June 19th, 2009
05:28 PM ET

The coming of Imran Khan's Pakistani revolution

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/06/19/art.imrankhan.jpg caption="Celebrity Pakistani Imran Khan visited Washington this week to urge the U.S. to pull out of Afghanistan."]

Elise Labott
CNN State Department Producer

Most people remember Imran Khan as the former Pakistani cricket player and international playboy – Pakistan's version of David Beckam, leading his country to victory in the 1992 cricket World Cup.

Khan left the cricket field in 1992 and traded his signature leopard print satin pants for a career in politics. His Tehrik-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice) party is small, but growing at a fast pace in the tribal Frontier province.

Still displaying his trademark swagger, Khan made the rounds this week in Washington, arguing in meetings with Congressional leaders like Senate Foreign Relations chairman John Kerry that there will be no peace in Pakistan's tribal area until the US begins to end its military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.

Yes, the crowds at his speeches around town were heavily sprinkled with women, many of whom came out to get a glimpse of the once-famous heartthrob. But Khan's fresh approach to the situation in Pakistan is finding resonance among AFPAK experts looking at a region spiraling out of control.

While most Pakistanis have supported the Pakistani military campaign against the Taliban in the scenic Swat valley, Khan told me at a coffeehouse in D.C he opposed it from day one.

The seven-week battle began when Taliban guerrillas advanced perilously close to the capital Islamabad, ten days after the Taliban signed a peace agreement with the government

"Clearly they hadn't exhausted all of their options after ten days," he said. "War is not the first option, it should be a last resort."

Khan had suggested the government send a team of parliamentarians to bring the Taliban back to the table. In fact he argues both Pakistan and the United States should have engaged the Taliban after 9/11.

"These Taliban they are fighting are basically Pakistani tribesman. They were never enemy. Most had nothing to do with terrorism," he said. "The real enemy was always Al-Qaeda and the eye has been taken off the ball."

What's worse, he argued, a campaign against thousands of guerrillas militants in Swat has displaced more than 2.5 million people and has left a political vacuum in the area, which the military is struggling to hold.

Once an opposition member of Parliament, Khan boycotted the 2008 elections which brought President Zardari to power – charging they should have never been held so close to the assassination of Zardari's widow Benazir Bhutto. He dismisses Zardari as an "incompetent American stooge."

The most recent poll by IRI in Pakistan showed Zardari as having a 19 percent approval rating.

"What is happening is that this government doesn't reflect the aspirations of the people of Pakistan," he said. "Zardari campaigned on dialogue with the militants and not using the military option and here we are with more military than even during (former President Pervez) Musharraf's time. "

He argues Pakistan's political system – parliamentary rule with lead authority in the hands of the president – results in a corrupt system where genuine democracy cannot flourish. And he says Zardari's only policy to prop up his country's flailing economy is "asking for US dollars."

"People in Pakistan want a change," he said. "They want justice, and that also means economic justice. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting squashed. It's an untenable situation. We are seeing more unrest, a rise in crime and lawlessness and this has nothing to do with the war on terror."

He says that Pakistan's once-disaffected middle class has experienced an awakening, as evident by the thousands of Pakistanis that turned out for protests against Zardari's refusal to re-appoint the chief justice. His reinstatement, he says, was the result of true "people power."

"The country is changing," he said, "The media is as vibrant as anywhere in the world and has raised a level of public awareness that has never existed. The revolution is coming.

Filed under: 360º Follow • Elise Labott • Pakistan
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. tahir

    Imran is certainly the man who would bring change in my country.
    Imran is born for speacial purpose.

    June 22, 2009 at 8:26 am |
  2. Frank

    If Imran Khan becomes President of Pakistan or not. Things are going stay the way they are. The war in Afghanistan going to continue
    for next 50 years. History shows that no one in history has stopped
    these people and Pakistan is getting defeated on all fronts and USA also getting defeated on all fronts in Afghanistan. We might win today
    may be years or two from now they will take that back. Taliban were
    the one defeated the Bristish Empire two centuries ago. Taliban's have never been defeated and we cannot Atom bomb them. Pakistani soldiers and USA soldiers both have been killed. Bin Ladin where
    ever he is? He is the one who started and he is missing. I wonder
    are we fighting the wrong people. Taliban did not hit the twin towers.
    I cannot say if we are fighting the right people. I love peace and I know
    Taliban's are ready to fight for next fifty years are we? Frank Florida

    June 21, 2009 at 10:27 pm |
  3. msmith1122

    Whoops We have some how started a revolution for no reason. In that light Santa Claus has been sighted and look he brought bommmmmmbs!

    June 21, 2009 at 11:51 am |
  4. monica L.

    I wish Cnn would cover US.tragedys as well as they do the foriegn ones (i.e) Iran.

    June 21, 2009 at 9:34 am |
  5. AM

    Imran Khan is an untested and unknown quantity. Still, he is a lot better option than the scumbag Zardari, who is presently the president of Pakistan.

    June 19, 2009 at 10:17 pm |
  6. Spelunker

    OK, OK, so we'll make Imran Khan the new president in Islamabad and appoint Angelina Jolie as US ambassador. Are you happy now, Pakistan... or do you still want the Taliban?

    June 19, 2009 at 7:18 pm |
  7. Annie Kate

    So he says in Pakistan the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting squashed. Sounds like what is happening here too, doesn't it?

    June 19, 2009 at 7:18 pm |