Pakistan’s new political star is bad news for the U.S., said Sanjeev Srivastava. The “glamorous and charismatic” cricket champion turned social activist Imran Khan was long dismissed as a political loser, having never managed to get elected to national office despite several runs. His party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), founded in 1996 on an anti-corruption platform, doesn’t have a single seat in parliament. Yet his moment seems to have finally come.
At a rally in Lahore last month, Khan drew some 75,000 cheering supporters to listen to him rail against the “decadent, corrupt, and sucking-up-to-America ways of Pakistan politicians.” After a snide reference to the U.S. secretary of state as “Chachi Clinton,” or Auntie Clinton, he demanded an end to U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani territory, saying that the Taliban is not Pakistan’s enemy.
Still, despite his anti-Americanism, Khan is no religious conservative. He has defended women’s rights and was one of the few to stand up against the assassination of a politician who campaigned to repeal the law mandating capital punishment for blasphemy. Khan is “treading the middle path between the fundamentalists and the liberal secularists”—and that could well be a “winning electoral combination.”