Early indications from the elections held in Pakistan yesterday indicate that Imran Khan’s party Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI, translated as Movement for Justice) will win a majority and he will be the next prime minister. He has claimed victory but it looks like the outgoing ruling party that has been in power for so long is not going quietly, promising to fight the result, and there could be a continuation of the violence that has plagued this election.
In a televised address to the nation from his house in Bani Gala, a wealthy suburb of Islamabad, Khan struck a unifying tone, pledging to rise above personal attacks and lift up the poor.
With half the vote counted – more than fifteen hours after the official result was due – the PTI was projected to win about 120 of the 272 contested seats in the national assembly, leaving it only a few shy of a majority coalition.
Appearing calm, the 65-year-old promised to improve Pakistan’s governance, widen the tax base and shun the VIP lifestyle of previous rulers. He said he would be “ashamed” to live in the lavish prime minister’s house, and would turn it into an “educational institution.”
People in the US may not have heard of Imran Khan but I venture that there is not a single adult in the cricket playing parts of the world who has not heard of him because he is a legend who is not only the greatest cricketer Pakistan has produced but is on pretty much anyone’s list of the all-time greatest players, and as an all-rounder (i.e., one who excels as both a batter and bowler) can be considered second only to Gary Sobers of the West Indies. He led the nation to its only World Cup victory in 1992. During his period of leadership, Pakistan was the only side that could hold its own against the mighty West Indies teams that were destroying everyone in their path. He cut a dashing figure both on and off the field, with his playing skills and movie-star good looks and hanging out with the likes of Mick Jagger.
Khan transformed the game on the Indian subcontinent. It used to be thought that the pitches in those countries only supported spin bowlers. But that was before Imran (he is always referred to by cricket fans by just his first name) came along with his fiery fast bowling. Since then, Pakistan has been producing one great fast bowler one after another, such as Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, with one of them Shoaib Akhtar considered the fastest ever, delivering at speeds of over 100 mph.
Here is Imran being interviewed by Riche Benaud, an Australian cricket legend. After the first minute, you see examples of some of his finest bowling performances.
Osman Samiuddin provides a retrospective of Imran’s career trajectory from star cricketer to possible prime minister. I do not know much about Imran’s politics. Samiuddin describes his party as having a “conservative, right-leaning platform”. But we have to always recalibrate such things when dealing with US audiences because when compared to the rest of the world, “conservative, right-leaning” pretty much describes the Democratic party.
Pakistan has long been in a state of turmoil, a once-promising modern-looking state that has become mired in religious obscurantism with endemic corruption and utterly reactionary religious and political elements playing a large role. Imran has a tough job ahead.