Multi-faceted debonair PM of Pakistan

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Educated persons, sports people, the upper and middle classes in Pakistani society and those sick of the run-of-the-mill South Asian politician greeted Imran Khan being elected Prime Minister of Pakistan in 2018 with gladness. This was echoed in our country and worldwide. Yes, he is a new type of western educated, upper crust politician with ideas of how governments must run. He seems all for democracy. And he was here this week on a state visit to Sri Lanka, marred by the rather rude cancellation of his address in Parliament.

Imran Khan noted on being elected PM he would work towards rapport and good relations with India, Afghanistan and all other nations; and seemed determined to at least try to settle the Kashmir problem by negotiating with India. Intentions may be excellent but execution is very difficult, particularly in this region.

My title labels Imran Khan as multifaceted, which he truly is; more than any other country leader of recent times. I cannot imagine anyone who matches his straddling so many different worlds and now leading a country full of controversies and attempting to be modern in the face of conservatism, divisions as regards religious and national sects.

Family

His first facet is privilege and wealth. Born to a rich businessman from the Pashtun race on October 5, 1952, the only son with four sisters, he traces very privileged ancestries from both parents. His initial education was in an elite school in Lahore after which he attended a public boarding school in Worcester, UK. He graduated from Oxford.

Cricketer, playboy

The second facet is the one he is best known for – excellent cricketer and captain of a mediocre team which he led to win the World Cup in 1992, when he was 39. Along with this came his playboy period when he moved around the jet sets in Britain and was outstandingly popular and stood out among the Beautiful People. He remained a bachelor, sought after by the social upper crust. Then soon enough he tired of this social whirl. Gravitas was setting in and love for his country surfaced. He returned to Pakistan around 1995 and entered politics. He founded a new Party – Tehreek-e-insaf (Movement for Justice), campaigned vigorously, one suspects trading on his good looks and outstanding personality, and was elected Prime Minister in July 2018. He had previously been Leader of the Opposition. Pakistan is a country deeply conservative but it had faith and trust in this new kind of politician. Perhaps it needed relief from military dominance, assassinations and a fair share of modernism.

His relationship with women indicates another facet of the man. Extremely handsome and charming, he had a wide choice of women to choose from – in the western world and probably many eyeing him to marry a privileged Pakistani girl. He remained a bachelor till he was 42 and married 21 year old Jemima Goldsmith, daughter of a wealthy Jewish family in Britain in 1995. She converted to Islam, learnt Urdu, studied the Koran, but her Jewish background was always thrown at her in Pakistan. Also his full immersion in politics and being away from home intruded, and the marriage ended in an amicable divorce in 2004 though by now they had two sons. It is reported that the British Judge who granted the divorce said he had never met such an accommodating and decent husband. It was interesting to hear the sons were not cricket-happy; the second boy told his teacher his father was a football player!

He made a second disastrous marriage to a Pakistani in Britain whom he named My BBC Girl – she being a weather announcer in this British news agency. The 62-year old Khan married the 42-year old divorcee Reham Nayyar with two children, in January 2015, but the marriage ended in October that year. The divorce probably angered her and hurt her pride for she wrote a tell-all autobiography; much proven false, and leaked some relevant pages in Pakistan. She, in an interview, projected innocence but obviously she was attempting to spoil his chances at the polls. She professed confidence in Nawaz Shariff. A very secret marriage was contracted by Imran to his spiritual mentor – Bushra Manek. That was in 2017/18. She is said to have removed herself to her parental home because of his dogs who disturbed her prayers!

Concern for the poor

A very endearing facet of Imran Khan’s personality is his devoted love for his mother, and humaneness. She died of cancer in the 1980s. During his visits to his ailing mother, he saw the abject suffering of the poor with a cancer patient in the family and unable to buy medicines. He vowed to build a state of the art hospital for cancer patients giving free treatment. He literally went around with a till soliciting donations and received much from overseas. Immersing much of his inheritance in the project he got built the hospital in Lahore – the Shoukat Khanam Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre. Subsequently he got built a second cancer hospital in Peshawar and many schools in remoter areas of Pakistan.

The final facet I deal with is his politics, extremely difficult in Pakistan with the military being in power more than once and PMs assassinated – Zia-ul-Huq and Benazir Bhutto. Those admiring of the man thought there was real hope for Pakistan, torn as it is with ultra religious fervor and traditions and even cults. The Taliban is just across the border and gaining power again; Al Queda used Pakistan as a base and who knows whether it is completely annihilated. Trouble forever brews in Kashmir with failed negotiations with India. But Khan says he will make all endeavours to forge and maintain good relations with Pakistan’s immediate neighbours and further afield with the US and China. He gives the impression of being able to achieve his aims, being a determined man with vision; clever, truly national minded (prefers Pakistani dress to western attire) and conversant in English and many languages of the sub-continent.

Random comments

After the May 2013 elections, Mohammed Hanif, writing for the Guardian, termed Khan’s support as appealing “to the educated middles classes but Pakistan’s main problem is that there aren’t enough educated urban middle-class citizens in the country.” Incidentally, Hanif wrote the 2008, controversial bestseller – ‘Case of the exploding mangoes’ on the killing of Gen Zia-ul-Huq by loading an explosives inserted box of mangoes into the small plane he was taking back to Islamabad with the US Ambassador to Pakistan. Hanif was at a Galle Literary Festival in 2009.

Pankaj Mishra writing for The New York Times in 2012, characterised Khan as a “cogent picture out of his—and Pakistan’s—clashing identities” adding that “his identification with the suffering masses and his attacks on his affluent, English-speaking peers have long been mocked in the living rooms of Lahore and Karachi as the hypocritical ravings of ‘Im the Dim’ and ‘Taliban Khan’—the two favored monikers for him.” Mishra concluded:”Like all populist politicians, Khan appears to offer something to everyone. Yet the great differences between his constituencies—socially liberal, upper-middle-class Pakistanis and the deeply conservative residents of Pakistan’s tribal areas—seem irreconcilable.”

On 18 March 2012, Salman Rushdie criticised Khan for refusing to attend the India Today Conference because of Rushdie’s attendance. Khan cited the “immeasurable hurt” that Rushdie’s writings have caused Muslims around the world.

When you are in politics, more especially when you are a striking person both in looks, stature, ability to speak and determined to do good, the brickbats come flying, much more than bouquets. There is no doubt that in today’s world only President Xi Jinping can give competition to Imran Khan and win the personality stakes.

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