In 1992 when Imran Khan kissed the Cricket World Cup trophy, it was almost unimaginable that a playboy of yesteryears would one day hold Pakistan’s top post. Known for his affairs with numerous women in the early nineties, Khan’s transformation from a man-about-town image to a crusader against corruption is a remarkable journey. His leadership skills which were widely applauded by the Pakistani public, especially for his selection of the World Cup Teams are once again back in focus. The then captain of Pakistan team is now set to lead almost 20 million people of the Islamic republic.
When Khan retired from international cricket, Pakistan establishment was dealing with some of the contentious issues such as corruption, poverty, excessive taxes and complex international relations. Every party in Pakistan, in opposition or in power, was accused of graft. It was the very time, the flamboyant ‘Pathan’ saw a political vacuum in the theocratic state and made all efforts to make his outfit a better alternative to the existing political parties.
Playboy Imran to Politician Khan
Imran's affairs with TV anchors, actresses and artists were well known. However, he put an end to his happy-go-lucky lifestyle when he decided to marry Jemima Goldsmith, daughter of a British business tycoon and anti-Europe crusader Sir James Goldsmith in 1995. Imran’s second marriage with Pakistani journalist Reham Khan didn’t last long. The continuous rift between the couple took their relationship to an end just after nine months. They broke up when Reham alleged that Imran had fathered many children and also was a homosexual. Khan later went on to marry for the third time, a spiritualist Bushra Maneka in 2018.
Imran’s political approach -- from establishing Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in 1996 to winning elections for the first time in 2002 and again in 2013 -- has more or less been socialist. In fact, much of Khan’s transformation in public life was drawn from various welfare schemes, especially his health care facilities in various cities for the cancer patients. However, ‘magnanimity’ in him was not inbred. It all happened after he lost his mother Shaukat Khanum to cancer. Struck by the tragedy, Khan built his first cancer hospital in Lahore in 1994 and named it after her.
Another important aspect of Imran’s image is his adherence to his roots -- Islam and Pashtun tribe. Soon after his mother’s demise, Imran turned religious and followed Islam very seriously. In one of his speeches as a budding leader, Khan had said, “It is very unfortunate that we have to bend before the world. We are bending before America, banks and sometimes even other nations. I want to tell you, Tehreek-e-Insaf only bends before Allah and no one else.” The attire of Imran as a leader was also changed then. The young and charming Imran who used to wear T-Shirts and jeans was now seen in white Salwar Kameez.
The new look and outlook of Khan gradually recognised in Pakistan society. Since Pakistan came into existence, the Muslim right wing there has always been a dominant force. In fact, in 1985 when Pakistan, military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq conducted a referendum on the Islamisation of democracy, 97.71 per cent of voters supported the policy with the voter turnout being 62.15 per cent. Imran’s leniency towards religion helped him gain more popularity in the Islamised democracy of Pakistan.
Military, Politics, and Power
Imran Khan was keenly watching the constantly changing political scenario starting from 1977 when elections took place in Pakistan for the first time. He observed that in the nineties all regimes ended up having corruption charges against it. This gave the ‘watchful’ military an advantage in overpowering the governments.
Elections in Pakistan always had an upper hand of military leadership, may it be Ayyub Khan or Zia-ul-Haq or Pervez Musharraf. Be it in the name of corruption or in coup, Army Generals have overthrown almost all governments in Pakistan. Their next step would be to assert themselves as the President, conduct elections and select a make do Prime Minister.
In 1988, the Benazir Bhutto government which came to power after elections faced severe opposition by Nawaz Sharif-led muslim right-wing group. The ISI also supported Nawaz in an unsuccessful attempt of the no-confidence vote to remove Benazir from power. But if the country’s intelligence doesn’t want a person for the top post then they will go to any extent to turn the tables. And in Pakistan, it takes very little effort.
In 1990, the Bhutto government was dismissed in a coup and elections were held. Nawaz Sharif became the Prime Minister. The decade saw a constant shift of power from Bhutto-led Pakistan People’s Party to coalition governments led by Nawaz Sharif. In 1997, Nawaz Sharif came to power and tried to gain more strength. Media was restricted, Chief Justice of Pakistan Supreme Court, Army Chief, and President all were made to quit under pressure with intent to place his own men on those positions. He was overthrown by General Pervez Musharraf, an act which was later justified by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s birth can be accredited to this corrupt, military-oriented administrative system. People were tired of every regime be it civilian or military, and PTI came into existence with a promise of a corruption-free governance.
Tehreek-e-Insaf contested the 1997 election with much enthusiasm and tried to prove an alternative to Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). Khan launched scathing attacks against corruption and often spoke about Islam in his speech. PTI, then being a year old party, wasn’t able to perform in the election and lost on all seats.
In 2002 Imran again contested from Lahore. PTI suffered yet another blow with just 1.7 per cent of votes but Imran alone won. In his first National Assembly speech, Khan said, “The biggest resource for Pakistan is the overseas Pakistani citizens. When PM Nawaz came to meet me in the hospital I told him that we will oppose you wherever public money is involved.” He went on to speak on various issues including terrorism and said it is their responsibility as a religious community to tackle it. “The business in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region is all gone. The only business remaining there is extortion.”
2013 elections- Becoming a Major Force
After boycotting the 2008 election for allegedly being rigged Imran started to appear as a major player. Form 2011 onwards PTI started appearing as a stronger force. Imran held massive rallies across Lahore to attract youth. Sensing the mood of the public and especially the younger generation which was tired of the two political parties (PPP and PML-N), PTI offered them hope. Many leaders from these two parties and other small outfits, who didn’t see any future for their political life, also joined Imran.
On October 30, 2011, Imran Khan held a massive rally in Lahore, considered to be a home turf of Nawaz Sharif and PML(N) stronghold. With more than one lakh in attendance, the local media described the rally a ‘Tsunami of Imran Khan’. Later, Khan pledged a Naya Pakistan (New Pakistan) during a rally in 2013 and also made six poll promises -- to be truthful to people, to end tyranny, never take money out of country, never take any personal benefits from the government, protect tax money and security for every Pakistani around the world.
PTI subsequently won 34 out of 99 seats on which they contested and emerged as a major opposition in the National Assembly.
The 'Taliban Khan'
Since his transformation from cricketer to politician, Imran Khan has always been a sympathiser of his native Pashtun tribe. In his opinion, Taliban is a religious fundamentalist organisation which never attacked anyone internationally.
He has been often dubbed as ‘Taliban Khan’ by the Pakistani Secularist. In a discussion organised by The Guardian in 2010 Khan said, “There was no militant Taliban in Pakistan, the CIA trained Osama-bin-laden was in Afghanistan, so why Pakistan is the most dangerous place today? In my opinion, the military operations created Taliban. The real enemy was al-Qaeda, Taliban had no role in terrorism and no Pashtun has ever been capable of hitting international targets. Not separating the two was the mistake of America.”
Imran had also opposed the drone attacks and held the United States responsible for creating militant Taliban. Khan too has been an advocate of peace talks. He played a key role in inviting Taliban for peace talks and even allowed them to open an office in the country. In 2013 he even called Taliban leader Wali ur-Rehman for peace talks. According to the Obama administration, Wali-ur-Rehman was involved in the killing of seven CIA officials and Jordanian intelligence personnel in 2009. He carried a USD 5 million bounty on his head.
PM Imran Khan and India
Imran’s relations with India has been friendly so far. May it be during cricket matches or giving interviews to news channels. In an interaction with a news channel in India in 2016, he denied any knowledge of 26/11 mastermind Zakir-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and said India has faced far less terrorist attacks than Pakistan for past 10 years. However, he said, the attack on the Army public school in Peshawar in which 144 people mostly schoolchildren changed the mindset of the country and it was too making efforts in the war on terror.
In another interview in India just before the elections, Imran had said he would disengage Pakistan from the American war on terror and refuse any sort of help sought. In an interview to ‘New York Times’, he went ahead to justify Pakistan Army and said the forces have always been the enemy of Pakistan. During his campaign, Imran had supported the army saying the military won’t stand before a credible leader. In the speech given immediately after the election results, Khan’s vouched for stronger International relations America and China. He asserted that relations with these two nations must be maintained and stressed that Pakistan has a lot to learn from China. India came last on his list of foreign relations.
Khan’s view on Indo-Pak relations seemed much like what every government in both the nations tries to do -- dialogue. But his stand on Kashmir and army seemed to be unchanged even after the elections. He said Kashmiris has suffered a lot due to constant human rights violations by the Indian army for over 30 years.
The new government in Pakistan will come into power with a lot of expectations, not only from the Pakistani citizens but also from the world. With army always trying an upper hand on the government it will be interesting to see how the promised ‘New Pakistan’ emerges.