WASHINGTON: Addressing a large crowd at Washington’s Capital One Arena on Sunday, Prime Minister Imran Khan said this was the ‘Naya Pakistan’ that Pakistanis in and outside the country were creating. “Today, what you see happening in Pakistan is what Naya Pakistan is about: these people had never been asked for answers before,” he said, reminding the crowd that key leaders had been jailed on corruption charges.
The event, which chief organiser Dr Abdullah Riar claimed was the largest gathering of Pakistani-Americans ever, enthused the prime minister too. “People ask ‘where is Naya Pakistan?’ — here it is, being created in front of your eyes,” he declared.
A new Pakistan, he said, would be created by changing old ways and the first step towards this goal was to correct past mistakes and catch those responsible for derailing the country’s economy.
Referring to the jailed former president and prime minister, he said, “They will stay there as long as they do not return the money they have looted.”
He said Nawaz Sharif was demanding an air-conditioned room and home food in jail. “No! You will not get these facilities, not until you return the people’s money,” he said, eliciting wild applause from a highly charged crowd of PTI supporters.
In another reference to the former prime minister, Mr Khan said in his meeting with US President Donald Trump, he will not take out notes from pocket, as Mr Sharif did. The crowd laughed and cheered.
The prime minister also targeted JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman, saying “this is the first time the National Assembly is running without diesel”, at which the rally erupted in a chant “diesel” for several minutes.
Some inside the arena, however, thought that the prime minister should have focused on his economic agenda and international issues, and not on domestic political issues.
“This was a unique opportunity to urge Pakistani-Americans to send more foreign exchange to the country,” said Asad Hasan, a senior VOA journalist. “The PM should have urged them to jump-start the ailing tourism industry by visiting Pakistan with their families.”
The event displayed PTI’s expertise in organising public gatherings. The crowd was whipped into frenzy with videos, chanting and songs before the prime minister appeared on the stage. More videos followed, highlighting Mr Khan’s achievements, from the 1992 World Cup to the 2018 elections, which electrified PTI supporters.
A small group in a corner chanted some anti-government slogans but they were drowned out in a sea of PTI lovers.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood, Minister of State for Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari, Anwar Jawed, a Pakistani-American businessman and local PTI leaders also shared the stage with the prime minister.
It was apparently the crowd’s warm response that kept the prime minister zoomed-in on his political opponents. “When these leaders are asked for answers, they call it political revenge.
When courts announce their verdicts, they say ‘kyun nikala’,” said Mr Khan, referring to Mr Sharif’s dismissal. “We are not doing this. All these are old cases. They have to be held accountable for what they did.”
He said democracy could only succeed if there’s accountability and merit and his government intends to do both. “I have played cricket all around the world. I have seen the most cricketing talent in Pakistan. But [because] there is no system of merit, we can’t bring that talent up,” said the prime minister while explaining why the Pakistani system was not working. “The Australians are dominating the world [in cricket] — because there is meritocracy there.”
The prime minister promised that good days will return. “Remember, Pakistan is changing now. … Our country will rise before you. You will see we will fix the system and let the lower segments come up.”
Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2019