Making A Difference

Playing A Different Game

Imran Khan's fund-raising campaign for his hospital arouses the government's ire

Playing A Different Game
info_icon

The Bhutto administration obviously views this media blitz with suspicion. But this is not a reflection of any apathy towards poor cancer patients who receive treatment at the SKMHRC; the cause of its fears lies elsewhere—the projection of Khan as a possible saviour of a nation passing through critical times. One newspaper recently received a cartoon from the Pakistan Bachao Movement which portrayed Khan as just the person who could bail the nation out of the present crisis. This image of a saviour is what the government fears the most.

Imran Khan added to Bhutto's worries, when in a recent interview to the BBC, he accused the government of harassment and victimisation. Expressing his intention to enter politics with a proper programme, he said his relations with the government had further deteriorated.

The SKMHRC has state-of-the-art research labs, body scanners and tumour-zappers. Envisaged by Khan in 1985 when his mother Shaukat Khanum succumbed to intestinal cancer, this memorial in marble is a sharp contrast to the state-run Mayo Hospital, a few miles away, where patients awaiting treatment have to camp outside.

Daring the government to arrest him if he is found guilty of any slips, Khan says that if the SKMHRC stops receiving charity, it will only be able to cater to patients who can pay. He condemns the government for objecting to the hospital's publicity campaign on television. The PTV officials, on their part, say this was decided in principle for all organisations. But unable to produce any written directive to this effect, they conceded that such orders were issued verbally. "For some reason, the government sees me as a political opponent," says Khan, who has a substantial personal following in the country and whose hobnobbing with the former ISI chief Lt-General Hamid Gul—known for his strong views on Pakistan's Islamisation and anti- Benazir Bhutto stance—had alarmed the government.

Echoing the government's accusations, Sarfraz Nawaz, chairman of the Punjab Sports Board, who is known for his close dealings with the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), has accused Khan of misappropriating the public donations to the hospital. He has even charged Khan with investing these funds in commercial projects like Pace, a huge departmental store in Lahore, in which Khan is reported to be a partner. Babar and Information Minister Khalid Kharal maintain that Khan was making a fool of the people to mint money which was being spent on his business empire.

What perhaps got the government jittery was the popular public response Khan received during his countrywide tours to raise funds for the hospital. Khan has repeatedly denied rumours about his intention to enter politics. But in his interview with the BBC, he changed tack and said that he was looking for the right kind of people to form a team before he enters active politics. Such statements have added to the confusion about his real intentions.

The PPP leaders have always been sceptical about his denials and tend to believe his statement to the BBC. They say that he plans to form a new political party and see his nationwide tours as a means to gauge the public pulse and to identify the issues that could help build a solid support base. His pronouncements in the US that he wanted reforms in politics have not gone unnoticed. Neither have his statements at home. He has spoken out against corruption in the existing political system and has branded both Bhutto and leader of the Opposition Nawaz Sharif "corrupt". He has also expressed reservations about the nascent democracy in Pakistan. It was after this that the charity advertisements for the SKMHRC were blanked out by the PTV authorities and all references to Khan or his hospital were banned on state-run media.

THE ironic consequence of this stand has been that cigarettes can be advertised on TV but not a cancer hospital. Kharal maintained that the advertisements for charity were against the PTV policy. Khan, for his part, emphasises that he will not run for the premiership, as that would be proof that he harboured "lowly ambition". "Pakistan does not need me in this political system. In this system, I would not be able to do anything. If I joined, it would only be for power and money, to live in a prime ministerial palace which is an affront to democracy. I would much rather be part of a movement for reform. We want change here. We want the common people in this country to be treated as human beings," Khan told Outlook.

And while there are rumours that he could be installed as president, it is hard to see how a non-aligned politician could become the president without military intervention. The former army chief General Abdul Waheed, who was instrumental in breaking the constitutional deadlock in 1993 by asking Nawaz Sharif to resign, retired recently. Those pushing the theory of Khan being installed as president point to the installation of the new army chief, General Jehangir Karamat, earlier this month as being decisive. But this story looks farfetched. Despite the problems that Benazir Bhutto faces and the power that the army wields in Pakistan, it looks unlikely that the military will intervene in the near future.

Imran Khan has never hidden his dislike for the Bhutto government, which too makes the ruling party uncomfortable. "I think a time will come when we will have few choices," Khan says. "The people's awareness of corruption is growing fast. So is the resentment at their suffering. This combination will lead to a movement. It may reach a stage where there are two options: get a green card and emigrate or stay here and fight."

There are reasons to believe that history may yet bypass Imran Khan. He has built no power base and will face strong opposition for he has not only castigated the present government, but has also come out against the opposition despite overtures from the Pakistan Muslim League (Sharif) and the Jamaat-i-Islami; he is not a particular favourite of the US because of his "fundamentalism"; and his Urdu is so halting that he is left stumbling for the right words.

Advertisement

But in the final analysis, the best reason for his not becoming Pakistan's next leader is probably the one that will count for the least—his naivete.

Tags

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement