Our Beacon Forum

By:Muhammad Rafi Karachi
Date: Thursday, 10 May 2012, 6:53 am

- Shobhaa De

"Forget Imran's past. It's his future you should be looking at. We don't care how many girlfriends he had, still has or may have in the years ahead. That's irrelevant. The man is talking sense. There is sobriety in his speeches. He is attracting crowds." The person telling me this on a chilly night at a cafe in Karachi last week is a prominent corporate lawyer.

His wife nods her head in agreement and explains why Imran deserves to win. "He represents change and the youth of Pakistan are craving for such a leader. They are sick and tired of corruption, which is worse than it is in India. Imran may be many things, but one thing he isn't and that's corrupt." So, that's settled. Imran represents change. And he's not corrupt.

When i ask whether he has the backing of the mighty generals, the members of this small group answer vaguely, "It's possible. But he's not their puppet." Coincidentally, Imran was visiting Karachi during the Lit Fest weekend, but was not scheduled to make an appearance to promote his best-selling book. He was there to hold rallies, meet journalists at a seaside kabab joint and attend a high-profile wedding. Interestingly, young Bilawal Zardari was expected at the Lit Fest, but had to cancel when the all-important security clearance was not given. And that was that. No drama. A 'Rushdie moment' was thus skillfully avoided. However, Sanam, Benazir's low-key sister and the only surviving sibling, slipped in and out of various sessions sans the slightest fuss.

The well-organized Karachi Lit Fest is now in its third year. Inspired by our Jaipur Lit Fest, it has since acquired its own distinct identity, and manages to attract erudite scholars and brat writers from across the world. The atmosphere is determinedly bookish, and so far, it has not been turned into a carnival to which socialites from Lahore fly in to show off their latest Birkins. The focus remains on books, opinion, dissent and debate. Who would have thought this possible? Just beyond the boundaries of the slightly rundown Carlton Hotel which hosted the event this year, lies a totally different world. But within the hotel's heavily guarded compound, people move around freely, mobbing their favourites (Vikram Seth was by far the biggest star of this fest).

Nothing daunts the enthusiasts, not even a prominent plaque near the entrance that reads: 'Weapons not allowed inside." These signs are common wherever one goes. Armed bodyguards hired by private individuals have become mandatory in a city that is rated as one of the most dangerous in the world.

Despite the somewhat sinister atmosphere (what with frequent murders, kidnappings and shootouts in Karachi's toniest areas), the 'never say die' attitude of locals remains intact. Yes, there is widespread cynicism, even despair, about the way the country is run, but there is also optimism that things are about to change.

This is where the Imran factor kicks in. And no, he is not perceived as the Sarah Palin of Pakistan. Citizens insist there has been a level of consistency and determination in whatever he has undertaken ("he's obstinate!&rdquo- be it the state-of-the-art cancer hospital he built in memory of his mother or his decision to start his own political party despite the odds. He is also seen as a 'friend of India'- which works against him with hardliners who make no attempt to hide their anti-India feelings.

"India really knows how to sell itself well," i was told, almost as if India was pulling a con trick on the world. "Look at your economy and look at ours. India is surging ahead, while Pakistan is in reverse gear," a banker pointed out. Meanwhile, the abandoned Indian consulate (dubbed "bhoot bangla&rdquo tells its own story. Intellectuals blame poor governance for the sorry state of affairs. The poor blame the rich. The situation is pretty desperate, with no gas and frequent power cuts. "Most of our money is spent on arming ourselves. If even half that amount was spent on schools and hospitals, Pakistan would be a different country," said a woman who runs a successful garment business.

No worries. Uncle Sam has offered a whopping $2.4 billion in 2013. Everyone cribs about insane prices, even those who live in luxurious farmhouses on the outskirts of Karachi and host lavish weekend brunches for influential friends.

Imran Khan in his 'new, improved' avatar does not attend such decadent celebrations. He is a changed man. And he wants to change his country. Inshallah, that will happen. Imran Khan is all set to play a second captain's innings for Pakistan. All he now needs is a good team to win the match.