Imran Khan not Pakistan's "saviour", says rights activist

 

MR IMRAN KHAN's intention to seek the leadership of Pakistan is a "nonsense" that will do little to alleviate the suffering of the vast majority of people, according to a human rights activist visiting Ireland this week.

Ms Hina Jilani, a lawyer and member of the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan, said the election of Mr Khan as prime minister would only reinforce the control exercised over the country by the current feudal elite.

"My problem with the man is not only what he is but also what he is not. I think he would only be the same as what is already there and he would add to the confusion rather than solve any of the problems. I do not think he has any idea of the problems of Pakistan.

"Imran Khan is a very good man and a very good cricketer. My gardener is a very good man and a very good gardener. That does not mean he can be prime minister of Pakistan," she said, adding that there was growing concern in the country at Mr Khan's increasingly close links with the military and Muslim fundamentalists.

In Ireland to launch an Oxfam publication, A Woman's World - Beyond the Headline, Ms Jilani said that voters looking for a saviour could be "duped" into voting for Mr Khan.

The next elections are scheduled for 1998. "I would not be surprised if he won because Pakistan's people are not by and large politically aware. But I really do not think he would make any difference.

"In fact I think it would be worse because he does not have anything to offer and at the same time there would be an interruption of the two party system from which we hope constructive party politics will still emerge," said Ms Jilani, who successfully challenged the death penalty against two Christians accused of blasphemy in 1994.

She said the current Prime Minister, Ms Benazir Bhutto, was doing little to effect real change in the country with a population of 125 million - almost half of whom are illiterate - but her continued presence or the election of the opposition would allow human rights activists to try to effect change in areas such as the judiciary, police and civil servants. She said that legislation existed to ban bonded labour or curtail violence against women but it was not being implemented by the authorities.

Pakistan was in a period of transition with much of the movement for change coming from the bottom up, she observed. Trade unions were forming and the next stage was to incorporate the various groups into negotiations at government level.

"The problem is that people not only distrust the state but they also distrust each other, so organised collective action, is quite difficult," she said, adding that the change would take time. But she is prepared to persist.