|Imran Khan’s anti-corruption message has resonated with thousands discontent with the current government [AFP]|
More than 100,000 people have rallied in support of Pakistani cricket legend and opposition politician Imran Khan in the southern city of Karachi.
Sunday’s rally further cemented Khan’s status as a rising force in Pakistani politics, ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in 2013.
The turnout was particularly impressive because the event was held outside his traditional support base in the Punjab province.
In his speech to the assembled crowd, Khan said that his vision was for Pakistan to be an “Islamic welfare state”, where citizens would be entitled to free and equal access to education, healthcare and justice.
Under Pakistan’s current of government, citizens are entitled to these services for free, but Khan alleged that the system was not reaching those who needed the most state assistance.
‘Humanity and justice’
Khan said that Islam prescribes a system of governance “based on humanity and justice”, and lauded the welfare state systems seen in the United Kingdom and Scandinavian countries.
“If those in the UK and Scandinavians were to accept Islam, they would be better Muslims than us,” he said.
Khan promised that his party would in the coming weeks present a series of policy papers and conduct seminars on social, agricultural, transport, local government and foreign policy to sketch out how his party would govern if put in power.
He also promised to eliminate all major government corruption within 90 days of coming to power.
“Pakistan has many major problems, but they can be solved. It is possible to solve them. If the nation is united, nothing is impossible,” he told the cheering crowd.
The PTI leader also singled out the plight of Pakistan’s largely marginalised Baloch people, asking for their “forgiveness” and promising a programme of major development projects to be initiated in the province if he were to be elected.
Khan’s next major rally is scheduled to be held in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, on March 23.
Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and the capital of Sindh province, has been marred by extensive political and ethnic violence over the past year.
Khan entered politics 15 years ago when he founded Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), or the Movement for Justice Party, but he long struggled to attract support.
That changed when he drew over 100,000 people to a rally in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, in October, amid mounting discontent with President Asif Ali Zardari’s ruling party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
Zardari’s government has been marred by corruption and controversy. Most recently, tension has been high with the country’s powerful military over an alleged memo that Zardari’s ambassador to the United States wrote, asking the US government for help in quashing a potential military coup.
In the past months, several prominent politicians have also defected from other parties to join Khan’s PTI. Including among those are Javed Hashmi (formerly of the opposition PML-N party) and former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (who recently switched allegiances from the ruling PPP), who also spoke during the event.
At the rally in Karachi, Khan announced that former Foreign Minister Sardar Aseff Ahmad Ali, a member of the PPP, had also joined his party.