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Betting on the bat


By Imtiaz Gul

 The Friday Times, May 03, 2013


Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) bank account has received a monthly average of Rs 100 million in private donations since mid-January. In the beginning of April, it had Rs 140 million. The balance decreased to Rs 50 million because of heavy withdrawals, but rose back to Rs 70 million by the end of the month. 

Nothing illustrates the common people's confidence in a politician knocking at doors of power than these donations. Regardless of whether it translates into electoral success, it is a stamp of approval for the personal integrity of the cricketer-turned-philanthropist-turned-politician.

"All the donations in the account are being made by walk-in customers with the amounts ranging between Rs 1,000 and Rs 20,000," said a party member, speaking about just one branch of a bank. 

When I asked an aunt in Peshawar Cantt who she was voting for, she wasted no time in saying, "Imran Khan!" She, and all other members of a family that has traditionally voted for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), are backing Imran Khan's PTI this time.

Then I talked to friends and acquaintances in University Town. "We are all voting for the PTI," said a retired civilian intelligence official who lives near Arbab Road, where a bomb mounted on a motorcycle killed eight people on April 29, underscoring the continuation of deadly violence ahead of the elections. "Instead of voting for those who have been ruling us for decades and have sunk our country to new levels, we want to support someone who talks about real change," he said.

His son Masood was equally vociferous in his opposition to the PPP, the Awami National Party (ANP) and other traditional groups. 

"In the last ten years, we have seen both sides," he said, referring to the rule of the religious Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal from 2002 to 2007, and then the liberal ANP and PPP from 2008 to 2013. "Our plight has hardly changed. Over and over again, chronic power outages, broken roads, crime and insecurity as well as the exploitation of the poor in the governance structures has accompanied endless stories of corruption," said his elder brother. 

Most people I spoke to during my last trip to Peshawar had feelings similar to those of Gul Muhammad Keeriyo, PTI's candidate from the NA-213 constituency in Nawabshah (Shaheed Benazirabad district). Gul is competing against influential politicians such as Asif Zardari's sister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho of the PPP, Inayat Ali Rind of the MQM and Zahid Hussain of the PML-F. Apparently, he stands little chance of breaking the status quo, but his views, published by a national daily, are relatable in the entire country, even in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 

"Poverty and oppression have resulted in social disparity that has frustrated people to the point that it has affected law and order, even in rural areas," Keeriyo was quoted as saying. "Women's gold bangles are cut off from their hands when they travel in rickshaws," he said. "Our mobile phones are snatched when we go to drop our children to school on motorbikes. It is not just about economics. It is about self-respect - something the people of this country are losing fast."

Here in Peshawar, there is a sense of despondency, because of poor governance and allegations of corruption and nepotism in the last decade. That has given way to an overwhelming desire for change. 

There is a large number of people all over Pakistan who want change are ready to bet on the bat (PTI's election symbol), but whether that would bring Imran Khan tangible election success is yet to be seen.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk