ENTER IMRAN KHAN

Following a campaign marred by deadly violence and charges of cheating, Imran Khan, a charismatic Oxford-educated aristocrat and legendary cricketer, has claimed victory for his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party in Pakistan’s national elections. The party’s closest challenger, disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N party, continues to insist the vote was stolen, but Khan will likely lead the next government.


This is a big deal. Pakistan’s military has dominated politics throughout the country’s 71-year history, and this transition will mark just the second time that one civilian-led government has passed power to another after their party finished its full term.

That said, as Khan well knows, parties in Pakistan have proven more resilient than their leaders. Not one of the 18 men and women appointed or elected as Pakistan’s prime minister has finished the term to which he/she was elected.

In a global context, this is yet another “change election.” As in France, Italy, and Mexico, a growing number of Pakistan’s voters have rejected the well-entrenched political establishment in favor of an outsider and the political party he created. (Khan launched PTI in 1996, but until now it has never truly contended for national power.)

In Pakistan, parties centered on political dynasties—Sharif’s PML-N (now led by Sharif’s brother) and the PPP (headed by the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto)—finished in second and third place respectively.

Who is Imran Khan?

Depends whom you ask. Critics say he’s a thin-skinned narcissist who doesn’t understand politics, constantly contradicts himself, and is in way over his head. Supporters, particularly young people hungry for change, say he’s just the man to take a cricket bat to Pakistan’s fantastically corrupt political culture.

Supporters and detractors agree he’s relentless. He has been Pakistan’s highest-profile political naysayer for more than two decades, and his dogged pursuit of a supreme court disqualification of corruption-plagued Nawaz Sharif defined this election.

Khan’s biggest challenges

On domestic policy, the new prime minister must tackle the deeply related problems of poverty and corruption. About 40 percent of Pakistanis live in poverty, and Transparency International, a corruption watchdog, rankedPakistan 117th of 180 countries on perceptions of corruption in 2017. Khan must also manage a badly weakened currency: The rupee has been devalued four times in seven months, stripping value from the banknotes Pakistanis hold in their pockets.

On foreign policy, Khan says he wants to resolve the (sometimes deadly) conflict with India over Kashmir and to improve relations with the US after a multi-year deterioration of ties with Washington. Though Khan says he wants to emulate China’s historic accomplishments in poverty reduction, a foreign-policy pivot toward Beijing has helped fuel a government debt crisis.

Khan must also carefully manage relations with Pakistan’s military, which remains central to corruption in government and business, and insists on final say on Pakistan’s foreign and security policy.

But the new prime minister’s biggest challenge will come from his transition from insurgent to incumbent. The perennial outsider must now assume responsibility for his country’s chronic problems while maintaining the backing of those who voted more for change than for Imran Khan personally.

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This Saturday, July 20, will mark the 50-year anniversary of the day a human being first stepped onto another world. A moment born out of Cold War political pressures, it's easy to forget a half century later how much bitter controversy the project provoked at home and the intensity of the worldwide fanfare that followed its success.

The moon mission's primary purpose was to defeat the Soviet Union. By the time John Kennedy became president in 1961, the Soviet Union had advanced far ahead of the United States in the race for achievement in space. In October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. A month later, a dog named Laika became the first living creature to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, the first human to do so.

In early May, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, spurring Kennedy to announce a far more ambitious plan. On May 25, Kennedy famously pledged that by the end of the decade Americans would go to the moon and return safely to the Earth.

Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but new President Lyndon Johnson quickly signaled his intention to see the promise kept. The Soviets held their space lead through 1965, by landing an unmanned craft on the Moon.

The moon mission stoked controversy in the United States. A review of polls reveals that only in 1969 did a majority of Americans support the project. Many people argued that the billions spent on a moonshot should go toward the war in Vietnam or to fight poverty in America's inner cities. "No hot water, no toilets, no lights. But Whitey's on the moon," sang musician and activist Gil Scott Heron. It didn't help when a fire during the Apollo 1 mission killed three astronauts and destroyed their space module.

But when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969, the event took on a life of its own. It was a decade framed by two images of respected TV anchorman Walter Cronkite—shaken to the core on air by the 1963 murder of President Kennedy and then speechless with awe as Americans bounded across the surface of the moon.

A decade that included confrontation with the Soviets in Cuba, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, a failing war in Vietnam, race riots in American cities, and violent chaos at the 1968 Democratic Party convention ended with an accomplishment a quarter million miles away, that was watched live by 94 percent of Americans who owned a TV.

Americans weren't the only ones watching. About 650 million people around the world watched the moon landing live on TV, making the event the first truly global televised event. Nine weeks later, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins began a world tour.

Concerns that planting an American flag on the moon's surface would seem an act of obnoxious nationalism faded as the three men were greeted by overflow crowds in 27 cities in 24 countries over 39 days. An estimated one million people greeted them in Dhaka (then Pakistan) and some 1.5 million turned out in Mumbai (then Bombay).

Fifty years later, moon missions are still a mark of national prestige. Russia, China, India, the EU, Japan, and Israel have all sent probes to orbit the Moon or landed vehicles on its surface. But none of them matches that first "giant leap for mankind."

Next up: Mars? For thoughts on the next space race, click here.

Bonus fact: An iPhone has more than 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.