Imran Khan: Playboy cricketer to PM?

Published: November 18, 2011
For Khan, creating something from nothing could be the slogan for a much-chequered life. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

For Khan, creating something from nothing could be the slogan for a much-chequered life. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

BANI GALA: The road to Imran Khan’s palatial spread in the hills above Pakistan’s capital is a perfect metaphor for his vision of his political career: twisty and pot-holed, but ending in a grand estate.

Alone in the beginning but now surrounded by smaller buildings, the house itself is cool and pleasant, with Mughal-era swords arrayed on a coffee table and two playful dogs — one a German shepherd named Sheru — romping about the carefully manicured lawn.

“I built this house,” Khan said as he sat on the shaded verandah eyeing the sweeping vista overlooking the city. “There was nothing here. It was scrub jungle all around. There was only a dirt track here.”

For Khan, creating something from nothing could be the slogan for a much-chequered life. A graduate from Oxford and very much a man-about-town in London in the late 1970s, he became one of the world’s most admired cricketers. He was captain of Pakistan’s team of talented but wayward stars and, with many whispers of autocracy, led them to win cricket’s World Cup for the first and only time in 1992.

After years of fund-raising, Khan opened a cancer hospital in the memory of his mother in his native Lahore in 1994.

He is a conservative Muslim but was married to a Jewish heiress and then divorced, joined politics and for years been somewhat of a joke in Pakistan’s unruly democracy. But in the past 15 years, through sheer force of will and a reputation for personal integrity, he has gone from political punch line to a superstar now attracting heavy-hitting politicians to his party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (Pakistan’s Movement for Justice). He — and a lot of other people — believe he could very well be Pakistan’s next prime minister.

Khan’s confidence stems from what he sees is a tsunami of support for the PTI in Pakistan as traditional parties falter amid charges and counter-charges of corruption and petty jealousies.

On Oct 30, he staged a gigantic rally in Lahore that observers said pulled between 100,000 and 200,000 people, one of the largest political rallies ever in Pakistan. But Khan remains relatively untested.

In the last 15 years, his party has only briefly held one seat in parliament — his. He has had tumultuous relationships with the established political parties as well as the military, the real decision maker in the nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people.

He does not openly criticise the military but in a book on Pakistani politics published in September, he walks the line, saying: “Only a credible government can save and strengthen the Pakistan army by making sure it stays within its constitutional role. We have no other choice: in order to survive, we have to make Pakistan a genuine democracy.”

Khan also has a touchy relationship with the United States, Pakistan’s ally in the war on militancy and its biggest aid donor. He says that if he’s elected prime minister, he would end Pakistan’s cooperation in the fight against militants based in its tribal areas, end the American drone campaign and refuse all US aid, which totals some $20 billion since 2001.


It may be all pie-in-the-sky, but Khan, 58, is nothing if not charismatic. Still athletic and craggily handsome with darting eyes and an intense demeanour, he can rarely sit still for long. He fidgets and twists, almost as if he were about to leap to his feet and launch into his fearsome pace bowling.

“For a lot of people who don’t have hope in their political system, in a democratic system, he’s the one person they seem to have hope in,” said a senior Western diplomat, who requested anonymity to speak about internal Pakistani politics.

“I think he’s an important phenomenon because he articulates the very real frustration of the country at a time when they need articulation.” And articulate he does. In an interview, Khan quickly lists Pakistan’s very serious economic problems: electricity shortages, crumbling railways, a crisis in education, massive unemployment and endemic corruption.

“We’ve hit rock bottom,” he said. “It doesn’t get worse than this, where to qualify for any position of important public office, you have to have committed a crime.”

For Khan, the current government headed by Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Khan’s old Oxford classmate Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007 after returning to Pakistan from self-imposed exile, is the most corrupt government Pakistan has ever seen.

Transparency International, which listed Pakistan as the 143rd most corrupt country in its 2010 corruption index, might agree. As such, Khan believes in a fresh start for Pakistan, a country that, like his home above Islamabad, is a jungle ready to be cleared out and made anew. He believes Pakistan should wipe out the past and rebuild from a clean slate, with he as architect-in-chief.

“You only get out of this by a complete U-turn and what we call a New Pakistan.” He is calling not only for a new government, but a new political order, one based on what he says are the real ideals of Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who worked to forge a homeland for South Asia’s Muslims before the bloody partition in 1947 that created India and Pakistan. Instead of fighting the Taliban militants, Khan said, Pakistan should enter into dialogue with them.

He says if he were in power, he could end militancy in 90 days. A senior Taliban commander and spokesman contacted by Reuters laughed off this idea and said they would continue the fight.

“He is, in fact, living in a fool’s paradise,” the commander said. And yet, Khan is no fundamentalist. The idealized Islamic state he says he would build in Pakistan would focus on justice, fairness and equality for all its citizens before the law. It would, above all, be “humane.”

Khan often veers between shrewd political calculations — “as a political party, you can’t rule out alliances” — and what seems to be naive idealism. His plan to raise revenue for Pakistan is to “inspire” people to pay their taxes through his personal example and somehow rooting out all corruption, boosting the country’s pitiful tax-to-GDP ratio of about 10 percent, one of the lowest in the world.

Some of the parties he has associated himself with in the past are notably lacking in democratic and liberal bona fides, such as the conservative Jamaat-e-Islami, which has cheered the murder of blasphemers and campaigned against laws that would grant women and religious minorities equal status to Muslims.


But how might Khan do in the election? Given the current flux in Pakistani politics, few analysts would hazard a guess. Many think he could split the right-leaning, nationalist vote currently dominated by the former Prime Minister Nawaz Shari’s Pakistan Muslim League and keep Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party in power. ”

He seems to have inspired more people to join the political process,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington. “But to date, his political organization has seemed weak and not well managed, particularly in contrast to his charity.” Khan himself believes his time has come.

“I have this very clear vision, as I say in the book,” he said. “This has been a 15-year struggle which no one has conducted in Pakistan before. And now I feel I’m closer to my destiny.”

But all that’s really clear right now is that Khan reflects the yearnings of a deeply disillusioned and frustrated country that has seen 63 years of military and civilian governments repeatedly fail it — all in the service of a national ideology looking for a nation.

It is this ideology — a home for South Asia’s Muslims and a shining beacon of Islamic democracy — voiced by Allama Iqbal, considered the spiritual founder of Pakistan and the man who coined the name of the country, that motivates Khan.

“He says your vision or your destiny for your dream, it should be so great, it should be so noble and selfless that rather than you asking God that God grant you this destiny, that God would be so impressed by your dream, that he asks you: What do you want?”

He paused to consider this. “In other words, our destiny is in our hands. We have to dream; the bigger the dream, the bigger the man.”

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Reader Comments (42)

  • k. Salim Jahangir
    Nov 18, 2011 - 1:57PM

    Well written ! Imran Khan is our last hope .He is the man who has the ability to lift Pakistan to new heights.Imran we are with you.


  • xyz
    Nov 18, 2011 - 2:29PM

    I think there is an error in the text. IK has clearly stated in interviews that Jemima is christian but the newspaper has mentioned her as jewish heir.


  • wazdan
    Nov 18, 2011 - 2:29PM

    The last hope of pak peoples,If there is justice there is peace,prosperity of the nation.


  • Fg khi
    Nov 18, 2011 - 2:42PM

    Was wonder about Khan’s Kids, they are Muslims or Jewish?????

    what if they are Jewish and comes in in Politics later?

    I don’t trust Jewish neither would Pakistani nation as a whole?

    Its a very big question for me.


  • Ali
    Nov 18, 2011 - 2:50PM

    He is sincere like Nelson Mandala, honest like Ahmadi Nzad or visionary like Mahateer Mohammad. He is blessing of Allah.


  • TheHunterminator
    Nov 18, 2011 - 2:50PM

    WoW what a name of article Playboy.

    Tribune kindly change the name just omit the Playboy


  • MAD
    Nov 18, 2011 - 2:51PM

    Has anyone ever taken note of the similarities between Imran Khan and Mohammad Ali Jinnah?


  • Muhammad Ayyob
    Nov 18, 2011 - 2:54PM

    Playboy or whatever, he is our next PM. PTI rules.


  • Dajjal
    Nov 18, 2011 - 2:55PM

    “He is, in fact, living in a fool’s paradise,” the commander said.

    It doesn’t get more ironic then this…


  • Bhatti
    Nov 18, 2011 - 2:56PM

    He paused to consider this. “In other words, our destiny is in our hands. We have to dream; the bigger the dream, the bigger the man.”
    Come on people, realize the honesty, integrity and sincerity of this man.. Name any one of our big leaders who is as educated and visionary as Imran. IK might sound ridiculously simple and naive some times about some issues but I have no doubts in my mind that he has the will, courage and the mind to turn around the fortunes of this country. He knows how to rise when fall and how to build from the ashes
    At least once in my life I want to see this man as a ruler of Pakistan. May God bless Pakistan and IK.


  • PatrioticPakistani
    Nov 18, 2011 - 2:58PM

    Best of Luck Imran Sir ! We are with you.


  • AccountabilityFirst
    Nov 18, 2011 - 3:00PM

    I take exception to the title of this article. I’m not a PTI supporter (yet atleast) but I find it in poor taste to say Playboy Cricketer to PM. Why not, Healthcare Reformer to PM? He did build Shaukat Khanum hospital which is state of the art in Pakistan and gives even Aga Khan hospital a run for its money.


  • Khawaja Faraz
    Nov 18, 2011 - 3:05PM

    Yes we KHAN!


  • RizwanTKhan
    Nov 18, 2011 - 3:28PM

    King Khan, we with you!


  • ahmed
    Nov 18, 2011 - 3:45PM

    his notion of an ‘idealized islamic state’ & his future alliance with jamat e islami is enough not to vote for him… ill rather see this Militant Islamic state die than someone comes to uplift it…..


  • Muhammad Ayyob
    Nov 18, 2011 - 4:04PM

    @Fg khi:
    This is the cheap propaganda of status quo forcers. And it will not work for you guys. PTI rules.If you are fundo, give him credit for converting a Christian to Muslim. if you are Muslim. Jamiaima was never a Jewish.Stop lies about Imran,


  • M. Ahmed
    Nov 18, 2011 - 6:17PM

    The name Pakistan was coined by Chaudhury Rahmat Ali and not Allama Iqbal.

    Please correct the above reference in the third last para of the story.


  • Falcon
    Nov 18, 2011 - 6:27PM

    Good article. Inspiring I must say. Lastly, about Jemima, whether she is a christian or jewish, it hardly matters. Above all, she is a human being and certainly a great one for her non-profit work. And that’s enough for anybody to respect her!


  • Hamid
    Nov 18, 2011 - 6:46PM

    Everyone can sense that he is the next PM, Inshaa Allah


  • Paki-Away
    Nov 18, 2011 - 6:53PM

    wow, i love how ppl seem to focus more on the fact that Jemima may or may not be jewish rather than the point of this article: i.e is Imran Khan capable enough and good enough to be a successful leader of our country! why does it matter what religion she is? It doesnt effect us or how Imran Khans going to run this country (if he ever gets that far). We should get over our prejudices and move on. There are bigger and more important things at stake here and not the religion of his ex-wife!


  • Khan
    Nov 18, 2011 - 7:26PM

    If we want UNITY in Pak, PTI should come in Power, other parties are dividing us

    PPP Shindi Party
    MQM Muhajir Party
    PML-N Punjabi Party
    ANP Pushton Party

    only PTI is national party, If Imran want, he can get some seats, using Pushton card in Karachi, but he refused for Pakistan.


  • Asif
    Nov 18, 2011 - 8:28PM

    “He says your vision or your destiny for your dream, it should be so great, it should be so noble and selfless that rather than you asking God that God grant you this destiny, that God would be so impressed by your dream, that he asks you: What do you want?”

    Man!!! All my life I thought that Allama Iqbal was committing shirk with his sher: “Khudi ko kar buland itna, key har taqdeer is pehlay, khuda banday sey khud poochay, bata teri raza kya hey”.

    Was I so wrong. No one has been able to explain this as clearly as Imran Khan did in this interview. Now I understand why he sees Iqbal as his Ideological leader.


  • Sibt ul Hasan
    Nov 18, 2011 - 8:37PM

    i m with imran khan in principle but his uneasiness over drone Attacks where Terrorists are Killed by Americans we can see by his blocking of supply routes.Due to his sceptic attitude in defending terrorists i wont vote because these killers is great concern for me,moderates,Shia Muslims n minorities than the rampant corruption.Recommend

  • rihatum
    Nov 18, 2011 - 8:54PM

    Imran Khan should be given a chance to end the Political Dynasties this country has witnessed and paid the price for voting vampires in.

    He has the courage – He build a cancer hopsital of its kind and its still a good operation.

    I wish, I pray and I hope that he means what he says and that ALLAH Blesses him with the strength and vision to get the vandals out of this country – Aameen.

    Now, if he was a PLAYBOY – no problem, that’s his personal thing, most importantly most of our politicians, celebs are known and actually have much worse affairs then Imran Khan.

    We wish him all the best !!!Recommend

  • Timm
    Nov 18, 2011 - 9:57PM

    IK is great man


  • Irfan
    Nov 18, 2011 - 10:19PM

    There is an error in the article. Iqbal did not coin the name “Pakistan”. I hope people know who the real person is.


  • Proud Baloch
    Nov 19, 2011 - 12:26AM

    What a man!


    Nov 19, 2011 - 12:30AM

    I have no problem if IK kids are jew even so long as they believe in democracy and freedom. There are more then million Muslims living in ISRAEL under jewish gov and they have full freedom of all kind. PAK establishment and mullahz have made this JEW thing a big deal and now every PAK gets a 1000 watt shock to hear the word JEW


  • Majid
    Nov 19, 2011 - 1:15AM

    Be aware of anyone who spends it’s life like a playboy but suddenly one fine morning, realizes that Allama Iqbal is his spiritual leader and quotes him here and there.


  • hmmm
    Nov 19, 2011 - 1:15AM

    Just read about Playboy of PML N (i wont name him…he is young) and you will know that there are others as well…..!!!!!!!


  • Padre Escabor
    Nov 19, 2011 - 1:42AM

    WHOEVER came up with the HEADER ..PlayBoy cricketer to PM sounds like a lowlife PMNL paid writer. Why is it that people go so low to the level that they have to look at someones past. That was Imran Khan life who are we to judge him .Recommend

  • Haider B
    Nov 19, 2011 - 3:31AM

    What a stupid name of the article. Please change the name. The writer is quite biased against Imran Khan. This writer is crap.


  • Nov 19, 2011 - 6:13AM

    His demonstration has indeed made an impact. Anyone can see that. Good luck to IK and his supporters. I hope he wins. IF he doesnt boycott elections THAT IS.


  • Was A Pakistani
    Nov 19, 2011 - 8:52AM

    @k. Salim Jahangir:
    So Salim Sb if he fails then the last hope also goes away then what will you do? Wrap up the country and let a new chapter begin. We have already said he is the only one to save us from doom and if he goes then there is no one.


  • Asad swati
    Nov 19, 2011 - 7:39PM

    Lets give achance to IK this time… What about his team? We require a democratic process wherein only party leader gets elected and thereafter he (PARTY LEADER) is given choice to choose the best team of TECHNOCRATES. Only then would we be able to come out of all the crises may these be mis-management in Pakistan Railways or Energy crises. Lets complete our spade work, put our house in order and make our country as strong as any other country could be. Lets work for the evolotion of the system and come out of “PERSONALITY PHOBIA”


  • SaudiRules
    Nov 19, 2011 - 7:42PM

    Why does his sons study in best school in London and not pakistan? He always talks about assets,corruptions and accountability of the politicians. Why all the PML-Q (mush’s ex-partner in crime) and PPP turncoats are being accepted in PTI?
    If IK can not answer these question than he is just like another politician waiting for his turn to loot and plunder.Recommend

  • Hussain Syed
    Nov 20, 2011 - 12:20AM

    His sons studying in the best schools in London is a sign of corruption? Maybe it is a sign of his wealth and his ex-wifes inheritance of 1.2 billion pounds from her father? I may not be a blind supporter of imran khan, but at least put forward some constructive evidence backed up by facts.


  • BS
    Nov 20, 2011 - 9:37AM

    IK , Best of Luck! Go ahead And defeat the evil forces. You are a Hero in people’s eyes. A modern day Robin hood. At least all anti Imran parties can’t blame him for any corruption. PPP and PML are modern day Gazni and Changez Khan. It is a matter of time now when good wins over evil.


  • Mohsin
    Nov 20, 2011 - 11:16AM

    “He is a conservative Muslim but was married to a Jewish heiress and then divorced” His wife was Christian not Jewish.


  • Rehana
    Nov 20, 2011 - 7:11PM

    After reading all the comments given above one feels so disappointed I also like Imran Khan as a person but hero worshipping someone is totally wrong.People can make many mistakes in their lives and they can also learn from their mistakes so why is it so wrong in calling him a playboy as he was once upon a time but now he has shown so many good qualities too.Another thing too for all those who support him doesnt he say he believes in justice and humanity and rights for all no matter what religion anyone has then isnt it so petty to talk about his ex- wife being jew or christian.This is another thing that he has very naive ideas about how to run a country and in many things his actions contradict his wordslike talking about the rights of minorities but sitting with jamaat,talking of peace but giving hawks great importance in his party how will he explain this!!!!!!!


  • Abid Mohiuddin
    Nov 21, 2011 - 9:02AM

    Imran is good and sincere .He needs a sincere and tested partner and Musharraf is the best of all tested
    Both are working for the cause of Pakistan Imran at Home and Musharraf abroad; so the sooner he announces a partnership with Musharraf the earlier will be the tsunami

    I wish best of luck to both of them


  • Minahil
    Nov 21, 2011 - 2:55PM

    “For a lot of people who don’t have hope in their political system, in a democratic system, he’s the one person they seem to have hope in,” agreed


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