Imran Khan: From cricketing aristocrat to political player
- 12 May 2013
- From the section Asia
Imran Khan is a former international cricketer-turned-politician who launched his Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party in 1996. But it is only in recent months that he emerged as a serious player on the Pakistani political scene and a leading contender in May's general elections.
In the last couple of years he has held rallies across the country which have attracted thousands of people. But he always faced a tough task to emerge as winner in the 11 May vote. He was the only party candidate to win a seat in the 2002 elections. The PTI boycotted the 2008 vote.
In the end all the rallies and Mr Khan's high profile - including a fall at a rally in which he injured his back days before the vote - failed to produce the "political tsunami" he had predicted. However, his party could emerge as second largest nationally and may lead the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which should help offset the disappointment. Mr Khan also won a seat in the provincial capital, Peshawar.
In the last couple of years, Mr Khan has tried to bolster his popularity by riding a wave of disillusionment, particularly among the urban middle class and young voters.
He has sought to capitalise on anger against US drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas. He also succeeded in winning the support of some politicians who had grown disgruntled with their own parties, which helped counter accusations of political inexperience.
One of the main promises of Mr Khan's change agenda was to sweep away the rampant corruption plaguing Pakistani politics, in part by calling for an end to foreign aid. But correspondents cautioned he had some way to go to turn popular support into electoral gains.
He is, however, believed to be popular with the military.
Mr Khan had an illustrious career in international cricket, spanning two decades during the 1970s and 80s. He was the most successful Pakistani cricket captain, leading his team to their only World Cup triumph in 1992.
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 a desire to put to use the leadership qualities he displayed and the goodwill he earned internationally as a cricketer.
One of Mr Khan's lasting achievements has been to raise worldwide funds to set up one of Pakistan's most well-established cancer treatment facilities - the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, named after his mother. The hospital was opened in 1996, the year he launched his party.
As a politician, Imran Khan's views have often shifted or been somewhat vague. Many accuse him of taking U-turns on issues, something that prevents people from taking him seriously.
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.
Mr Khan has campaigned against corruption and dynastic politics in Pakistan, promising to raise a whole new class of "clean" politicians from the platform of his PTI party.
But a surge in his popularity in 2011 saw his party accept within its folds a long list of traditional politicians deserting their respective parties for greener pastures ahead of the elections.
These politicians flocked to the PTI following Mr Khan's huge political rally in the eastern city of Lahore at the end of that year.
Soon afterwards, another big rally in Karachi seemed to establish him as a serious contender on the political scene - finally coming into his own after dabbling in the political wilderness for more than a decade.
In the run-up to the elections, he emerged as a serious rival to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's PML-N party, promising a tough battle for votes in Punjab, the country's most populous province.
Despite high voter turnout, Mr Khan his many party candidates under 40 years old failed to unseat PML-N in Punjab bastion.
Recently the PTI held visibly free internal elections, a first for a Pakistani political party in recent years. But there have been squabbles over who should be official candidates, with many party workers publicly criticising the decisions of the senior leadership.
Observers say that Mr Khan's popularity may have peaked too early and that his party was on a downward trajectory ahead of the vote even if it had the advantage - shared with the PML-N and other right-wing conservative leaders - of being able to conduct their campaigns without fear of militant attacks, unlike the left-leaning, more liberal parties.
While his domestic political career has had its highs and lows, Imran Khan has remained in the spotlight because of his status as a national cricketer and, in 1995, at the age of 43, he married the 21-year-old British socialite, Jemima Goldsmith - the daughter of one of the richest men in the world, Sir James Goldsmith.
The marriage produced two boys but was dissolved in 2004.
Those who have followed the couple's career closely say their marriage suffered due to differences in their cultural, social and financial backgrounds and also due to the itinerant nature of Mr Khan's political career that kept him away from home.
The dissolution was amicable, and Mr Khan appears to have maintained a friendly relationship with his ex-wife.
In August 2011 she joined him in Islamabad for a campaign against drone strikes in which she was reported to have distributed cameras to some tribesmen to record evidence of civilian deaths because of such strikes.
It is hard to overestimate the impact of drone strikes on Pakistani sentiment. It is a cause of significant public anger and discontent which Mr Khan has consistently tried to capitalise on.