Candidate hopes being anti-U.S. will make him Pakistani PM

(CBS News) ISLAMABAD -- One of the most important relationships the United States has in the world is with Pakistan. The U.S. sends $2 billion in aid there each year. It is ground zero in the war on terror, and most Pakistanis aren't very happy about that.

There is an election scheduled there on Saturday, and it would be the first time in Pakistani history that one elected government would replace another, uninterrupted by a military coup.

It is popular to be anti-American, and one candidate hopes that will make him prime minister.

Imran Khan greeted his supporters at his final political rally Thursday from his hospital bed.
Imran Khan greeted his supporters at his final political rally Thursday from his hospital bed.

Imran Khan greeted his supporters at his final political rally Thursday -- not in person, but by video link, battered and bandaged in a hospital bed.

Khan's campaign took a dramatic turn on Tuesday night. As he was being raised to the stage on a forklift, he tumbled off backward, suffering spine, head and rib injuries.

You might think that would have ended his run. Not a bit.

The sight of him in a neck brace actually galvanized voters, especially the young.

"He has done everything good for Pakistan," one supporter said when asked why Khan is the right man for Pakistan. "And he has the passion, he has the spirit and he is the right man."

Khan's story is nothing like other politicians. A sports superstar, he captained Pakistan's cricket team to their only world championship in 1992. Handsome, rich and a playboy, he mixed with celebrities like Princess Diana.

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Now, Khan has entered politics, and this campaign has turned out to be the most violent in Pakistan's history, marked by deadly Taliban attacks.

It's the area up near Afghan border that has seen a lot of the violence. In the city of Peshawar alone, three bombs went off Wednesday and two more were defused just in time.

We walked the streets with a candidate running for Khan's party, but found Shawqat Yousefzai isn't worried he'll be targeted by the Taliban -- perhaps because Khan supports negotiating with them.

"We're saying from day one, the dialogue is the only solution," Yousefzai said.

Khan also strongly opposes U.S. drone strikes on Taliban militants, which makes the stakes in this election particularly high.

So much of America's war on terror is being fought in Pakistan with Pakistani consent. Khan could become a very influential presence in the parliament, and the tone of anti-American rhetoric would notch up considerably if Khan does well in the election.

He has said he's in favor of shooting down drones; practically speaking, one of the first things we might see is the American military having trouble getting permission to withdraw its equipment from Afghanistan through Pakistan.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."