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Imran Khan, the Youth and its Yearning for “New” and Untried Faces


By Raza Habib Raja

In recent times there has been a surge in the popularity of Imran Khan in the urban and internet savvy youth of the country. In fact if elections were to take place on Facebook, the debonair Khan would be the hands-down winner by a large margin. Whether this Facebook “politics” and “activism” characterized by sharing Khan’s speeches and pressing “Like” button, actually translates into anything material for still struggling PTI remains yet to be seen. Nevertheless it does make an interesting case for further analysis: Why the youth of this country (rather urban youth) are pinning their hopes on Mr. Khan. Moreover the latest Pew Research poll  also places Imran as the most popular leader with 68% approval rate. In fact a further breakup reveals that a majority of PPP voters (61%) and PML-N (81%) have a favourable image of Imran. However, there is a huge question mark whether merely having favourable opinion can actually lead to good performance in the elections.

Generally the liberal section of the English print media offers the familiar explanation that modern day youth, even if belonging to affluent “yuppie” section of the upper middleclass, are actually closet Taliban and therefore Imran’s apologetic defense of the Islamic hardliners strikes a chord with them. I am not in full agreement with this analysis because the urban youth is relatively a large heterogeneous group with variations in lifestyles and beliefs. I have personally known several people who are hardly religious and conservative in their outlook and yet they are apparently supporting Imran.

Compared to Jamat-i-Islami, Imran draws his support from more eclectic backgrounds and people who are westernized in their appearance and even general outlook are included in it. Yes some may be supporting him due to his “gharait” narrative and his apologetic defense of Taliban, but not everyone. In fact ghairat narrative is not the sole monopoly of PTI as others have also been whipping it. Actually it is a combination of factors, ghairat included, which explain the surge in popularity of Imran in one particular age group.

In my opinion Imran’s appeal in the urban youth primarily comes from his “New and Untested Face” image. Generally the widespread belief is that current breed of politicians and political parties are corrupt and incompetent and therefore we need a new face with some sort of clean public record. Imran becomes an obvious candidate due to his cricketing heroics, which were untarnished by match fixing allegations and his excellent record in philanthropy (let’s admit that Shaukat Khanum Hospital and Namal University are monumental testimony to Imran’s services to Pakistan). Add to that his suave personality, Oxford education, excellent articulation abilities and you have a hero for the impressionable youth to emulate. For many of these youngsters, PTI’s support is mostly a political manifestation of their personal hero worship and fascination with Imran. Imran tried to promote merit during his captaincy, contributed towards welfare through philanthropy after retirement and now speaks of rule of law and elimination of corruption. Moreover, his political message resonates with what has been taught in Pakistan Studies classes since 1980s.

The ideals which the Khan articulates are those ideals which the urban middleclass and particularly the youth want to follow.

Now I am against Imran’s twisted fascination with Taliban and his irrational brand of patriotism, but at the same time I do admire him for his services to Pakistan. I will be indulging in intellectual dishonesty if I try to portray him as an insincere person. Moreover while his pro Taliban message should be condemned but there is nothing wrong with efforts to whip up anti corruption sentiments.

However the central problem is that other than drones and hollow sloganeering about sovereignty, anti corruption is the only political message by the PTI. This though important cannot and will not translate into any kind of mass support.  One of the major reasons is that PTI is not a mainstream party like PPP and PML (N) and secondly unlike these two parties it does not represent any economic and ethnic constituency. PPP draws its support from the lower segment of the society on a countrywide basis and also has strong ethnic support in Sindh and Sareiki belts. Likewise PML (N) has solid support among trading and salaried classes and moreover represents Central and Northern Punjab along with Hazara region. Both the parties have a captive and politically responsive support of people who actually vote rather than merely indulging in drawing room discussions and Facebook activism.

The well entrenched support of captive voters makes both the parties much more potent to bring any change compared to a fringe party like PTI. The supporters of Imran, if they want to improve governance will be better placed to engage with the mainstream parties rather than indulging in Facebook support of Imran. Eventually changes in a democratic polity come through convincing a large number of people and these parties have the votes and street power. Yes it can be argued that politicians belonging to these parties are “tested” or “corrupt’ but mainstream parties in essence represent the society as it is and  capture the aspirations, dreams and interests of the society.

 Youth have to form a pressure group within a party of their ideological leaning and then try to change the party priorities. It works the same ways across the globe. In USA, the libertarians have formed “tea party” which tries to selectively support Republicans. There also the libertarians have realized that it would not be effective to actually form a new party and therefore have tried to influence an existing mainstream party of their preference. Likewise the trade unions regularly act as pressure groups within the Democratic Party in USA and the Labour Party in UK.

For those young people as well as the members of civil society who think that corruption and governance are issues worth addressing effectively, they need to go mainstream. It also holds for those who are trying to muster support for repealing of controversial laws such as Hudood. The yearning for “New” and “Untried” faces does not have high chances of success.

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24 Responses to "Imran Khan, the Youth and its Yearning for “New” and Untried Faces"

  1. Bilal European Union Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Its common knowledge now that PTI is targeting PML N strongholds but how come 61 % PP voters are pro imran ?

    Whats your take on that

  2. observer Germany Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Film “stars”, cricket “stars” and other “stars” and “starlets” must first take a 4 year degree course in sociology, politics and history in a good progressive university before being allowed into politics as leaders. In fact that should be the case for all those who want to be leaders.

    Imran Khan’s hatred for India and hindus and his bootlicking of arabs and turks should also be remembered.

  3. RHR Pakistan Internet Explorer Windows says:

    @ Bilal

    61% of the PPP voters just have favourable impression and it does not mean that they will change their party loyality to vote for Imran.

    Of course conservative voters are more likely to have a favourable impression which is reflected in higher percentage of PML (N) voters liking Imran

  4. [...] Imran Khan, the Youth and its Yearning for “New” and Untried Faces [...]

  5. imran is a good personal friend.honest and uncorruptable.well meaning tough his politics and strategy lacks any self criticism and analysis of ground reality in pakistan

  6. Voldemort India Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Forget about Imran Khan, even if Allah himself descended to the earth to fix Pakistan’s myriad problems, he would just give up in exasperation. Pakistan’s slide into chaos cannot be checked even if every god from every religion joined hands together. So thoroughly have Pakistanis managed to screw their country.

  7. Lobster Germany Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    FYI, Imran Khan is a graduate of Oxford with majors in Politics and Economics.
    Hatred to Hindus? Bootlicking of Arabs? Are you high today?

  8. Anwar United States Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    There is a need for new and fresh blood in PK politics.. I do not see any problem with IK.. let him put forward his program and let the people decide.. I wish him luck…

  9. URC Pakistan Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Dear Raja Sb,

    I would like to bring up some points to this forum as a member of the present day youth.

    Its not about “Youth” yearning for new/untried faces! Imran didn’t contest the last election, which basically means that the last time young people had the chance to vote in a “free and fair” election was in 1997 when PML-N came to power. Which is 14 years back. Youth of late 90′s can no more be counted as youth anymore which effectively renders the whole idea of youth looking for a fresh face baseless. The present day youth has not had a concrete chance to vote at all. (last election does not count for comparison as PTI did not contest),

    This particular yearning is only among the people who are in their late 30′s or above, people who voted in 1997 and before. It stems from the failure they’ve brought to this country by giving this bunch of current leaders to the young generation of this country.

    They are loathe to admit that their big “voter pulling parties” (of which 40% vote is fake! :D ) have failed, that their political loyalties have not delivered. Ones they so staunchly advocated when they themselves were young. So out of guilt/shame of admitting their failure and explicitly/openly changing their political alliance, the idea being dished is that lets give a fresh face a chance. How absurd is that!! Do nation’s decide their fates by giving chances to mere fresh faces?! or is this some movie industry where you want to launch a fresh face?!

    The majority of the present day youth is not driven by this mere notion of “giving a fresh face a chance”. Youth just wants to see a man sitting in Islamabad who they can proudly call their leader. In my opinion Imran’s critics should be silenced by the fact already that the man has transformed from being a political nobody in the 90′s to the most popular in 2011.

    Imran although may not be the most seasoned politician, but I humbly ask my senior members here that what have the shrewdest and seasoned of them all: Mr. Zardari has brought to this country. Youth is not looking for cunning plotters and political gameplayers, we are only interested in seeing an honest man handle the reigns of this country. For Imran’s honesty and character and proven track record of being a leader and a visionary we are willing to forgive whatever mistakes he has to make. As long as the intention is pure all mistakes will be forgiven, isn’t that the universal law?

    As far as facebook activism is concerned, one should realize that human mode of communication has adapted to changing times, this forum itself connects to facebook!! The facebook activism has undoubtedly spread the message far and wide among the young pakistani members of the society. As per March 2010 statistics, Pakistan is 9th largest facebook user in Asia of which 92% users are less than 34 years of age. However, we understand that it does not complete the task. Whether this rising popularity, youth support and backing will translate into something significant? the coming elections will and must tell..

  10. I like Imran Khan, me being an alumnus of the BRADFORD UNIVERSITY School of ManAgement (l977-78). Eat your heart ouch, the Gangadin of New Jersey-Jee.

    But I have a little question to ask re Imran Kahn.

    I know Nawazu siphoned off illicitly-garnered $2.50 Billions and ZardaRe:BBJi nearly $1.50 Billions to offshore banKKKs and recalling that Imran Khan has been inviting them to bring back their Loot-Mall to Pakistan and wholesomely pay all taxes and penalities.

    Garden Fleas on the walls of tax havens , unable to afford flights to Washington (previously reporting to Najam Sethi) have switched over the grapewining to me.. they tell me that Elhajj Imran Khanji
    has a luxury-pad in Mayfair and constructed a huge house in forbiddeen territory of Islo (on some lake near the City of IslamaBAD); when does Imran Khanji propose to have his assets assessed and transferred. Did he pay his taxes on all these accumulations and collocations thereof.

    To RHR :

    I must tell that sometime stranger-things can occur and happen. In 1969 ZAB invited me and Dr Zafar Aziz Khan FRCS (later Principal of the Fatima Jinnah Medical College; the only position i have envied in my life) to take over the Younger Side of the PP. Dr ZAK was affirmatively enthusiastic, but AK Brohi had confided to me; “Iqbal, don’t waste your time, Bhutto cannot obtain any vote from Sinnedh”. I took AKBrohi’s advice seriously because of my high respect for him (more so because Brohi Sahib lost a case re PIA to me and returned PIA’s retainer of Rupees 40000 in Sixties moneys). So Dr ZAK wALked out with me on ZAB from the Falettis. Rest is histrionics.

    So, S V P, don’t be 2-surprised when Imran Kahn hurls a surprise. Trouble is there are some wellknown parasites surrounding him. More on that bluntly later.

    What will restore your trust in the unthinkable is another believe-it-or-nuts incident, RHR Sahib, those who slugged mud (that reverbated upon them as free beauty-bath) at me regarding my Harvard degrees now have receded into oblivion (=circumcision of vision) like the proverbial urine-froth.

    Unsolicited Silver linning for me was the intervening Realization that I must be muchbetterthanEYEthoughtofmyself in spite of my tireless efforts at demonstrating my deep-rooted spectrum of the highest-humility to my S(h)itting DucKKKs.

    (((((((((((((((Exhilerating CHEERS OR Electrifying CHAIR!!))))))))))))

  11. Rex Minor Germany Internet Explorer Windows says:

    I have watched the guys performance in foreign media. He is a populist in the political arena of Pakistan which is dominated by the two major political parties. The muslim league which came with Pakistan and the Peoples parties which was created by Mr Bhutto. The rest of the parties are on the fringe, each of them by definition not in a position to present a broad based political program which can attract the general public. Does any one know about his party plan or his team, other than his speaking about the issues which concerns the common people most. Since the Govt. is currently not in full control or a funcioning one Imran Khan is the only light in tunnel. He has no experience in politics since he does not want to play a second fidel when he takes a minister post.
    These are the views of a person who knows so little about your country politics and who has watched this guys performence in couple of interviews. The best way to counter this is for the main parties to take the courage and introduce direct democracy on key matters and let the people decide whether they want any alliance with the USA or not whether they want peace with its neighbours or not, or whether they want negotiations with so called talibans or use of military against them.
    Switzerland practices it and Germany is likely to follow this as well. No democratic Govt. can run a country against the wishes of its people once they are elected to office.

    The loaners like Imran Khan would disappear from politics who simply want to oppose Govt decisions which have no majority among people.

    Rex Minor

  12. RHR Pakistan Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Dear URC

    Did you read the article properly. I have written that Imran’s clean image is one of the reasons.

    Regarding facebook..I have nothing against it.but I think that Imran’s supporters generally stay coonfined to FB rather than actually attending his rallies. I work in State bank and have seen his rallies several time on Mall road. Any wayys the article explicitly says that it remains to be seen whether this FB thing actually materializes into anything concrete. I am not saying it wont..just wondering

  13. hiob Germany Internet Explorer Windows says:

    to lobster

    Imran Khan will have to go to agood progressive university again. His graduation in Oxford may be fake – like that of many pakistani politicians. Or he has forgotten what he learnt there. Or may be he attended only those seminars in politics and history which glorified islam and muslims.

    Is Imran Khan working to restore the hindu population component (25%) in Pakistan? If he is not then he is a hindu hater. Is he rejecting arab imperialism and its instruments (like kuran and islam). Then he is a bootlicker of arabs.

  14. DS Pakistan Google Chrome Windows says:

    Im glad PTI doesnt represent a specific ethnic group. A political party representing an ethnic group only serves to divide our people. PTI gets support from all ethnicities. Thats what a political party should bring. Unity in a country like Pakistan.

  15. Hiob does not have a chip on his shoulders, he carries a whole mill of chips mulling/crunching his outrageous and biased/slanted version of Islam.

  16. pakidil Pakistan Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    we are ready , Yes we all pakistani youth are ready for the next election to bring imran khan . We are the future of pakistan and its time all Pakistani People should understand the value of their vote . Students are ready, Youth Are ready . Imran khan WE ARE READY .

  17. hiob Germany Internet Explorer Windows says:

    to syyed

    Muslims, through their deeds and words, confirm that my analysis of islam is correct and factual. I don’t expect muslims to have the honesty and the courage to admit this. But the reality in islam-based societies keeps proving my analysis as valid.

    Whether I carry any chips on my shoulders or not makes no difference to the fact that islam is destroying human lives and human rights and freedoms. Since the muslism cannot and dare not see the faults in islam therefore they have to blame or hurt or insult non-muslims.

    If muslims wish to ruin themselves more then go on with that attitude.

  18. hiob jee: you are confusing your egregious/irreversible fatwa about islam with your perception of somr terrible socalled muslims whose conduct is not worthwhile or upto mark accoding to what you insist are your just snd immutable expectations,.

    i am afraid i cannot continue this correspondence due to my limiterd time resources. GOODS BUY!!


  19. observer Germany Internet Explorer Windows says:

    to syyed

    You muslims are heavily profiting from the robberies, extortions, rapes, imperialisms carried out by these “terrible so-called muslims”. So how can you now deny them muslim-ness.

    How many muslims have abjured of or given up the gains made by the muslim aggressors, rapists, robbers, killers, terrorists, deceivers etc.? So you enjoy the fruits of their ill-deeds but also wish to conveniently distance yourself from them or declare them to be non-muslims?

    Islam has to be judged by the acts of the muslim fascists, terrorists, imperialists etc. The good deeds done by muslims are not result of their islam since such deeds are done also by non-muslims.

  20. to OB SERVER:

    expose your Self by your CONfession/vitroil that: “since such deeds are done also by non-muslims”. Translation: Muslims are capable, a priori, of No Good. i big your pardon. Read this again!

    It is not hinduism (a great religion) that hinders you. It is your hyperhypocrisy. Let me remind you of Rig Veda: Let winds of change blow in from all directions. And Saint John prophesied 2000 years ago: TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU JA-FREE.

    my laptop has to be replaced every 18-19 months because i hit the typing keyboard so hard typing with my righteous forefinger (otherwise you deserrve it!), the laptop cracks and expires.

    So I will not argue politics or Religioon with you in print any further, consequently thus save my laptop.

    i will permit you to lapse of and off your own accord (sua sponte) and very-soon.

    God b-less you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. [...] Nadeem Piracha has also written about Imran being a creation of the establishment. And then Raza Habib Raza on PTH has commented that the youth’s love affair with Khan saying it’s all about a lack of other [...]

  22. zafar sikandar Pakistan Google Chrome Windows says:

    I am amazed, the author thinks that its PPP and PML(N) who can bring change, wow what an analysis, open up your eyes my dear author, can’t you feel that pakistanis have now decided that they will not put their next generation in the hands of bilawal and hamza. Dear author, I am part of the rural area of pakistan and i spend my whole day there its not just the urban youth my friend the rural youth wants the change more than what you can think off, can you imagine a farmer who starts a tube-well to water his lands and when the water reaches the the acre which is at some distance the load-shedding stops the tube-well you just can’t visualize the amount of abuses that farmer offers to the mighty rulers of this country and at the same time wows not to vote for them again, the famous shareef brothers after so many years in rule come up with a failed project of yellow cabs wow, the saraiki belt which according to you is PPP’s strong hold have no electricity for more than 18 hours a day and still they are PPP’s strong hold, the city of lahore wow look how the khadim-e-alla has changed it to paris in almost 4 years now, Why people like you still insist that we should vote for the tested and failed parties, why should we keep voting for them? please answer. You should be a part of the change and your articles should encourage people for the change, Please don’t support the people who have destroyed this country and are still doing that, because otherwise you will be standing with them on the judgment day.

  23. [...] youngsters’ desire for change and a greater stake in their country’s future has fueled the unexpected success of the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. He boasts more than 150,000 followers on Twitter [...]

  24. [...] youngsters’ desire for change and a greater stake in their country’s future has fueled the unexpected success of the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. He boasts more than 150,000 followers on Twitter and [...]

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