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Imran Khan’s Virtual Campaign Amidst Uncertainty


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Pakistan’s former prime minister, Imran Khan, orchestrated a virtual rally through artificial intelligence (AI), leaving the nation in suspense about his release before the impending general elections. On December 17, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Khan, unveiled a voice clone of the cricket legend-cum-politician, leveraging AI technology to convey a powerful 4-minute message to the public. Despite nationwide internet disruptions monitored by NetBlocks, the “virtual rally” was disseminated on social media and garnered over 4.5 million views across platforms like Facebook, X, and YouTube.

Khan, currently incarcerated, found a voice through a process initiated by PTI, where a shorthand script provided by the leader was transformed into an AI-generated audio message, mimicking his distinctive rhetorical style. The party collaborated with ElevenLabs, an AI firm, employing their tool to create a “voice clone” derived from existing speech samples. In the recorded message, Khan expressed gratitude to the PTI social media team for this “historic attempt” and provided an update on his stance from behind bars, emphasizing his unwavering commitment to genuine freedom.

Despite the absence of Khan from political rallies, PTI’s innovative use of AI allowed them to bridge the gap and engage with the public, particularly the younger demographic that played a crucial role in their ascent to power five years ago. Jibran Ilyas, the PTI social media chief based in the US, highlighted the necessity of this unconventional approach, stating, “It was to get over the suppression.” The party strategically combined AI-generated content with authentic video clips from Khan’s previous speeches, clearly indicating the AI nature of the voice at regular intervals in captions.

As the political landscape in Pakistan gears up for the elections scheduled for February 8, PTI’s reliance on digital strategies, including AI-generated content, underscores its commitment to reaching a broader audience. Despite internal challenges with leaders being jailed and defections, the PTI remains focused on maintaining its digital reach and ensuring Khan’s continued influence on the party’s narrative. The use of AI in political communication represents a paradigm shift, allowing leaders to transcend physical barriers and connect with the electorate through innovative means.

The AI-powered virtual rally not only serves as a testament to PTI’s adaptability but also raises questions about the evolving dynamics of political communication in the digital age. Imran Khan’s voice echoed through artificial intelligence, brings a unique dimension to the ongoing political discourse, especially in the absence of physical rallies. The use of technology to emulate Khan’s voice aligns with PTI’s forward-thinking approach and emphasizes their determination to navigate challenges creatively.

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