Islamabad, July 26 (UNI) Imran Khan is a former international cricket star who promises a “new Pakistan” and an end to corruption if he wins the general election, according to a BBC News report.
The charismatic aristocrat who captained Pakistan to a World Cup victory in 1992 has long shed his celebrity playboy image and now styles himself as a pious, populist, anti-poverty reformer.
Khan, 65, struggled for years to turn popular support into electoral gains. He launched his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in 1996 but he was the only candidate in the party to win a seat in 2002. The PTI boycotted the 2008 vote.
Although he has long been one of Pakistan’s best-known faces internationally, he spent years on the political sidelines. That led to teasing – for some Imran Khan became “Imran Khan’t”.
It took until the last general election in 2013 for his party to emerge as a serious player, when it narrowly missed becoming the second largest nationally.
But five years on, he is tipped as a leading contender for prime minister in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed Islamic republic and a potential flashpoint because of its rocky relations with India and Afghanistan.
However Khan has faced accusations – which he denies – that he is the military’s favoured candidate and that its intelligence service has been working behind the scenes against his key rivals.
If his long wait for the top job is finally to end, he needs an an electoral swing of epic proportions.
The PTI currently holds just under one-tenth of the 342 seats in the National Assembly and will need to make huge gains in the crucial province of Punjab, which has more than half of the 272 directly-elected seats.
It’s also the power base of the ousted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.
Oxford-educated Khan had an illustrious career in international cricket spanning two decades from the 1970s.
He also developed a reputation as something of a playboy on the London nightclub circuit, though he denies that he ever drank alcohol or engaged in any activities that may be considered inappropriate for a conservative Pakistani Muslim.
Many say his subsequent forays into the fields of philanthropy and politics were fuelled by a desire to put to use the leadership qualities and goodwill he acquired as a cricketer.
His pin-up looks and private life have ensured he’s been a favourite of the world’s media for decades.
As a politician, Imran Khan’s views have often shifted or been vague. Many accuse him of U-turns. What he would actually do in power is largely unclear.
He upholds liberalism but at the same time appeals to Islamic values and anti-West sentiment, especially when it comes to perceived interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs. He campaigned vocally against US drone strikes against militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas as part of the “war on terror”.
He has criticised some of the Taliban’s violence but last year his party’s government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province gave $3m (£2.3m) to the notorious Haqqania madrassa. Its head, Maulana Sami-ul Haq, is known as the “father of the Taliban”. Imran Khan has had to fight off taunts he should be called “Taliban Khan”.
But it’s his campaign against corruption and dynastic politics in Pakistan, and a promise to raise a whole new class of “clean” politicians, that seems to have chimed with his supporters.
He has sought to ride a wave of disillusionment at Pakistan’s old political order, particularly among the urban middle class and young voters, who are tired of living in a country with an economy and currency on the slide, and water and power supply in constant crisis.
The main target of his anti-corruption campaign has been his arch-rival Nawaz Sharif.
The Panama Papers leak in 2015 revealed several of Mr Sharif’s children had links to offshore companies, which were allegedly used to channel funds and buy foreign assets.
That moment provided Imran Khan with his big chance – and he seized it.
His campaign against the Sharifs saw him threaten to blockade the capital with his supporters. Nawaz Sharif was ousted from the office of prime minister in 2017 and is now behind bars, sentenced to 10 years in prison by an anti-corruption court. The Sharifs maintain the charges are politically motivated.
With his main rival down but not out, Imran Khan redoubled his efforts to woo politicians with dependable vote banks to his camp. Critics say many of the so-called “electables” were coerced into defecting, charges the military and PTI deny.
Khan rejects persistent claims that the powerful military has manipulated the poll in support of his campaign.
He told the BBC in May: “The current military chief, Gen Bajwa, is probably the most pro-democratic man we have ever seen.”
How he might get on with the military in the longer term if he makes it to power remains an open question.
If he really wants to tackle some of Pakistan’s root problems, he may find himself on a collision course with the establishment, as previous governments have discovered.