Imran Khan launches his long march in Lahore
Imran Khan, the born-again Muslim populist who accuses the US of ousting him from power in Pakistan last April, is on the march – again. On Friday, he launched the “Long March” he’s been threatening for months. The launchpad? Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural capital. The destination? Islamabad, the federal capital. There’s just 230 miles between the two cities – a four-hour drive – but Khan is pacing his march over the next week, aiming to arrive by next Friday. By staggering the journey, he aims to gather mass and political momentum. As he left Lahore on Friday with a crowd of about 10,000, Khan announced that he expects more than a million people to join him as he crosses through the historic Grand Trunk Road, the political heartland of the 220-million-strong country – the same path taken by many earlier political protest movements. The once-progressive cricket hero thrives on right-wing activist politics and has been here before: In 2014, he led a similar march and ended up laying siege to Islamabad for more than six months, paralyzing the capital but not managing to overthrow the government of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. This time, Shehbaz Sharif, Nawaz’s younger brother, is the PM, and the government has warned Khan that it will respond with force if he crosses certain parts of Islamabad. While Khan has urged his followers to obey the law, the all-powerful military and intelligence services have warned of violence and even a possible terrorist attack, which could unravel the delicate balance in the world’s fifth-largest country. The next few days will be critical for Pakistan’s political future.