A Kennedy for Pakistan?

Mohsin Hamid in the New York Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_03 Mar. 24 14.32Most likely to be cast as heroes are the media, the country’s independent-minded Supreme Court, which has recently indicted the Prime Minister on contempt of court charges (related to the corruption investigation of Zardari), and the Pakistani “people.” There is much talk of democratic ideals, but little love for the country’s current crop of politicians, and so there seems to be a yearning for a new kind of leader able to break the cycle of weakness and mediocrity.

Into this situation has surged the former cricket superstar Imran Khan, who in recent months has suddenly become the country’s most popular political figure. My first intimation that people might be taking Khan seriously as a politician came in February 2011, in Karachi, when I asked the driver of a car belonging to my publisher whom he’d vote for if elections were held today.

“Imran Khan,” he replied without hesitation.

I was surprised. Khan’s fifteen-year-old party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), or Pakistan Movement for Justice, had never managed to win more than a single seat in the country’s 272-member parliament. Yet my publisher’s driver was on to something. By October, well over 100,000 people were thronging a Khan-led PTI rally in Lahore, an event that seemed to change Pakistan’s political landscape. It had been billed as a make-or-break chance for Khan to show, finally, whether he was capable of building a true mass movement.

The size of the support it generated clearly shook Punjab’s traditional power-brokers, the brothers Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif, leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N). I know a university professor who went, and he said it was the largest such gathering he had ever seen. He was particularly struck by the socio-economic diversity of those present, by the large numbers of women as well as men, and by the orderliness and unforced enthusiasm of the crowd, in contrast to the rent-a-mob environment typical of big political gatherings.

More here.