Imran Khan: From Oxford-educated playboy to Western decadence critic

Taseer, son of slain Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, writes that the personal life of Khan "closely reflects the moral and cultural schizophrenia of the (Pakistani) society."
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (Photo| Twitter)
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (Photo| Twitter)

LOS ANGELES: British-born writer Aatish Taseer has written a piece for Vanity Fair on Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, detailing how he "remains torn between his years as an Oxford-educated playboy and his growing role as a critic of Western decadence."

Taseer, son of slain Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, writes that the personal life of Khan "closely reflects the moral and cultural schizophrenia of the (Pakistani) society."

The profile of Khan touches upon the now Prime Minister's playboy days in London to his "spiritual awakening" leading to a marriage with Bushra Maneka and the dilemma he faces in materialising his dream of the Islamic welfare state.

The article quotes Khan's former wife Reham Khan, Yusuf Salahuddin -- the grandson of Allama Iqbal who was called the "spiritual father of Pakistan", former Pakistani envoy to the US Hussain Haqqani and actor-singer Ali Zafar, among others.

According to the Vanity Fair article, Bushra Maneka has two 'jinns' (spirits or demons) who only eat meat, and that she was told to marry Khan in a dream.

The article says that Bushra Maneka "offered her sister to Khan", as well as her daughter. Khan refused and "then Maneka went away to dream again... and the voice in her head told her that she, Bushra Maneka -- a married woman and a mother of five -- was the wife Khan needed."

The article says that following that, Bushra Maneka's husband Khawar Maneka "agreed to give her a divorce", so she could marry Khan.

It says that when former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto died in 2007, Khan came to Pakistan a few days later "with a French girlfriend" and had been "photographed poolside in swimming trunks as his country was engulfed in trauma."

The author of the article says that when he met Khan after Bhutto's death, the leader said that "God had saved Benazir". Khan said that Bhutto, in making a deal with General Pervez Musharraf, had done "the most immoral thing you could have done. So this thing (death) has come as a blessing for her."

"Indeed, it is Khan's extensive personal experience of what he now condemns as Western decadence that enables him to rail against it so authoritatively. An emotion that he feels very strongly about is that we should stop feeling enslaved to the West mentally," said Ali Zafar, Khan's friend and Pakistani actor-singer.

"He feels that since he's gone there -- he's been there and done that -- he knows the West more than anybody else over here. He's telling them, 'Look, you've got to find your own space, your own identity, your own thing, your own culture, your own roots'," Zafar added.

According to Taseer, Pakistan's former Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told him: "It is easy to view the contradiction between Khan's words and actions as hypocrisy. But to my mind, hypocrisy implies willful cynicism. This was different."

"It was as if Khan was unable to make a whole of the many people he had been -- unable to find a moral system that could support the varied lives he had led. For his new self to live, it seemed, the old one had to be renounced. This man has a Jekyll and Hyde problem," Khar said, adding: "He is actually two people at the same time."

The article states: "If Khan's personal life fascinates, it's because it so closely reflects the moral and cultural schizophrenia of the society in which he operates. Like evangelicals in the US, in whom a politicised faith conceals an uneasy relationship with modernity and temptation, Khan's contradictions are not incidental; they are the key to who he is, and perhaps to what Pakistan is.

"Like other populists, Khan knows far better what he is against than what he is for. His hatred of the 'ruling elite', to which he belongs, is the animating force behind his politics. He faults reformers, such as Turkey's Kemal Ataturk and Iran's Reza Shah Pahlavi, for falsely believing that 'by imposing the outward manifestations of Westernization they could catapult their countries forward by decades'."

The Vanity Fair article says that Khan has often seemed sympathetic to the religious extremism sweeping his country.

The article stirred the Twitterati in a heated debate as some called it "an excellent masterpiece", while others questioned the need for such a piece.

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The New Indian Express