Lahore: Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan today kicked off his Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party`s election campaign by pledging to build a "new Pakistan" based on rule of law and free of corruption.
Addressing a huge gathering of tens of thousands at a ground near the historic Minar-e-Pakistan, 60-year-old Khan said he would be loyal to his supporters if his party came to power in the general election to be held on May 11.
"I only care for Pakistanis and that`s why I am in politics. Come join me to build a new Pakistan," he said.
Khan made six pledges to his supporters before his address was cut short by strong winds and heavy rain.
"To the people of Pakistan, I will always speak the truth. I will safeguard the down-trodden and minorities and ensure their due rights and I will wage a jihad against injustices," he said in a speech punctuated with musical interludes.
"I will not leave the country no matter what happens as I will live and die here. And I will not transfer my assets abroad. I will neither build factories nor allow my relatives and friends to make money after coming to power. I will protect the public money. All 180 million Pakistanis will stand by victims of any injustice abroad," he said.
Khan made his supporters pledge that they would be with him against any atrocity and injustice.
He asked 80,000 office-bearers of the party present at the venue to remove him from the post of chairman if he failed to fulfil any of the six promises he had made.
"I ask you to remove me from the chairmanship of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf if I fail to fulfil any of the promises," he said.
The thunderstorm interrupted Khan`s plans to unveil the party`s manifesto at the rally.
Like an earlier rally held at the Minar-e-Pakistan two-and-half years ago, the party managed to draw a crowd that mostly comprised youths on whom Khan is banking for the forthcoming general election.
Deputy Inspector General Tahir Rai put the number of participants at about 150,000 while independent observers claimed the crowd was more than 200,000.
Though the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf is projecting Khan as a hopeful for the post of Prime Minister, many analysts believe the party is unlikely to win enough seats to be able to form a government on its own.
Other political parties have accused the security establishment of backing Khan, a charge denied by the former cricketer.
Khan and his party have sought to capitalise on widespread discontent with traditional parties, including the Pakistan People?s Party and PML-N. He also struck a chord by opposing Pakistan`s participation in the war on terror and US drone strikes.
The rally at the Minar-e-Pakistan drew a large crowd, including people from the middle class and youths who danced with the party`s red, white and green flag.
Other leaders of the party, including former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Javed Hashmi, also addressed the gathering. The ground wore a festive look as participants were clad in colourful dresses and waved party flags.
Unlike other political parties, the crowd was disciplined and responded to songs played in the background.
Khan`s party was the first to introduce music at political gatherings, and the trend has been adopted by other parties like the PML-N.
Khan further said he faced a "hard time" in politics over the past 17 years but his belief in God had strengthened his resolve to serve the people.
"There was a time when only 10 people were left in my party but I never gave up," he said.
He claimed he always took "big decisions" in life and would continue doing so even after coming to power.