Dateline follows cricketing legend Imran Khan on his campaign to be Prime Minister of Pakistan and gets a fascinating insight into the country's politics.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012 - 21:30

As a cricketing legend, Imran Khan wowed millions around the world. Now he's facing his biggest test yet as he runs for Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Karim Shah spends two weeks on the road with Khan as he travels to political rallies across the country.

His report gives a fascinating insight into Imran Khan's rising popularity and his self-proclaimed mission to eradicate corruption in politics.

But in a country with such a turbulent political past, the possibility of a terrorist attack putting an end to it all is never far away; just as it did with Benazir Bhutto in 2007.

Is he a sportsman playing at politics, as some dismiss him? Or has Pakistan's political old guard finally met its match?

WATCH - Apologies, but this video is no longer available for copyright reasons. You can however see the original version of the story on Al Jazeera's website.

EXTRA - Follow the links under 'resources' on the right-hand side of the page to find out more about Pakistan's main political parties.

REPLAY - Look back at Dateline's previous coverage from Pakistan, including past interviews with Imran Khan about the country's political unrest.

Photo (rally): AAP



Imran Khan was one of the best cricketers the world has seen and in cricket-mad Pakistan, that's enough of an achievement to last a lifetime. But Khan has chosen a more perilous path, entering the deadly world of Pakistani politics. It's an investment that appears to be finally paying off. What was his one-man party is now seen as a contender to form a government at the elections next year. The crowds around Khan certainly keep growing. Weaving between the demands of democracy and radical Islam is a difficult path to tread in Pakistani politics, no less so for Imran Khan. Although well-known in the West, his anti-American policies have won him few friends there, nor, ironically, in sections of the radical Islamic movement that he's sought to reach out to. Many of them want him dead. We join Imran Khan as he embarks on the biggest test of his life. Here's Karim Shah.

REPORTER: Karim Shah

Imran Khan is Pakistan's most famous son.

IMRAN KHAN (Translation): Peace be upon you, brother.

Now he's facing his biggest challenge as he runs for Prime Minister.

IMRAN KHAN (Translation): Who are you going with?

He's about to leave his home just outside Islamabad and travel 100 miles north to Abbottabad. For two weeks we follow the former international cricket hero as he embarks on a series of political rallies around the country. In Pakistan, Imran Khan is a living legend. His fame draws crowds everywhere, yet his face-to-face approach puts his personal safety at risk. Mass political gatherings in this country have sometimes been scenes of violence. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated at a campaign rally in 2007.

IMRAN KHAN (Translation): This is not a rally - what is this?

CROWD (Translation): A tsunami!

IMRAN KHAN (Translation): A tsunami. In Pakistan it will destroy;the brutal power politics. This tsunami is coming.

IMRAN KHAN: We call it tsunami because tsunami keeps growing. It just becomes bigger and bigger. Tsunami - which is going to destroy the status quo.

IMRAN KHAN (Translation): How will this revolution happen? How will we make a new Pakistan? Every day our soldiers;

CROWD (Translation): Die!

IMRAN KHAN (Translation): And our citizens; are being killed in America's war. First we will end this war! The people have got poorer and the elite richer. I am setting out a programme.

Promises to revolutionise Pakistan are viewed sceptically in a country whose military has often intervened in government. Imran Khan is himself an outspoken critic of the political system.

IMRAN KHAN: The country is in the grip of a political mafia. Basically there were two parties and they were taking turns and using politics to make money. And so I came to the conclusion 16 years ago either we fight for our country or we watch it, uh, go down as it has gone down. So the only way to do it was going into politics.

Back then, many dismissed Imran as a sportsman playing at politics. Now he's seen as a serious threat both to the ruling Pakistan People's Party of President Asif Ali Zardari and to the opposition Muslim League, led by Nawaz Sharif.

IMRAN KHAN: I had to change myself to achieve my objectives. So when I was playing cricket, I was only going into the middle and performing with the bat and ball. I didn't have to mix with the crowds. And certainly wasn't someone who liked to be noticed when he went out. Suddenly, becoming a public person was a big change.

Imran isn't batting alone. He's gathered a core team around him. Naim Ul Haq has been there from the beginning.

NAIM UL HAQ: He told me that, "I have decided to set up a new political party and I'm getting people who think alike." I thought that this was the right time and Imran is the right person.

Imran's party is the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the PTI. The name means 'Movement for Justice'. In its 16-year history, Imran's been the party's only Member of Parliament. For years it was mocked as a one-man band and few took it seriously. Then, in October 2011, the nation was rocked when thousands turned out to hear Imran in Karachi and Lahore. Since then, Imran has been building momentum. He's currently taking miss message all over the country.

IMRAN KHAN: I have been to every part of Pakistan, including the rural areas of Pakistan. And that's where the real area of Pakistan is because 70% of the population is there.

Today he's heading to the Punjabi town of Bhukkar.

IMRAN KHAN: It's on the western side of Pakistan - it's quite a remote part. When the head of a political party goes into a remote area, it creates waves. You focus all your supporters to come to that rally.

Pakistan's rural areas are dominated by powerful land-owning families known as feudals. They have a very strong presence in the National Assembly. Like the army, which has mounted three coups and ruled Pakistan for more than half its existence, the feudals represent a huge challenge for democracy. If he's to stand a chance in elections, Imran knows he has to break their grip.

IMRAN KHAN: We have a revolutionary local government program - how to liberate the common people of Pakistan from the still prevalent colonial culture, the local feudals replace the British and they used that same system to oppress the people. That system is still intact.

Imran's critics often say he has no real policies. But his plans for the rural areas seem to go down well.

MAN (Translation): Get off, I said get off!

IMRAN KHAN (Translation): Calm down please.

IMRAN KHAN: This is the tsunami. All these young people and the passion you see, they see Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, our party, the only party that can bring about a change and liberate them from this status quo.

IMRAN KHAN (Translation): Today Pakistanis living in villages;all those poor people are very worried. We'll empower them and lift them up from the bottom so that the colonial structure, the structure of enslavement, can be destroyed and the people liberated.

When I played cricket, I went to India, although the umpires were Indian, we defeated India! I went to England and despite English umpires defeated them. God willing, if you are all standing by me, then let them all unite, Zardari, Sharif;.. With one ball we will take all their wickets.

The next day, Imran's tour takes him to Chichawatni, another Punjabi town. Here too he's met by huge crowds. Imran is not the only one to speak at the PTI rallies. Shah Mahmoud Qureshi is a big name in Pakistani politics. He comes from a feudal family and has recently switched to Imran's party.

SHAH MAHMOUD QURESHI (Translation): Proud people of Chichawatni, peace be upon you! Would you vote for them?

CROWD (Translation): No.

He's just one of a number of high-profile politicians that have joined the PTI following its recent surge in popularity.

SHAH MAHMOUD QURESHI (Translation): Will you give them your vote?

CROWD (Translation): No!

Shah Mahoud walked out of President Zardari's government in February 2011.

SHAH MAHMOUD QURESHI: I was the Foreign Minister in the government. I joined PTI and PTI has given me, I would say, a fairly significant role, trying to attract people who have political experience but a good, clean record as well.

IMRAN KHAN: Never has it happened in Pakistan that politicians have left parties that are in government to join a party that has no seat in parliament. So the party has transformed. Now, it's been difficult, I have to admit, it's not been easy to adjust the old with the new.

Imran has repeatedly attacked the workings of Pakistan's two main political parties, so his decision to enlist former members of these parties has drawn criticism. Talat Hussain is a Pakistani journalist who has been tracking the rise of the PTI.

TALAT HUSSAIN, JOURNALIST: The newcomers who are really, like, old wine old bottles, as it were, basically are constituency politicians. Now suddenly the stage is dominated by people who have already dominated the political stage in Pakistan. These guys were seen with Musharaf, these guys were seen with Nawaz Sharif, the former Prime Minister, the former dictator. These people have not reinvented themselves and suddenly they are sitting with Imran Khan, shoving out the loyalist, who was hoping to be the new politician in Pakistan. It has created a lot of bitterness within the party itself.

IMRAN KHAN: At first people said we didn't have any political names with us. When these names came and joined us, then they said, "Why did you get these names?" you know. A lot of people who came in and thought that this was an easy ride into power, thinking that I would compromise, but if I'm clear in my vision, then you will find that, eventually, those opportunists will fall away and, in my opinion, once we hold party elections, I think the natural leadership will start coming up.

The jostle for leadership in the PTI is already under way. It's holding elections for offices within the party.

IMRAN KHAN (Translation): If we don't get the polling process right, the opposition will try to damage our credibility.

MANSOOR SIDDIQUI (Translation): It's impossible. Jahangir, will they go to different villages?

JANHANGIR KHAN TAREEN (Translation): My point is, why are we fooling ourselves? Not everyone is a member of our party;

IMRAN KHAN: My main problem is can we organise ourselves as a party properly? My worry is not the opponents defeating us, my worry is my own party defeating us, or committing suicide, because it's a pretty delicate balance now. How to build this party, how to hold these elections, can we hold these elections successfully? It's a big risk.

SHAH FARMAN KHAN (Translation): Turnout is less important than transparency. I bet 50% of our members will come out. Let's test it.

MOHAMMED ATIF KHAN (Translation): Our workers, don't we trust them, that just once in their life they will travel to the council to vote?

MALIK SOHAIL KHAN KMARRIAL (Translation): Say this to your constituents and no one will ever vote for you.

IMRAN KHAN (Translation): Listen, be quite. This is a very serious issue. Concentrate and think this out carefully. This decision will have far reaching repercussions.

Around 60% of Pakistanis' are under the age of 25, so the youth are a major target for the PTI. Mobilising their votes could swing the election.

GIRL: I think all the Pakistani youth is with him.

GIRL 2: He's an innovative type of person, a person who can bring revolution in Pakistan. I guess he should be the next leader of Pakistan.

Many young Pakistanis are supporting Imran, but some are yet to be convinced.

YOUNG MAN: This dream of his needs time because the youth which he's targeting, more than 40% or 50% has never voted, ever. He is just chanting a slogan, he can create a difference by winning 30/40 seats. But that government will be a coalition, not a unanimous majority.

YOUNG MAN 2: He should not give timelines. For example, "In 90 days I will finish the economic corruption."

IMRAN KHAN: What I said was we would get rid of major corruption in 90 days. And major corruption is always done by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. And then we will set up institutions which will block the way of the corrupt. One thing will be difficult but we will have to do is that government servants must be paid salaries in which they can live comfortably. If you do not pay them adequate salaries, you force them to be corrupt. If we just do follow these steps, in 90 days you will see a sea change in Pakistan. I believe we can do it.

Imran's next rally is the most dangerous so far. It's planned for Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, a province is racked by separatism as well as religious divisions.

NAIM UL HAQ: Well, this is the first time that any big party is holding a big public meeting in Quetta, which has been recognised as a centre of violence.

At the party HQ in Islamabad, the team is planning Imran's security.

ZUBAIR NIAZI: We have to keep in mind that there is sectarian violence, Shia target killing is going on specifically in Baluchistan.

FAUZIA KASURI: Yes, one is concerned not so much for ourselves, but for those coming to attend.

Violence in Quetta has surged. In 2011, 89 people were murdered in shootings and bombings. And by May 2012, there had been 39 more deaths. Recent times have seen horrific attacks on the city's Hazara people, a minority Shia community.

JOURNALIST (Translation): In terms of security are you satisfied with what the state provides?

IMRAN KHAN (Translation): Listen, I'll tell you the truth, we have taken a risk that no mainstream political party has the courage to take in Quetta. No other leader will make speeches at rallies without a bullet-proof shield, like I do.

IMRAN KHAN: Well, there's clearly a security issue, because every day you have target killing. Then there are missing persons, so there's a total chaotic situation there and the political forces are completely paralysed. That's why we decided, look, we should try, and at least try our best and engage the people there.

Many Pakistani politicians have been murdered, including three last year. Imran insists on direct contact with the crowds, yet Quetta is so dangerous that his team may have to rethink this approach.

IMRAN KHAN: Actually, we do really need to have some sort of security. I mean, our security preparations are pretty bad. In fact, they have become chaotic. Because they are just people - our organisers cannot control the passion. But the fact is, as a Muslim, I believe that the time when you're gonna go is in God's hands, so might as well go for something which you believe in.

Imran's rallying style seems to throw caution to the winds. Yet suspicions that he's being protected by a higher power, the army, are widely disputed.

TALAT HUSSAIN: Establishment's hand behind Imran Khan is really overrated. People that I deal with, from the ranks of Sepoy to the general, they are behind Imran Khan as voters. But does it translate into Machiavellian scheme, sitting there and protecting him? That's not the case. If you look at his interviews, he's very emphatic in saying that the generals will have to work under me if I become the Prime Minister.

Baluchistan, the most under-developed and neglected region of Pakistan yet the richest in natural resources. The PTI team arrive in Quetta the day before Imran. They get straight down to work. Despite the security concerns, they are expecting a big crowd.

SAIFULLAH NIAZI: This place is too small. But we're still getting it ready. We need to set up the stage and the chairs.

HUMMAYUN JOGEZAI: We have started - we are taking care of that. There will be a lot of people. If there are a lot of people, then we have to break the wall.

The following morning and things aren't looking good. It's raining heavily again. Quetta awaits the arrival of Imran's plane. The PTI's hopes could be washed away. But Imran's welcome party aren't deterred.

CROWD (Translation): Praise God. We are with you. Imran Khan is great. We are all with you.

MAN: Imran Khan!

The weather is so bad that the rally might still be called off. Imran and the party gather at the hotel to confer. But then the rain stops, leaving just a few hours to pull things together.

IMRAN KHAN: We're going ahead with it. Conditions are bad but we'll go ahead with it.

HUMMAYUN JOGEZAI: You can see how the things are going on. It was raining, now the clouds have finished. There's blue sky. Hope that everything will be OK. You can see the stage, you can see the security.

POLICE: We have brought the sniffing dogs, we have brought the special branch teams. Now it's up to the organisers as to how they conduct their own rally.

These days, the image of Mohamed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, is rarely raised in Quetta. It's a measure of Imran Khan's desire to be seen as a truly national figure that he's prepared to dare such an act.

IMRAN ISMAIL: If you see here, we are raising Jinnah's picture here. That will display that Pakistan Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is for one united Pakistan.

FAISAL KHAN: It's looking fantastic. Baluchistan is a very tough area, but we're expecting a big show.

ANNOUNCER: Imran Khan Sahib is here! Praise God. Imran Khan!

IMRAN KHAN (Translation): The tsunami has reached you and we are here to celebrate. Why? Because there was fear in Quette, people said you could not hold a rally here - there was fear. We are here to break the chains of that fear!

Whether they are Baloch or Pashtun;. Or Hazara, no one's happy, times are bad. What is the biggest misfortune? That the Balochistan politicians are not capable people. When a country's politicians fail or when the leaders are incapable that is when they use the military.

You are all my team. You are my team. We will take their wickets with one ball. God willing, we will!

Success in Quetta has proved that the PTI can gather support in every province of Pakistan.

IMRAN KHAN: What a beautiful country. Look. It's such a beautiful country. But we're doing everything to destroy it. Just look at that.

But can Imran Khan really ride the tsunami all the way to the prime ministership?

IMRAN KHAN: In the last 16 years, today we are the closest to achieving that dream. I think we will sweep the elections. The opposition can't defeat us now. You know, we might commit Hari Kiri by making stupid decisions, but the opposition is not going to be able to challenge us now because people have decided against them. The people of Pakistan have already made up their minds. They want a change.

Imran Khan is clearly a man who believes his hour has come. But rallies and adulation don't count for everything in Pakistan, a country with other forces in play. Popularity doesn't always equate to votes, and even votes don't guarantee power.

MARK DAVIS: Karim Shah with that report. You can follow the links on our website to find out more about the turbulence of Pakistani politics, and you can replay our past stories from there as well. That's at


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25th September 2012