Anti-War.com & The Telegraph – 2011-10-31 23:05:48
Massive Rally in Lahore:
Imran Khan Leads Calls for Pakistan
To End US Alliance
Jason Ditz / Anti-War.com
(October 30, 2011) — A popular but largely powerless politician for years, former cricket star and Tehreek-e Insaf leader Imran Khan has parlayed his long-standing opposition to US drone strikes into a massive rally today on the streets of Lahore, where some 100,000 demonstrators marched to condemn the current US alliance and the Zardari government.
“Our leaders owned this war on terror for the sake of dollars,” Khan declared, “let me curse you. You sold out the blood of innocent people.” The ruling Pakistani Peoples Party (PPP) condemned Khan, saying it made “no sense” to call for public protests and civil disobedience when the country’s “democratic institutions are functioning independently.”
Khan’s call appears to have found some new currency with the Pakistani public, however, and that is something new for his party, whose platform centers around tackling corruption and reducing the power the nation’s security forces have over ordinary citizens.
Khan concedes that in many ways the rally is an effort to build up his party, saying that given the backroom deals and powerful dynasties inherent in the Pakistani political system the Tehreek-e Insaf was “never going to win the traditional way.”
But with US missiles falling on Pakistani soil on almost a daily basis, the Tehreek-e Insaf has a built-in issue that resonates across much of the nation, and while both the ruling Zardari government and the major opposition faction of Nawaz Sharif have given lip-service to calling for an end to US drone strikes, neither seems to be willing to force the issue with the Obama Administration, unsurprising since Pakistan’s current economic system depends largely on foreign aid.
The question then becomes not if the PPP has lost the voters, but how long they can hold on to power without them. The Zardari government has repeatedly resisted calls for early elections in the past, and seems to be hoping to hold out until 2013. Even the Sharif brothers’ PML-N has called for an early vote, but it is unclear if they will back it up with votes if Khan’s popularity might cut into their traditional conservative power base.
Imran Khan Leads 100,000 Rally Against Pakistan’s US Alliance
LAHORE (October 31, 2011) — Khan, 58, entered politics 15 years ago when he founded Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or the Movement for Justice Party, but up to now he has struggled to translate his fame into votes. The rally in the eastern city of Lahore indicated his message may have found new resonance at a time when Pakistanis are fed up with the country’s chronic insecurity and economic malaise.
“I have come here to register my hatred against this corrupt system,” said 29-year-old Nadeem Iqbal, who attended the rally.
A poll conducted by the US-based Pew Research Center in June found Khan, the captain of Pakistan’s 1992 world champion cricket team, to be the most popular political figure in the country. Khan’s rising popularity could be a concern for the US, given his harsh criticism of the Pakistani government’s co-operation with Washington in the fight against Islamist militants.
He has been especially critical of US drone strikes targeting militants in Pakistan’s rugged tribal region along the Afghan border. The latest suspected strike killed six alleged militants on Sunday. Khan has argued that Pakistan’s alliance with the US is the main reason Pakistan is facing a home-grown Taliban insurgency.
“Our leaders owned this war on terror for the sake of dollars,” Khan told the crowd assembled around the country’s most important national monument, the Minar-e-Pakistan. “Let me curse you. You sold out the blood of innocent people.”
Pakistan’s state news agency, The Associated Press of Pakistan, estimated the crowd was over 100,000 people. Mosharraf Zaidi, a Pakistani political analyst, said the rally was significant because Khan’s party has not been able to attract such large crowds in the past.
Despite the strong show of support, it’s still unclear how much Khan can shake up the political scene in the next national elections in 2013. His support is largely confined to urban areas of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, where Lahore is the capital.
Pakistan’s main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, has dominated urban areas of Punjab in the recent past. Many analysts, including Zaidi, expect Khan’s party to siphon votes away from the PML-N. But given Pakistan’s electoral system, that may simply benefit the ruling Pakistan People’s Party rather than win seats for Khan’s party in parliament.
It’s also unclear exactly what Khan would do if he did win significant political power. He has been relentless in criticising the government for corruption and for its failure to address the many serious problems facing the country. But he has failed to offer many specifics about how he would fix these problems.
“We don’t see top-shelf policy people, top-shelf professionals becoming part of the policy machine at PTI,” said Zaidi. “What we see is a lot of rhetoric.”
The suspected US missile strike on Sunday targeted a vehicle in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, said Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media.
The US refuses to acknowledge the CIA-run drone program in Pakistan, but officials have said privately that the attacks have killed many senior Taliban and al-Qaida commanders. Pakistani officials often criticize the attacks as violations of the country’s sovereignty, but the government is widely believed to support the strikes in private. They are extremely unpopular among ordinary people who believe they mainly kill innocent civilians.
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