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Despite the portentous threat of extradition hanging over his head, Julian Assange has managed to use his credentials to interview some of the most controversial figures across the world. In the ninth episode of Julian Assange show, he takes his viewers inside the tumultuous world of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. In this segment, Assange cross examines infamous Pakistani politician Imran Khan and gains perception into country’s foreign relations, its ongoing internal warfare , pending corruption and the status-quo of power structure in the society.
Imran Khan is one of the most recognized figures ever to come out of Pakistan. He will always be remembered for bringing the 1992 world cup trophy to his homeland, for his marriage to British socialite Jemima Goldsmith and for his philanthropic contributions to Pakistani society. He joined politics in 1996 and formed a party called ‘Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’ (PTI) to fight injustice and corruption. His political voyage has been full of endearing hardships, multiple incarcerations and heartbreaks.
“Pakistan is changing fast, over the last two years US drone attacks and corrupt political dynasties have driven millions to this cause” said Assange. This is another glimpse of Arab Spring that has crossed over to Pakistan.
According to Khan, “Well, the battle in Pakistan, just like in the Middle East, is of a status quo, an entrenched status quo ‒ what you call the power structure ‒ benefited from the system, and the majority of the population wanted a change. ”
Khan has faced severe criticism from home and abroad for his docile political career. In 2007, US cables referred to him as “Pakistan’s one man party” He boycotted the 2008 elections over the protest of the National Reconciliation Ordinance deal that the Bush administration brokered between General Perveez Musharraf and Benazir Butto. The following deal gave amnesty to Bhutto and her party members over corruption cases.
Khan explains that in Pakistan there is a political mafia. According to Khan, “First of all, I boycotted the elections in 2008, um, because, you know, these elections were manipulated by the Bush administration. His party alongside other political parties boycotted 2008 elections over their fear of pre-poll rigging.” Khan argued that Musharraf allowed criminals to contest elections.
In the aftermath of 2008 elections, his party’s popularity decreased. But for past two years things have changed. As opinion polls in Pakistan reflect, Khan’s popularity has increased in the last six months to 60-80%. With over 306846 followers on Twitter, Khan and his party have risen to prominence. His popularity has come with a hefty price tag, as many political parties turned against him. His party is no longer actively seeking coverage in media, due to money being poured into channels by opposition parties.
But despite the setbacks, he has been holding mass rallies with over 100,000 people and as he puts it: “Now, since the big rallies, the whole political scene has changed. We have seen now politicians rushing to me. So people who are electables, realizing that the vote bank now belongs to me, they are coming to join me.” Khan compares his ardent following in Pakistan to one in former Middle East, where demand for change and a protest against anti-status quo movement saw fall of many governments. According to Khan, Pakistan has not experienced such mass turn out in rallies since the death of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
Assange quizzed Khan over the challenging and oft confusing relations between the US and Pakistan. In the aftermath of 9/11 and under the governance of General Musharraf, Pakistan became America’s key ally on its war on terror. Over time, the War on Terror has changed and evolved by transcending the Afghan boundaries and crossing into mainland of Pakistan. Khan said “no country has ever been bombed by its own ally, as we have been bombed in this country.” There is a mounting anger in Pakistan over American drone attacks on its soil. People of Pakistan are still coming to terms with the fact that certain factions of intelligence services aided Bin Laden in using Pakistan as his hide out. The war on terror has bore horrific consequences for Pakistan, 40,000 Pakistanis have been killed and in the last 4 years it has cost Pakistan $50 billion.
Khan holds Musharraf accountable for all the mess in contemporary Pakistan from growing corruption to country’s mounting debts to the war on terror. “Julian, it’s so shameful. You know, never has a country’s ruling elite, for personal benefits, never have they betrayed their people as much as this elite under Musharraf and the current elite”, Khan said.
Imran Khan provides another well known glimpse into a world of darkness, where corruption is rife, civil liberties are eroded and money and power has become an instrument of governance and military to exploit and exercise dominance over the poor population of a country. However, things are changing fast across the Pakistan’s political spectrum, with the recent eviction of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani from his office, judiciary maintaining its status, and the current President losing support fast amongst general public. With mounting debt of $12 trillion, an army killing its own people, and over 14 hours of power cuts in a day, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is in a dire need of miraculous savior. Now, whether Khan’s popularity in opinion polls will take him towards becoming a next leader of the troubled Pakistan remains to be seen.
Image Courtesy of stiksa