[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."]
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.
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