Anybody who has ever picked up a cricket ball would know Imran Khan as the Pakistani player who captained his team to victory in the 1992 World Cup. However, few could have guessed back then that the flamboyant cricketer with an open worldview would one day go on to become the prime minister of his country on a largely conservative platform. Here are six facts that may help us understand the enigma called Imran a little better.
1) Cricketing controversies
It would be incorrect to say that Imran began courting controversies only after he quit the cricket field. In 1994, he admitted to seam-lifting Test matches and tampering with the ball during a county tournament. Later, in 1996, he got into a spot of bother after English cricketers Ian Botham and Alan Lamb sued him for calling them “racist”. However, that was a battle he eventually won.
2) Family drama
Imran’s domestic life has been as eventful as his sporting or political ones. He first set off on the rocky road to marital bliss by tying the knot with Jemima Goldsmith, the daughter of a British billionaire, in 1995. After nine years of trying to accommodate her husband’s newfound political calling, Jemima divorced him on June 22, 2004. Imran’s second marriage with television anchor Reham Khan in 2015 was stormier, and ended in 10 months. The cricketer-turned-politician’s latest marriage with his spiritual guide, Bushra Maneka, was also said to be on shaky ground after a dispute over his pet dogs.
3) The tell-all book
It is embarrassing when all your purported skeletons come tumbling out just before the election, and nobody can explain this better than Imran (or US president Donald Trump). The former cricketer’s hippie image from the past was revived days before the polls by Rehan Khan in a book that portrayed him as a man who led a “bizarre life of sex, drugs and rock and roll”. It also accused the now-conservative politician of dabbling in the dark arts and rearing illegitimate Indian children. But — just as it was for Trump — none of the dirt managed to stick in the run-up to Imran’s grand victory.
4) Imran Khan vs Salman Rushdie
In one of the first indications that Imran was swerving right on the ideological front, he reconsidered his invite to a 2012 media conference in India after discovering that it would require him to share a platform with British author Salman Rushdie. He said he could not even imagine sharing a stage with somebody who had “hurt the feelings of millions of Muslims across the world” through his book ‘The Satanic Verses’. What followed was a furious war of words between the two personalities.
5) Military allegiance
While Imran is vehement in his assertions about not being propped by the military in this election, he has no reluctance in admitting that he does have a lot of admiration for it. “I think a democratic government rules from moral authority. In my opinion, it is the Pakistan army and not an enemy army. I will carry the army with me,” Imran said in an interview with the New York Times this May. Political analysts can see where this is coming from. As former premier Nawaz Sharif learnt to his detriment, it’s not possible to run Pakistan and fight its military at the same time.
6) A slow start in politics
This may be a little difficult to fathom in the light of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s grand showing in the just-concluded election, but his party did not fare very well for a long time after its launch in 1996. In fact, it only had one seat in Parliament until 2003.