From a cricket hero to a rising star in Pakistani politics – the journey of Imran Khan has been quite intriguing. The Oxford University graduate turned into a national hero when he returned to Pakistan in 1992 from Melbourne with Cricket World Cup trophy in his hands.
Eyes are on him once again; this time he is expected to sweep the political pitch. Often dismissed as a political non-entity, Imran Khan is now expected to emerge as king or kingmaker in the next polls. The 59-year-ol Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI), is suddenly attracting huge crowds at political rallies. Last year, an online YouGov-Cambridge poll found Khan the most popular political figure in Pakistan.
The ongoing confrontation among the civilian government, the courts and the military is only helping Imran Khan in adding more supporters to his camp.
In an exclusive interview with Kamna Arora of Zeenews.com, Arif Rafiq, an analyst of Pakistan politics, discusses the emergence of Imran Khan in politics and its repercussions.
Arif Rafiq is president of US-based Vizier Consulting, LLC, which provides strategic guidance on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. He writes at the Pakistan Policy Blog.
Kamna: What chance does Imran Khan hold of forming Pakistan’s next government?
Rafiq: Imran Khan`s Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) has a low chance of forming the next government in Pakistan. At this point, it looks like no single party will get a National Assembly majority and PTI will get the third largest seats. As a result, PTI will likely be wooed by the two largest parties, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N), to help form a coalition government.
Kamna: Will the current political crisis help Imran gain electoral advantage?
Rafiq: Imran Khan is largely on the sidelines in the midst of the current political crisis. He is busy building his party while the PPP, PML-N, Army, and Supreme Court wage war against one another.
Kamna: Pervez Musharraf has expressed his willingness to join hands with Imran Khan`s party. Is there any possibility of such an alliance? If yes, how will it change the political scenario of Pakistan?
Rafiq: It is very unlikely that PTI will form a coalition with Pervez Musharraf`s All Pakistan Muslim League (APML). Musharraf is a political pariah in Pakistan and his party doesn`t have any strong candidates who can win an election. APML would be a liability to PTI, not an asset.
Kamna: Imran is about to attend an ‘anti-India and anti-US’ rally called by JuD. How do you think India should see this?
Rafiq: A spokesman with PTI denied that Khan would be attending the JuD rally. Khan does not want to antagonise the religious right and he has benefited from some of their support. It is important to note that Khan has said that he will not allow Pakistani soil to be used by militants to attack other countries, including India. I believe he wants to build ties with regional states, but the real question is: if he comes to power, will he have the ability to change foreign policy against the Army`s will? Probably not.
Kamna: Is military backing Imran?
Rafiq: There is no indication that the military is backing Imran right now. On this matter, there is simply speculation. That speculation is based on the military`s history of interfering in politics. But my understanding is that the military is following a wait-and-see approach. It likes what Khan is saying and doing, but they have no role in his present success.
Kamna: Keeping in mind the whole political scene, which leader according to you is the best suited to lead Pakistan?
Rafiq: All of Pakistan`s major politicians bring their own share of strengths and weaknesses to the table. Pakistan would be best served if its collective leadership came to agreement on the rules of the game and a constructive way forward to a progressive, peaceful, and prosperous country. Like India, Pakistan is in an era of coalition governments. So the challenge is how to push through change in a political environment that requires compromise. Pakistan`s next prime minister will need those skills.