On July 25, 2018, Pakistan held elections. This was the second successive democratic transfer of power ever, since the country was born in 1947. Pakistanis rejected the corrupt status quo parties and their leaders. Pakistanis chose to give a chance to a popular leader who is considered a new comer even after struggling for 22 years in politics. Pakistanis chose Imran Khan to be their next Prime Minister.
The struggle behind Imran's success is defined by slow progress interspersed by small but significant victories. His defining characteristic has been his unfailing resiliency and determination; he never gave up. More importantly, he never let his supporters give up.
There is a lot to unroll in his journey but the last few years have been very significant. That's what I'll focus on here.
Imran came to Seattle to raise funds for the 2013 general elections. I was in the hall with my family. We donated whatever we could because we believed in his mission. He spoke of his confidence in his party's victory. We all believed with him. He has an infectious aura of belief; you can't help getting the same confidence when you're around him.
Seattle also hosted the likes of Fauzia Kasuri, Javed Hashmi, and Ali Zaidi in support of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Imran's political party. Two out of those three left him in the last five years because they had disagreements with him. My support for him grew stronger. On election day in May 2013 I was so confident that he would win that I wrote a poem congratulating Pakistan on electing an independent, honest, and patriotic Prime Minister. He lost due to massive and widespread rigging by the corrupt status quo helped by the Chief of Army Staff and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
In 2014, after a year of knocking on all legal doors to investigate voting for four seats in the National Assembly, Imran took out a procession from Lahore to Islamabad. He, along with PTI and thousands of citizens, spent 126 days on a protest sit-in. Dr Tahir ul Qadri had a parallel protest for his grievances against the murder of his workers by Punjab police, including a pregnant woman, in broad daylight in front of news cameras.
During the dharna (protest sit-in), Imran spoke multiple times a day from the container that was his home for the time being. He spoke of a need for fair and free elections, of fighting corruption at the top levels, of educating citizens of their rights, of a need for peace. The dharna was cut short by Imran after 149 people, including 132 children, were killed by terrorists in Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. I was disappointed to first hear that he had decided, out of respect for the victims and the nation, to disband his dharna so he could lend support to the government in its fight against terror. Later I realized how difficult a decision it must have been but how important Pakistan's unity was to him.
The Supreme Court finally investigated the allegations of widespread rigging. It made a decision that despite a long list of known issues, it could not prove collusion. It also recommended steps be taken to rectify known and newly discovered issues.
Some anonymous source leaked what are now called "Panama Papers" in 2015. Then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, and his family were implicated in these leaks to have undisclosed foreign companies and bank accounts. They validated the claims made in the 1990s of him owning four apartments in an upscale area of London, which he had never admitted to.
Imran took to the streets once again after the parliament refused to investigate these claims. He locked down cities all over the country to force the legal system to take action. Finally, the Supreme Court decided to investigate. I wrote about it, too. There were three petitioners, Imran was one of them, asking the Supreme Court to decide on the matter.
In 2017, the Supreme Court declared Sharif to be neither honest nor truthful and removed him from office. A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) had assisted the Supreme Court and had recommended that cases be opened by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against Sharif and his children. This resulted in another 10 months of investigations and court hearings before Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Safdar, were sentenced to 10 and seven years in jail, respectively. Sharif's two sons, also under indictment, fled to London where they remain today. They are considered absconders by the Pakistan legal system.
Both the election rigging and Panama leaks proved that the political system was rotten to the core. Imran was the only steadfast presence amongst all the chaos. He was resolute in stamping out corruption from the top echelons of power. He conviced Pakistanis to help him in his mission. He was successful but he was still not in power.
There are various theories on why people support Imran. None of them are fully correct and none is completely wrong. He is charismatic and inspirational; he has been since his days in the Pakistan cricket team. No one has ever called him corrupt, apart from some minor and uncredible political mudslinging. He built two cancer hospitals where 70% of patients are treated at no cost to them. He built a world class university in rural Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) where 90% of students come from poor families. He won the 1992 cricket world cup in Australia against all odds. He has a reputation of being a ladies man. He's handsome and charming. He is open and accessible to the media. He is honest and truthful. He is everything that no other politician in Pakistan is: he's a leader, not a politician.
His rise to power is not all due to his own struggles or luck. He has been accompanied by many over the years who have worked equally hard, if not more, to spread PTI's message to all corners of Pakistan. Some have invested small fortunes and some have built entire careers on PTI's platform. There are countless others who come out on the streets when he asks them. There are more, like me, who contribute financially and otherwise from afar. His success is not his alone. All those who support him or vote for him share in his mission and his success.
Music has played a huge role in spreading his message. Popular icons of the Pakistani music community, names like Attaullah Eesa Khelvi, Strings, Abrar ul Haq, Salman Ahmad, Junaid Jamshed, and others have all publicly supported him and made music for his mission. These songs are played in jalsas (political rallies) and on street corners. These songs are on You Tube and Apple Music and countless apps on Android and iOS. Other icons, like Anwar Maqsood, Javed Miandad, Abdul Qadir, Wasim Akram, Hira & Maani, Tariq Aziz, and others have used their popularity to boost his signal.
There are also those who self describe as liberals but have not shown any interest in supporting Imran. Some recognizable names have gone so far as to belittle or malign him. They despise his speeches that keep Islam on the forefront of his inspiration to do good. There are religious extremists who call him an agent of the anti-Islam international establishment. He is in a unique position to be called both an Islamic fanatic and a non-Muslim, depending on the person's own views. He is neither. He's a well read person who articulates his mission in life steeped in the teachings of Islam, his mother, and from the incredible lives of people like Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Nelson Mandela.
Revolutions take time, especially when they are peaceful. Pakistan was not created after a short struggle. Imran has been steadfast in his resolve to achieve a corruption-free Pakistan. His first speech in the parliament on August 17, 2018, after being elected the Prime Minister, started with the pledge to root out corruption and to hold accountable all corrupt leaders.
Many self-procalimed liberals made fun on Twitter of his speech of August 17, 2018. They termed it as being yet another election campaign speech. They liked the web of words woven by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari because he proclaims to hold the flag of his grandfather's liberal Pakistan People's Party, even though the last 10 years of his party's government in Sindh have proven how corrupt and anti-human-life it really is. Children in Thar continue to die every year because the Sindh government has deprived them of even single morsels of food, choosing instead to sell off their food for profit. Bilawal's father, Asif Ali Zardari, has enough money to last him a lifetime even if he spent multiple hundreds of thousands of US dollars a day. Asif made this money through corruption and the deaths of children in Thar. But you will never hear Bilawal speak of the heinous crimes his father has committed and still commits. Even so, self proclaimed liberals gush over the empty words of a third generation politician whose family's legacy includes the division of Pakistan into two countries, the creation of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the deaths of children in Thar, to name just a few of their misdeeds. Spare me the idea that Bilawal is somehow the messiah Pakistan needs but fails to recognize. Unless he breaks his ties with the corrupt and murderous leagcy of his father, he will be nothing but a stooge at best or an equal offender at worst.
When I read headlines that refer to Imran Khan as the Prime Minister, I feel a happy tingling sensation. It means that all is never lost. It means that as long as people have hope and don't give up, they can get a good leader, too. I have the same advice for those living under 45's regime in the USA: don't let up, keep fighting the good fight, and be hopeful that things will get better. It has happened in Pakistan. It took Imran 22 years to accomplish this but the day did arrive. The day that Pakistan chose hope over despair.