Imran Khan in Silicon Valley
By Riaz Haq
CA

"We will rid the country of corruption within the first 90 days in office...I condemned the attack on Malala within 48 hours and was the first to visit her in the hospital...Taliban have killed hundreds of ANP workers...If I condemn the Taliban, they'll kill my workers too." PTI Chief Imran Khan in San Jose, CA. Oct 28, 2012

There were many contradictions in PTI chief Imran Khan's San Jose speech that attracted about 500 Pakistani-Americans. The attendees were quite enthusiastic in their welcome of the national cricket hero who has turned to politics with a strong anti-corruption platform. Imran was accompanied by PTI leader Fauzia Kasuri and sufi rock singer- songwriter Salman Ahmad of Junoon fame.
When Imran Khan arrived, the fundraiser-dinner quickly turned into an urban middle class rally reminiscent of the PTI events in major Pakistani cities like Lahore and Karachi. The banquet hall at Dolce Hayes Mansion came alive with slogans of "Pakistan Zindanad" and "Imran Khan Zindabad" following Pakistan's national anthem  played by Salman Ahmad.
The well-attended Silicon Valley event was a confirmation of the fact that PTI is essentially an urban middle class phenomenon drawing support from people who are looking for new leadership to rid the country of corruption and misrule by Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the two major political parties which have dominated Pakistani politics since 1980s.
Anti-Corruption, being the key theme of Imran's speeches, elicited a number of questions from the audience. One questioner suggested that " 99% of the people are involved in some form of corruption " and asked how would Imran Khan end it? Imran responded by citing low government salaries as the main cause. He said bureaucrats like his father were not corrupt because their monthly salary was large enough to buy a car back in 1950s.  He did not elaborate as to how he would raise government employee salaries to such lofty levels in Pakistan as part of his plan to end corruption in 90 days, nor did he elaborate on the role of the elite colonial-era civil service to control the population rather than serve the people.
Continuing on the theme of low salaries,  Imran Khan mentioned that one of his brilliant classmates at Aitcheson College became a top scientist but had such "low income that he could not afford to send his children to Aitcheson College".  After hearing this answer, the first thought that ran through my mind was to compare Imran Khan with the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney who is being portrayed as "out of touch" and "disconnected" from the ordinary folks.
A woman questioner asked him how he would "end corruption in 90 days when it takes 9 months to make a baby?" In response, Imran said, "I am not talking about making babies". Then he proceeded to cite an example of an "honest police superintendent" in some small town near Dera Ismail Khan who ended all crime within 90 days.  He also saw the chief minister of the Indian state of Bihar as an inspiration for ending corruption and achieving double-digit economic growth.
Addressing a question about how he intends to deal with the Taliban, Imran blamed it on the US presence in the region and the use of drones. He said dialog is the way to end it. He also said that the number of  "irreconcilable" Taliban militates was very small and could be defeated by a "small military military operation" by Pakistan Army after the US exit from the region .
Responding to a question about PTI's election strategy, Imran Khan said he did not believe in "constituency politics" and would not give his party tickets based on the notions of electability. Instead, he is counting on a PTI landslide victory similar to the 1970 elections in which Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's PPP won big in West Pakistan.
After Imran's speech, I was asked by some PTI-USA office-bearers about what I thought of it. I told them that I felt Imran was confused when he said he condemned the Taliban after the Malala shooting but then proceeded to ask "who will protect my workers if I condemn the Taliban"? Three of the PTI members, including Dr. Nasrullah Khan, rose to defend their leader's remarks on the Taliban by asking me "who do you think attacked Malala?" When I said the TTP has claimed responsibility for it, they claimed it was "someone other than the Taliban". As the discussion continued, Dr. Nasrullah Khan pulled up a picture of injured Malala on a his iPhone and said, "I am a cardiologist and I have seen gun-shot victims" and the nature of Malala's head injury shows the "attack was staged".
It seems that Dr. Nasrullah Khan and his fellow PTI members I met are discounting the fact that the Taliban have a long track record  in both Afghanistan and Pakistan of attacking anyone, regardless of age and gender, who disagrees with their goals or tactics. They have a record of using extreme violence to silence those who dare to criticize them.
My assessment of Imran Khan after yesterday's event is that he has very enthusiastic support among young urban middle class Pakistanis who are probably participating in the political process for the first time in Pakistan's history. This augurs well for the country in the long run. However, PTI's chances of emerging with a majority of seats in Pakistani parliament in 2013 elections appear remote.
I also believe that Imran Khan is well-meaning but he appears to be naive, even disconnected with the reality, when it comes to Pakistan's current electoral politics which is based on a system of patronage.  He is also significantly underestimating the serious national threat posed by the Taliban and other militant groups and the widespread culture of corruption in the country.


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