The Game-changer

HE ONCE tormented adversaries with pace and movement across the twenty-two yards. Pakistan’s captain cool always dug in when his team needed it. The man was a leader of the lads who brought home cricket’s biggest prize in 1992, and perhaps its greatest moment after independence.


Allan Jacob

Published: Fri 2 Dec 2011, 10:02 PM

Last updated: Tue 30 Jun 2020, 5:30 PM

Imran Khan is swinging it his way across the wider political pitch these days, picking up speed for a shot at government. The wait appears to be finally over for the great Khan in Pakistan’s rough and tumble world of politics.
Two election losses and 15 years later, he believes his time has come with the masses eating out of his hands and latching on to every word he says. Rivals, including the Pakistan People’s Party and the PML (N) have themselves to blame for their steep fall from grace.
The inspirational Pathan’s massive rally last month in Lahore drew over 100,000 people and was testament to his game-changing abilities in the country’s rabble-rousing brand of politics.
With success comes a heady feeling and he is keen to take that momentum forward, bowling the occasional bouncer at the ruling establishment led by the Pakistan People’s Party. Captain courageous is connecting with the youth using every weapon in his arsenal. Social media is playing a big part in the savvy politician’s campaign, akin to Barack Obama’s campaign for the US presidency in 2008.
Rallies, meetings, and activism take up most of his time these days. It’s a tactical ploy which could pay dividends in the endgame when elections are called in two years’ time. He also takes care to court the middle-class and his appeal is showing in the growing numbers who are lured to his clarion call for change.
During a brief conversation on a trip to Dubai, cricket’s former playboy turned political titan looks dapper and at ease sporting a dark suit. You sense a grin of accomplishment as he pats his slightly tousled hair for the look he desires.
At 58, he’s not exactly your young man in a hurry. Instead, he has picked up political acumen which makes him a formidable foe. Years of sitting on the sidelines of politics have given him dollops of wisdom on when to strike. He knows the time is here and now when disenchantment with the government and polity is at its peak.
Meanwhile, those sharp eyes miss no detail in the plush room filled with acolytes and partymen from his Tehreek-e-Insaaf party. You get the impression that he loves playing the role of a statesman while listening patiently to their every comment and encomium, relishing the prospect of a political victory at the hustings. On the dustbowls of Pakistan, he is the consummate politician, bellowing on the microphone and putting his troops through their paces. Whether he lands a sucker punch at the polls is a matter of conjecture, but what is certain is that he is no more a political lightweight and his opponents better take notice.
King Khan still talks cricket, but only in passing. He’s more comfortable bowling on his new terrain — politics — as he scythes into the opposition, in a country divided by years of apathy and arm-twisting by foreign powers peddling influence, namely the United States. He mouths scorn at Washington, while speaking in glowing terms about what the Chinese can do for his country and its economy.
There are no direct targets, only solutions to the ills plaguing Pakistan. Even the Kashmir dispute with India can be solved through negotiations.‘‘There is no room for conflict in the modern age.’’
Mass contact with the impoverished folk of his country have given him a new perspective into what needs to be done for their benefit. ‘‘There are millions starving in the country and our politicians are making a mockery of their plight, keeping the US happy, accepting their aid. Let’s do our own budgeting and live within our means. The foundations of the country have been rocked and we need to take charge of our destiny,’’ he says.
Midway into the rhetoric, he is interrupted with a question on the army and the powerful ISI, the intelligence agency blamed for many excesses in the country.‘‘Civilian rule is paramount. Look at Turkey. The civilian government has full control after years of tug-of-war with the army.’’
Returning to his favoured rhetoric, he says: ‘‘People are sick and tired of the corruption, the nepotism, the abuse of power which the country has suffered for several decades.’’ Then there’s silence, as if in contemplation.
His baritone booms again. ‘‘It’s time for a new beginning, to make a clean break with the past, for Pakistan to fulfill its potential.’’ We’ve heard it all before, but being Pakistan’s Mr Clean comes with its perks. One of them being that the muck doesn’t stick to him— it stops with the current ruling class.
You wonder if the charismatic leader and activist who founded the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital in memory of his mother can convert youth disenchantment into a movement and votes. ‘‘We know we can. This is just the beginning for greater change, a positive change for Pakistan; a lot of planning went into the rally. It didn’t happen overnight.’’
There’s a plane to catch and he looks impatient. The interview is over.
A voice rings after the others have dispersed: ‘‘I know him, he is an idealist who can deliver on his promises.’’
Maybe. But the great Khan will have to deliver fast, like his express deliveries of yore.
Pakistan cannot wait.

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