Largely regarded until now as a political lightweight with street support that scarcely translates into votes come general elections, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan spectacularly burst onto the national political stage in a massive show of force at his rally in Lahore on Sunday as thousands upon thousands of supporters gathered at the historic Minar-e-Pakistan to answer his call: ‘remove the government, save Pakistan’.
Turning the tables on his political rivals, especially the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and making good on his promise that he would fill the sprawling Minar-e-Pakistan grounds, Imran left little doubt about who rules Lahore. The cricketer-turned-politician told the crowd – which reportedly comprised well over 100,000 of his supporters, most of them youngsters – that a revolution was around the corner and the government could not stop it. Basking in the adoration of the crowd, he said he had one complaint to make of the people of Lahore: they took a long time to wake up.
“But now that Lahore has risen, we are unstoppable!” said an impassioned Imran.DECLARE ASSETS: Imran gave the ruling elitist politicians a “few months” to declare their assets, failing which he said he would force them to do so by starting a massive civil disobedience movement. He warned the “oppressive and reactionary” existing political setup that a tsunami, and not a mere flood, of change was on its way that would sweep away their distorted and corrupt style of politics.
Imran had claimed in the days leading up to the rally that he would show everyone at the Minar-e-Pakistan who ruled Lahore, Punjab and the rest of the country. There were no two ways of seeing the result of that claim on Sunday: the PTI trumped the PML-N – which has long held more sway and support in the capital of Punjab than any other political party – and it did so with a thumping majority.Imran told the participants of the rally that it took his party 15 years of hard work to reach this position where it could bring change to Pakistan. He promised to end corruption and to bring back the $100 billion of the country’s money stolen by corrupt politicians and hidden away in foreign banks. He thanked youngsters, rickshaw drivers, police personnel and government servants that he said had “sneaked into the rally” in their civvies.
The PTI chief said parliament was full of land-grabbers powered by patwaris who gathered black money for them. Imran laid particular stress on his party’s aim to rid the country of patwari culture and said Pakistan was the only country left in the world that still employed them.He also warned that he would go to the Supreme Court as well as the Election Commission of Pakistan if the politicians in the government and opposition failed to declare their assets as required by law.
He said the PTI would set up a cell to investigate the assets of politicians who failed to declare them.MANIFESTO: Imran announced his party’s manifesto in detail, which he said was aimed at making Pakistan a peaceful and independent country where investment would be attracted from across the world. “We will make Pakistan a place where people come from other countries to seek jobs,” he said. Talking of change, he said: “Today we are beginning a new Pakistan from Minar-e-Pakistan, the place from where Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah began his movement.”
Describing his party’s policy towards the United States, Imran said: “We will be friends with you (US), but we will not be your slaves. We will help you withdraw from Afghanistan, but won’t launch any military operation (for you).” He questioned that if the US, being a superpower, could not win the war through military means, how could Pakistan? Imran expressed more of a leaning towards China, saying his party would seek to strengthen its ties with Pakistan’s all-weather friend. He said he was leaving for China on the Chinese government’s invitation tonight.He said Pakistan was not a poor country but one rich in natural resources. He said Pakistan had 180 billion tonnes of coal reserves, “which means we can export electricity to the world”. Imran said a Pakistan he was heading would never need to beg before anyone.
“Pakistan will never beg again; Imran Khan will die but won’t beg,” he vowed amid vociferous cheers of the charged crowd. Coming down hard on President Asif Ali Zardari, Imran questioned how Zardari could provide food, clothes and shelter when under his rule 16,000 people had committed suicide.He also claimed that Zardari wrote a letter to the US requesting it to please save him from the army because he was not able to serve the US well with army interference.
Lambasting PML-N President Nawaz Sharif, he said: “How can you fight an alligator like Zardari when you can’t even take on the [dengue] mosquitoes?” He said Nawaz could have done better than coming up with a show of patwaris at the PML-N rally in Lahore. The PTI chief said Pakistan was suffering losses of Rs 3 trillion every year because of rampant corruption. He said his party also aimed to bring about police reforms in the country to improve the working of the institution.
“We will depoliticise the police and then get the SHO elected the way it is done in America,” he added. He said the condition of villages would be improved and pledged to bring an end to the military operation and targeted killings in Balochistan, which he said was a province rich in natural resources but treated cruelly in the past. “We will make the Balochs our brothers,” he added. “Change is not coming, change is already here!” were the words Imran Khan chose to end his speech with, to wild applause from the crowd that had swelled exponentially since it started gathering at around 11am.Whether the rally and the unprecedented support will have a direct impact in terms of elections remains to be seen, but one thing that was made clear at Minar-e-Pakistan on Sunday evening was that the PTI has emerged as a viable alternative to the PPP and PML-N. Whether it will be able to capitalise on that or not is anybody’s guess. – PT