Pakistan faces Arab spring, declares Imran Khan

FORMER cricketer Imran Khan, hailed by pollsters as Pakistan's most popular politician, is now predicting that a popular "tsunami" bigger than that which has rocked the Arab world will hit Pakistani society.

In an interview with The Scotsman, Mr Khan said: "I think the first genuine revolution will come in Pakistan. And I mean through the ballot box.

"Of course, if it doesn't come through the ballot box there will be bloodshed in Pakistan. But I reckon that the next election will bring the biggest revolution in Pakistan in the sense that the entire old, degenerate, corrupt ruling elite will be wiped off - they will be swept aside."

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With the rapidly deteriorating security and economic situation in Pakistan, Khan, 58, has come a long way from being considered a fringe player in the country's murky politics - today he is a serious contender for the post of prime minister.

A new YouGov poll placed him as the most popular potential leader. Another poll last month found him to be Pakistan's most popular politician. Only this week 50,000 supporters rallied in Faisalabad to hear him. His rising profile is helped by regular appearances on private news channels, many of which are strongly critical of the government of president Asif Ali Zardari. Mr Khan said: "We have a huge advantage over the Middle East. Because in the Middle East the information is controlled. In our part of the world,, current affairs programmes have transformed society."

But how does he plan to tackle large-scale vote rigging? He places his hopes in a recent Supreme Court judgment to his petition which annulled as bogus 45 per cent of the votes, or 35 million ballots, in the 2008 elections. He also points to the fact 36 million new voters have been registered.

"So this in itself is going to bring a revolution," he asked. "Remember the government is in power with 10 million votes."

But for a genuine revolution to come, Pakistan must embrace real change. Income distribution needs a radical shake-up, he said.

He added: "I was inspired when I came as an 18-year-old to Britain and saw a Welfare State."

The tax system is one of his first targets. Pakistan has among the lowest tax yields in the world: less than 2 per cent of its population pay income tax.

He said: "You cannot have the poor subsidising the rich which is what happens now. I mean all the money is collected from indirect taxation and the rich don't pay taxes. (Opposition leader] Nawaz Sharif, who is a billionaire, paid $60 tax the year before. Zardari didn't pay any tax at all - no income tax."

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Mr Khan also believes American drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas are counter-productive and fuel radicalisation. Paying his respect to the Human Rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who is fighting the case for drone victims in UK courts, he said: "You know in Britain they suspended the death sentence because one person was hung and found to be the wrong person? Here are drone attacks, in 24 hours I think they kill 60 people, and they were all suspects. And no-one knows who these people were. There is no verification because there is no army presence. Obviously when a bomb falls on someone's house, there are women and children there. Which law allows you to kill suspects - women, children and everyone?"

While his popularity has risen among the masses, in the English speaking elitist Pakistani press there has been many articles critical of him. There are those who accuse him of being soft on the Taleban because he calls for dialogue. However, he insists real liberals oppose military solutions and those who oppose this are the real "fanatics."

One leading newspaper accused him of "giving the British Empire and its colonial administration in India the credit of maintaining an exemplary law and order and providing impeccable governance".

Does he believe that? "Nonsense!" he replied, before accusing such critics of having "inferiority ridden" and "Westoxified" minds. "Basically I mean the fact is that the government system was much better under the British. They just had a very good government system. But that doesn't mean colonialism was good for us," he laughed.

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