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LinkAsia | May 3
After decades of coups and political instability, Pakistan is set for its first democratic transfer of power since achieving independence. LinkAsia...
In Pakistan, a man who has taken a hard line against his country's alliance with the United States is now running for prime minister. Imran Khan has no problem with name recognition. He's by far Pakistan's most popular athlete. He's also shown a knack for using social media to promote both himself and his party, the Pakistan Movement for Justice. Here's our contributor, Wajahat Khan, with the last story in our series on Asian disillusionment with democracy.
For his anti-American views, he's been taunted as Taliban Khan. For his political naivete, he's been taunted as Im the Dim. However, Imran Khan is not your average cricket-champion-turned-politician. In Pakistan's fast evolving political and media landscape, he's also one of the most, if not the most, watched and followed public figures around. Even by global standards, Khan's Facebook presence is substantial. His 25-member social media team handles the party's official page and claims over 280,000 followers. Other thematic pages, like the wishfully named "Prime Minister Imran Khan," feature almost 500,000 likes. His personal page and his Jaag Utho, or "Wake Up" Page have 100,000 and 300,000 likes each. Because of Khan's domination on Facebook here, his followers are often accused of abusing their vast outreach. His social media team wrote to me, denying having an "anti-propaganda" cell, though admitting that some users "may get overboard." Interestingly, Khan's social media team also admitted to having "some" ties to a bunch of other student-run and campus-centric Facebook pages in several provinces. There's also at least one international group based out of Chicago! But perhaps the most interesting and bizarre pro-Khan pages are run by individual and independent users. For example, there is a group devoted to a Khan book that was never commissioned, never published, and doesn't even exist as a manuscript. Another page posts comments about his latest autobiography, "A Personal History." Then there is the odd couple page, urging Imran Khan to join forces with AQ Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, and the man behind a smuggling network that helped North Korea, among others, develop nuclear weapons. His strength on social media has helped Imran Khan to mount massive rallies like this one on Christmas Day in Karachi. The crowd was estimated to be around 300,000. So here's the big question. In a country where both military as well as elected governments have failed consistently at governance, in a country where there are twice as many soldiers as teachers, in a country where nuclear weapons and electricity blackouts go hand in hand, is Khan a viable alternative for change? One look at his Facebook and Twitter accounts and followers, and one would believe so. However, Pakistan is not a very connected country, internet wise. Out of 180 million people, less than 5 million have Facebook accounts. That means that most of Pakistan does not know what the internet is or does not have access to it. By the way, most of these accounts belong to teenagers. Which leads to another big question: Is Khan just a social media star without enough street cred or is he an actual agent of revolution and change who will activate his logged-on followers to the streets of making a difference in this country? From Islamabad, Pakistan, this is Wajahat S. Khan.
If Imran Khan wins next year's election, he's not only promised to end corruption, but also overhaul the country's tax system. Currently, just 2 percent of Pakistan's 180 million people pay income taxes.