ABSTRACT: PROFILES about Imran Khan. Khan, who once ruled the sport of cricket from Karachi to Lord’s, is in contention to rule the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Khan makes for an unusual politician—a former tabloid celebrity aspiring to negotiate with the Taliban. He is rated in opinion polls as his country’s most popular politician. He leads the somewhat amorphous party Tehreek-e-Insaf, or the Movement for Justice, which he founded in 1996. It promises a crackdown on corruption, freedom from American influence, competent governance, and a more equitable economy. Khan has said that his party will dominate when the national elections are held, probably early in 2013. That forecast has the ring of an athlete’s pregame boast, but, if a free vote is held, political analysts expect Khan to emerge with a significant block of seats in parliament, and it is possible that he could end up as President or Prime Minister. At Oxford University in the nineteen-seventies, Khan was a contemporary of Benazir Bhutto, who became Pakistan’s Prime Minister in 1988. The enigma that Khan presents recalls some of the paradoxes that she once embodied. Khan’s adversaries regard him as dangerously naïve about the menace that Islamist radicals pose to Pakistan. Khan’s surge in the polls and the increase in the size of his rallies date back only a year or two; previously, his party was barely relevant. Khan acknowledges that he has been the beneficiary of the public’s disillusionment with the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and the center-right opposition Muslim League, which have repeatedly failed to deliver on their promises. The popular excitement about Imran Khan reflects two strains of hope: that he might be different from his predecessors, and that Pakistani politics is changing in ways that might give him a better chance. A newly assertive judiciary has challenged the Army, opening at least the possibility of stronger civilian leadership. And middle-class Pakistani voters are clamoring for a leader who finally can do something about corruption and poor governance. His most popular ideas include a plan to insure that the rich pay taxes (the country has one of the world’s worst rates of tax compliance) and a pledge to tear down the walls around colonial-era government houses, where coddled officials live in comfort. He would turn the estates into public parks, museums, and libraries. He also calls for an end to all U.S. aid to Pakistan, which he has described as a “curse” that fosters dependency. Discusses Khan’s career as an elite cricket player. Considers what influence the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate could bring to bear on the elections. Writer accompanies Khan to a political rally in Sindh.
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