“Pakistan needs a leader who takes seriously both the threat of radical Islam and the challenge of economic development,” said Sadanand Dhume in an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal, a conservative newspaper, on Friday.
“Imran Khan is not that man,” he added.
Discussing the recent Pew poll results, which, among other elements, showed that the cricketer-turned-politician was the most popular leader in the country, Dhume wrote, “Chronic anti-Americanism in Pakistan signals a deeper malaise. In a stinging rebuke to President Asif Ali Zardari’s four-year-old government, nine in 10 Pakistanis say they’re dissatisfied with the direction in which the country is headed. Though the military has ruled Pakistan for 34 of its 65 years, bankrupted the treasury and tarred Pakistan’s reputation, more than three-quarters of those polled call it a good influence. About the same proportion hold an unfavourable view of neighbouring India.”
“This disquieting news works to the advantage of one man: 59-year-old cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. His 72 per cent approval rating — up from 52 per cent just two years ago — is enough to give any rival heartburn. Even with the caveat that rosy poll numbers don’t always translate into actual votes, Imran Khan’s prospects appear bright.
“At first blush, it’s easy to see why so many Pakistanis are eager to embrace Mr. Khan. Not counting nine years of military rule by Pervez Musharraf, most of the past quarter century of democratic politics has been dominated by two families: the Bhutto-Zardaris of Sindh and the Sharifs of Punjab. Battered by charges of graft and mismanagement, Zardari has seen his approval rating fall to 14 per cent. Nawaz Sharif, whose last government was overthrown by the Army in 1999, fares significantly better, but nobody’s about to mistake him for a breath of fresh air.
“With his craggy good looks and reputation for personal probity, Mr. Khan presents a contrast. For some in the middle class, the Oxford-educated Mr. Khan offers a reminder of happier times—of a confident Pakistani elite at ease in the world before economic decline and the rise of fundamentalism took their toll. In a rudderless land, the image of Mr. Khan leading Pakistan to a fairy-tale triumph in the 1992 Cricket World Cup is etched in the national memory.
“Nobody ought to begrudge Pakistan a way out of its present mess, but Mr. Khan offers less a solution to Pakistan’s pressing problems than a window into its delusional politics. He blames America, specifically for the war on terror, for the rise of radical Islam in Pakistan and advocates the same approach toward the world’s sole superpower favoured by hardline elements in the military...
“Framing America as the source of Pakistan’s problems goes hand-in-hand with Mr. Khan’s proposed kid-glove treatment of terrorists. For him, the Taliban are not medieval savages intent on imposing a primitive version of Islam on an unwilling population; they are merely misguided brothers in faith,”he wrote.
“Mr. Khan’s economic message also doesn’t inspire confidence. His pledge to end all corruption in Pakistan within 90 days of coming to office seems absurd even for a politician in campaign mode.
It’s too early to tell whether Mr. Khan will be elected to lead Pakistan, much less whether circumstances will force him to temper his ideas.
Meanwhile, however, he would do well to consider another sobering fact from the Pew survey. Majorities or pluralities in six of seven countries polled—including ‘all-weather friend’ China and Muslim-majority Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia—hold a negative view of Pakistan. To change this, Pakistan needs a leader who takes seriously both the threat of radical Islam and the challenge of economic development. Imran Khan is not that man,”he added.