Battered but not broken
For the last two months I’ve been in a terrible state physically. After my accident, when I fell from a stage during an election rally in Lahore in May, I spent two weeks in bed. I’ve never done this in my life. It was potentially a very serious injury: three vertebrae broken, cracked ribs, head injuries, and so on. Then I spent another three weeks in a brace, walking slowly. Finally I had the brace off after seeing a specialist here in England and doing physiotherapy. It’s been a testing time for someone who’s always been fit (I played international sport for 21 years) and has not known what it is like to be in a prolonged state of unfitness.
Now I’m out of my brace and on the mend. I’m ready once I go back to provide a proper opposition in Pakistan, which we haven’t had. More importantly, the one province – Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa – where we have a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is a golden opportunity for us to show what good governance is all about.
Looking back, I have mixed feelings about the election. On the one hand, my party did extremely well. Here was a party with zero seats in the last election, which we boycotted, and before that only one seat in parliament, and it has become the second-biggest party in Pakistan. We fielded 80 per cent new candidates – this was a movement against the status quo. The challenge was not winning the elections but to bring a change. If we had gone for winning the elections, we would have just picked tried and tested old political faces who were dying to join us, because we had these massive rallies and everyone knew the young were with us.
But these were the status quo politicians, against whom my whole movement was fighting. Of our candidates, 35 per cent were below the age of 40. We wanted to bring in young leadership. We put our party through trial intra-party elections. No other political party in Pakistan has ever held intra-party elections so they’re basically family parties – it’s son taking over from father or mother. Benazir Bhutto’s son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, basically inherited a party as a 19-year-old after his mother was killed. The husband produced a will and said the party had been inherited by the son!
Bearing in mind we had all these new candidates and only a three-week campaign, we achieved what no other party could have hoped to achieve. We got almost eight million votes, and it’s a party that is now all over Pakistan, a federal party; the others are restricted to provinces. You need 140 seats to form a government and we got about 40 seats – but in 123 constituencies we came second. It means the party is poised for the next election, whenever it is. For now, we have time to organise our party properly.
To the streets
The downside was that this was the most rigged election in our history. Every political party that participated claimed that it was rigged. With each election, the rigging has increased because no one ever gets caught. We’ve accepted the result – Pakistan has too many crises to face a fresh election –but what we want is for the Supreme Court to do a detailed investigation of four constituencies out of 272. Then, with all the wrongdoings exposed, at least the next election should be free and fair. Our whole idea with insisting on this investigation is that we do not want a repeat of election-rigging. At the moment, I’m afraid we’re being resisted, but we are determined, even if it means a street movement. We will go on the streets to insist that there should be an investigation and that electoral reforms should take place in Pakistan.
Right now, the issue of terrorism in Pakistan is serious. In a year, we have had more than 300 terrorist attacks in the country. Pakistan is more radicalised thanks to the US war that we were forced to enter into by Pervez Musharraf, a military dictator. The state has got weaker at controlling terrorism and the army is stuck in the tribal areas. Some 50,000 Pakistanis have been killed, many times more than the British and Americans have lost in Afghanistan. The worst thing is that we still don’t have any solutions, because the government doesn’t have the will to pull us out of this war, which was never Pakistan’s war in the first place. There were no Pakistanis involved in the 9/11 attacks and the Taliban were in Afghanistan.
So how did we get stuck? I’m afraid it’s down to a ruling elite’s lust for dollars. They first took dollars to create the jihadis in the 1980s against the Soviets, and now they’re taking dollars to kill the same jihadis. The people of Pakistan have paid the price.
After she spoke, I read Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the United Nations. This 16-yearold girl, shot by the Taliban for her campaigning work on education, has touched everyone – and in Pakistan, too. She’s become a symbol, standing up for education. If there’s one thing a country needs, besides security, it’s education. Pakistan has an appalling record of educating its people and its female literacy is one of the worst in the world. My government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is spending more than any other province ever has on education. We’ve made education a priority – especially female education.
Ashton, Prince of Ashes
Aside from seeing a specialist about my injuries, I’m also in England to see my boys. I love watching cricket with them because they both enjoy it. We are going to the Test match at Lord’s. The first Test was unexpected. I did not think Australia would be able to put up such a fight but they surprised everyone. The young debutant Ashton Agar was very impressive; he’s got a great future.
Half of the game of cricket is fought in the mind, the other half on the field. Australia’s attitude in the next matches will be different. People had written them off, but they will now be mentally much more ready to face England. Having said that, England will still win the series and retain the Ashes.