REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD -- A rally in Karachi organized by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan drew a massive crowd of supporters Sunday, bolstering his image as a potent force in Pakistan’s turbulent political landscape.
Pakistani media estimated that as many as 100,000 supporters crammed into a field next to the iconic white marble mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, on the commemoration of Jinnah’s birthday. Looking out on a sea of red and green flags belonging to Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party, Khan told backers that, if his party came to power, he would ensure that the rule of law was applied evenly and would work to eradicate the taint of corruption found at virtually every layer of Pakistani society.
“We will create a police force independent of political influence, based purely on merit,” Khan told the crowd. “When I am in government, one day they will even stop Imran Khan’s own car for [speeding].”
“We will control corruption,” Khan continued. “God willing, we will end corruption in 90 days.”
Sunday’s rally in Pakistan’s largest city at minimum matched the size of one Khan held in Lahore on Oct. 30, which surprised Pakistanis by attracting an estimated 100,000 supporters. Khan has also drawn large crowds to rallies in other cities across Pakistan.
Once regarded as a fringe player in Pakistani politics, Khan is building formidable momentum at a time when the country’s ruling party, the Pakistan People’s Party led by President Asif Ali Zardari, is struggling for survival amid rumors that Pakistan’s powerful military could engineer an overthrow of the government.
Last week, Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani decried the military as a “state within a state” and warned the country that conspiracies were underfoot to carry out a coup against the PPP-led government.
A day later, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani dismissed talk of a possible coup, saying the army “has and will continue to support the democratic process in the country.”
On the same day, Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry said the high court would never endorse any unconstitutional government takeover. “There is no question of a [military] takeover, and rest assured that good times will come.”
-- Alex Rodriguez
Photo: Supporters of Pakistani former cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan gather for a Christmas Day rally. More than 100,000 people attended, boosting Khan's image as a rising political force. Credit: Asif Hassan / AFP/Getty.