sabika Scholarship” that would be awarded to brilliant students from Punjab. This, he added, would help them study abroad in some of the best educational institutions around the world.

“I met the family and conveyed a special message from Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. We wanted them to know that we will institute a scholarship in the name of their talented daughter for young and bright students in our province,” Khan said.

Shaikh seemed happy to hear the announcement. “I’m glad that the name of my daughter will be associated with a scholarship that will benefit our students.”

He also said that a Karachi-based industrialist, Ishtiaq Baig, had also promised to introduce a scholarship in Sabika’s name. “She is making us all very proud. I wish I could see her alive with so many accomplishments.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also visited Shaikh’s residence to condole with the family.

Expressing deep grief and sorrow, the prime minister described Sabika as a talented Pakistani student, adding that the whole nation was mourning her death. The Pakistani premier also pointed out that extremist tendencies were not just a problem in one country or region, but that they were an international one.

Earlier, in an interview with Arab News, Shaikh had revealed that his daughter wanted to be a diplomat and improve the image of her country.

“Sabika wanted to sit the Central Superior Services (CSS) exams and join the Foreign Service of Pakistan. She thought that Pakistan was a great country, but that it had an image problem.”

“At one point, she told me that she wanted to be like Maleeha Lodhi and Tasneem Aslam,” Shaikh had said. “Her desire was to improve the image of Pakistan abroad.”