As Pakistan goes to vote Wednesday, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan has emerged as the front-runner for the prime ministerial office of the country. A recently held public opinion survey put Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) slightly ahead of his main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led by Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif. The ouster and conviction of Nawaz Sharif in a graft case has helped Khan’s political fortunes.
Born in 1952 in Lahore, Khan is known to be one of the most popular cricket players of his time. Khan, the “Captain” who led Pakistan to its first World Cup victory in 1992 has always been in the limelight due to his sports career, brazen comments and controversial private life. Post his retirement from cricket, Khan founded his political party Khan Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in 1996. However, his immense popularity on the field did not immediately transfer into his political career. Until 2003, his party had only one seat in the Parliament. In the present elections, Khan is contesting five seats in the provinces of Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Islamabad Capital Territory.
Imran Khan, the politician
Said to enjoy the support of Pakistani Army, media reports in Pakistan have often suggested that the military is working to put Khan at the helm of power. Khan has often signalled his willingness to work with the army. “It is the Pakistan Army and not an enemy army,” he said in a New York Times interview in May. “I will carry the army with me.” However, while the army might find Khan’s charismatic personality useful, they do not trust him entirely due to his unpredictability.
Imran Khan, often accused of lacking a coherent political philosophy, has openly supported the idea of opening channels of dialogue with the Taliban. Khan, who described the Taliban’s fight in Afghanistan as a holy war also earned the name of “Taliban Khan” from his opponents.
Khan has designed his campaign for 2018 elections around the theme of “New Pakistan.” He has promised better schools, better hospitals, better jobs and infrastructure in the country. Terming corruption as the enemy of Pakistan, Khan has also vowed to wipe it off the country. He has also promised wide-ranging reforms in tax collection. Internal peace finds a prominent place in his manifesto and he has proposed to act against the hate speech and violence towards minorities. Khan, who has also proposed to improve Pakistan’s relation with foreign countries, has often expressed his strong desire to resolve the Kashmir issue. His personal views on India have veered from “why should we not want friendly ties with India?” to “cut trade ties with India”.
Imran Khan and controversies
Khan has often come under the scanner for his “colourful private life.” His playboy image of the past was revived days ahead of the elections, by his former wife Reham Khan. The book portrays Khan as a man who led “a bizarre life” of “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll”. Reham Khan, also claims that the 65-year-old cannot read the Quran, believes in black magic, and had confessed that he has “some” illegitimate Indian children. From Imran’s eating habits to his purported sexuality, the self-published book stops at nothing.
Khan was in the news for his marriage to his spiritual guide Bushra Maneka. This was Khan’s third marriage. His previous two marriages ended in divorce. His first marriage was with Jemima Goldsmith, daughter of a British billionaire, in 1995, which lasted nine years. Khan has two sons from her. His second marriage with TV anchor Reham Khan in 2015 ended after a brief 10 months.
He also sparked a row recently when he called Nawaz Sharif’s supporters “donkeys.” An animal charity later reported that PTI supporters had beaten one of the animals close to death. The Pakistan EC has warned Khan against using “inappropriate language” for his political rivals.