The Daily Telegraph reports on the rapidly rising star of Pakistani politics: Imran Khan has been written off before. As a cricketer, he was initially dismissed as having average ability before captaining his team to World Cup glory. For the past 15 years his political party has stumbled from one election humiliation to the next.
Now though, he is convinced his time has come.
Riding a tsunami of popular support ahead of elections widely expected next year, he is bracing himself for a campaign of dirty tricks.
“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,” he said, in an interview last month with The Daily Telegraph as he travelled to the north-western city of Peshawar for yet another rally on his 59th birthday. “Whatever they do now will backfire.”
Further evidence of Mr Khan’s steepling ascent was on display in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, today on Christmas Day, when at least 100,000 people turned out to hear his message that change was sweeping the country. The figure is all the more remarkable as the city is far from Mr Khan’s stronghold of Lahore.
In a rousing speech, he told the crowd that if his party came to power: “I promise we will end big corruption in 90 days.”
“I’ve never seen a gathering like this in Karachi in two decades,” said a local journalist covering the rally.
Everything changed in October, when he attracted more than 100,000 supporters to a parade ground in Lahore. The world took notice of a new star in Pakistan’s political firmament, dominated for decades by a handful of the richest families.
A YouGov-Cambridge poll released on Fri Dec 23 found that Khan is the most popular political figure in Pakistan by far, with some 81 per cent of respondents choosing him as the person they think best suited to lead the country. Two thirds meanwhile said they would vote for his PTI party.
Even that rally was almost sabotaged. At the last minute his venue was moved from a modestly sized park to the Minar-e-Pakistan, capable of holding hundreds of thousands of people.
If the switch by city authorities loyal to Nawaz Sharif, the main opposition leader, was an attempt to make Mr Khan’s rally appear insignificant it failed badly.