Despite many in Pakistan growing frustrated with his politics, Imran Khan’s PTI supporters in the diaspora have stayed loyal. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf supporters came out onto the. Streets across the United Kingdom. Last Sunday to protest after Imran Khan lost the vote of no confidence the previous day.
Protests were held across London, Bradford, Manchester, Nottingham, and Glasgow where. Chants could be heard in support of Khan while also simultaneously expressing their anger for Khan’s removal. Angry chants could be heard from the crowds for calls to tell the new interim government to leave. In Manchester alone, there were over 2,000 protesters.
In a video message on social media, Imran Khan’s UK spokesperson Sahibzada Jahangir urged PTI. Supporters to march to the US embassy in London and protest against the foreign interference by America”.
While analysts say that the foreign hand Imran Khan is referring to may be exaggerated and may help him garner support for his next election, this message of an outside role in Imran Khan’s removal has resonated with PTI supporters both in Pakistan and the diaspora in the West.
Khan since his early days of campaigning has always resonated with Pakistanis living in the diaspora. One of the reasons for that may be that many find themselves relating to him as someone who has roots in Pakistan and has lived abroad for many years but much like themselves, still feels strongly for Pakistan.
Khan was someone who came from a modest background, made a name for himself back home and internationally through his hard work and talent, and spent many years in the west but chose to return back to Pakistan to help his country. This is an image they identify with and to many in the diaspora, he is both a hero and savior and for them, it romanticizes the idea of saving a country that so desperately needs saving.
Adnan Tariq, who is an IT developer in Manchester, first moved to the UK 18 years ago. Tariq is an official member of PTI UK and came out to protest Khan’s removal on Sunday. In Manchester alone, nearly 2,000 PTI supporters came out to protest Khan’s removal.
“I don’t think anyone in PTI is comfortable with it [the removal]. We know it’s been manipulated. There’s been some horse-trading as well. People have changed their loyalties,” he said.
“There is also the issue about the letter as well, which makes it more suspicious,” he said. “But even with or without the letter, the opposition should have allowed PTI to complete their term.”
“Khan Sahab is the leader. He is PTI essentially. Him not being the Prime Minister does not make sense,” he said.
Tariq has been a PTI supporter since 2008 and when PTI UK was officially formed in 2011, soon afterward he was elected the finance secretary in 2012.
Tariq was a student in Bradford at the time when Khan first began his visits to the UK during the Pervez Musharraf regime. Khan held protests across the UK and organized talks in UK universities for Pakistani students appealing to them to participate in politics in order to change the status quo back home.
Khan even protested Musharraf’s regime with the young students at the time, creating an excitement among the students, many of who were awed by this cricket star walking side by side with them chanting slogans of change.
Insaaniyat, Insaaf, and Khudaari (Humanity, Fairness, and Independence) was Imran Khan’s message and it appealed to the youth. During one such speech that was held in King’s College, Tariq first heard Khan and soon after, became a PTI supporter. “People like myself, middle class or lower class, who don’t have a political background joined PTI because of what was going on in the country at the time”
“We didn’t want to support the usual two-party system that had been going on for so long,” he said. “He was the third alternative and he was not the usual face you would see. He was making sense at the time and especially for people living abroad, he related it to how things work here.”
“Obviously, any patriotic Pakistani would want the same in Pakistan,” he said.
“There’s no future without Imran Khan. But we will come back and we will come back with a large majority. There was a huge turnout across Pakistan in support of Imran Khan on Sunday,” he said. “I have no doubt he has got a bright future.”
Similarly, Chaudhry Shahzad Ahmed moved to the UK from rural Rawalpindi to study at Manchester University when he was 23. Ahmed who is a businessman now was 17 years old when he joined PTI back when he lived in Rawalpindi. A friend of his forced him to attend a PTI rally and right away, he felt a connection with Khan’s words.
Ahmed was the first elected General Secretary of PTI UK in 2014 and is currently a member of the Standing Committee for Accountability and Discipline in PTI. He even tried his luck to get a ticket in Rawalpindi during the last elections but was not successful.
He had felt Khan’s aura and charisma in the past too when he had been in school and had raised funds for Shaukat Khanum hospital. When he heard Khan speak about Pakistan and what was needed to change the trajectory of the country, it was enough to convince Ahmed to join to party. For Ahmed, Khan’s words and politics were refreshing and vastly different status quo. “I decided that this is the guy I need to follow,” he said.
In 2007, when ‘Khan Sahab’ decided to file cases against Altaf Hussain, Ahmed decided to become actively involved in the party. “Since then, there was no looking back,” he said.
“He is honest and whatever he says, he at least tries to do that at least,” he said.
Ahmed flew back after the 27th rally in Pakistan, and participated with his wife and two children in the Manchester protest last week.
For Ahmed, the vote of no confidence against Khan was a ‘set up’ and ‘predone’. “It was in the air for the last six months that Shahbaz Sharif was ‘prime minister in-waiting’.”
Anwar Ul Haq, who is originally from Kallar Syedan Tehsil in Rawalpindi, Punjab and has lived in the UK for over 30 years and currently resides in Maidenhead, Berkshire. Haq is a member of the Overseas Election Commission for PTI UK.
Like everyone else who supports Khan, Haq feels that there are other external forces responsible for Khan’s removal. “There must be some unseen elements that have played a big role in this,” he said. “Some external elements were involved big time.”
Haq who still has parents and siblings are back in Pakistan, has supported Khan for a long time says, “He is a fantastic and visionary leader,” said Haq. “I grew up with this political system and with martial law in Pakistan. I haven’t found that they are doing someone for the public. It is a known fact that they [PPP and PML-N] have stolen the people’s money and taken its benefits.”
“When I was younger, bribery and corruption were considered terrible things but now [because of them], it has become the norm. The difference between halal and haram has disappeared,” said Haq. “They have polluted the upcoming generation and basic values of the society has been wiped out.”
Haq is also in the process of moving back to Pakistan and hopes. That Khan will be in power when he does so. “I will be more comfortable if he is the leader because I feel the security issue will be worse if. He is not. However, if he isn’t in power then I will be part of the struggle in coming years. And we will try our best to make the country better.”
Zareen Asad who lives in Manchester when to the protest with her family. Asad moved to Manchester from Lahore after getting married ten years ago.
Asad, like many of his other supporters, first heard of Imran Khan when she was in school in Lahore. He was the captain of the Pakistani cricket team. She can still clearly recall his charismatic persona from the time. He came to her school to speak when he was collecting funds for Shaukat Khanum. Asad and her friends at the time began raising funds for his hospital. “I’ve been a fan of Imran Khan [for a long time],” she says. “When he had his first major rally in Lahore, that’s when I started to really support PTI.”
“PML-N and PPP have been taking turns for a long time and they have ruined Pakistan with corruption. They are only interested in making money themselves,” she says. “PTI under Imran really came as a breath of fresh air.”
“If there is someone better than him then yes, we would support him or her but right now. It is about these two big parties who have come into power. It is their corruption that is worrying at the moment.”