Imran Khan rally draws tens of thousands in Pakistan


Over 100,000 people rallied in support of Imran Khan in Pakistan's port city of Karachi, boosting his image as a rising political force.


Asif Hassan

Imran Khan, a cricket player turned politician, drew tens of thousands at his rally in southern Pakistan on Sunday.

At least 100,000 supporters of Khan and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice), converged near the mausoleum of the country's founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Karachi to hear him speak, The Daily Telegraph reported. The turnout was impressive, especially because Khan's main stronghold is north in Lahore. 

Khan, who played cricket before forming his political party in 1995, has seen an increase in popularity recently, after having struggled to win votes in the past, BBC News reported. Many Pakistanis are disillusioned with their current government, and believe that Khan is the only one who can lead the country.

"During a match there comes a time when you know you have the opposition on the mat. It is exactly the feeling now, that I have all the opposition by their balls," Khan told the Daily Telegraph. "Whatever they do now will backfire."

A poll released by think tank YouGov Cambridge on Friday found that 61% of voters ranked Khan as their first choice to lead Pakistan, with a total of 77% selecting him as either first or second preference. The next national elections are scheduled for 2013. 

"I'm highly optimistic that Imran Khan has the potent power to bring in change which we highly need because our country can't survive without a fair and just leadership," a supported told the BBC. "It doesn't matter that he's a cricketer or something else. Whatever he is, he is not a diplomat, he is not a liar."

Posters, banners and shirts at the rally all touted the sentiment of hope, similar to the message that helped Barack Obama get elected, BBC correspondent Aleem Maqbool reported. Though Khan has a reputation of philanthropy — he raised millions of dollars for a cancer hospital and university, and his flood relief fund was far more successful than the fundraising done by Pakistan's prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani — his party is seen as inexperienced. The only seat they have ever held in parliament is Khan's own, the Daily Telegraph reported. 

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The President's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) are both firm fixtures on the political landscape, and though Khan has opposed US drone strikes on Pakistani militants as well as foreign aid, he has yet to define his party's main policies, the BBC reported. However, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has several more seasoned politicians, such as Shah Mahmood Qureshi of the PPP and Javed Hashmi of the PML-N. 

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