Imran Khan, one of Pakistan's former cricket luminaries, abandoned the sport seven years ago. He has moved on to politics, he says, using skills and instincts developed on the cricket green to try to stop what he describes as Pakistan's descent into chaos.
"You know how to struggle and you know how to compete and you know how to take the blows," he said in an interview yesterday.
Assuming, of course, that everyone plays by the rules.
The rule of law, however, does not seem to want to take root in Pakistan. According to Khan, an unpopular government is constitutionally in power with a majority vote in parliament--where debate is effectively discouraged--in a country where journalists and their editors regularly are thrown into jail for expressing their views. When people and political parties take to the streets to protest, the government reacts with tear gas, beatings and arrests, which is what happened in Karachi last weekend.
"All the opposition in Pakistan has combined on a one-point agenda, to get rid of him," Khan said, referring to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. "Our current prime minister has a fascist mind-set, and members of parliament cannot go against the ruling party. We think that every day he stays in power, the country is sinking more into anarchy. The economy has never been worse.
"Democracy is slipping away," he continued. "We had the elections and the beginning of democracy. But democracy is much more than elections. It is checks and balances, and it also means freedom."
In 1996, Khan formed the Justice Party, which was shut out when it contested the last parliamentary elections in Pakistan the following year. Khan was in Washington this week to meet with officials at the National Security Council and with South Asian specialists at the State Department.
He said he wanted to express concerns about what was happening at home and in Kashmir. He accused the Pakistani government of doing great harm to the Kashmiri cause and of mishandling the border standoff with Indian troops. The fighting this summer in Kargil "made it all come across as a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan when Kashmir has everything to do with human rights and democratic principles," Khan said.
Khan said modernization has slowed in his country because of reactionaries who confuse religion with culture. He faulted the three-tier educational system, with some schools teaching in English, others in Urdu and quite a few offering only religious education.
"There is complete lack of leadership in the reconstruction and evolution of religion," he said. "As time passes by, religious thought has to evolve, but it is not evolving, it is reacting against Western culture and often has nothing to do with faith or religion."
Khan said that Pakistan needs an integrated educational system so it does not end up like Algeria, where French speakers and Arabic speakers have been at each other's throats.
No Change at OAS
Change may be considered good at some institutions, but the Organization of American States has chosen to stick with the status quo. OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria, a former president of Colombia who has been in that post since 1994, will have a second term. Will the slick politicking for which he's known bring success? We will have another five years to judge.
Fighting for Afghan Women
When Afghan journalist Nazira Karimi spoke out against the Taliban's abuse of human rights of women, the militant Islamic government issued a death warrant against her and any of her relatives in what it described as a religious edict, or fatwa. She fled the Taliban last year, and so have most of her relatives who could.
The U.S.-based Feminist Majority has been lobbying feverishly for a year to raise the quota in the United States for admitting Afghan refugees, and it has finally achieved significant results. None was admitted in 1996 and 1997 and only 88 were admitted in 1998, but the number is expected to grow to almost 600 this year.
Fereshta Karimi, 24, Nazira's sister, said Taliban militias came to her house in the middle of the night and attempted to rape her. She said her brother, Abdel Hadi, fought them off.
"They shot at his feet and broke his ribs. My mother and I fled when they were wrestling with him and found our way to Pakistan. He ran for two hours and went into hiding at four in the morning. He also escaped," she said, sitting in the National Press Club lounge the day after she arrived here from Peshawar last Thursday.
Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal said a group of 16 Afghan women she has helped come to this country are under great stress.
"These woman have decided to break their silence," she said. "We are very grateful for the change in policy. They would be dead, otherwise. This is reality."