In 1992, Imran Khan lifted the Cricket World Cup trophy at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, his team having beat England by 22 runs. It was the pinnacle of Imran’s cricketing career no doubt, and the greatest moment in the history of Pakistan cricket.
Fast forward a quarter of a century, Imran is now the Prime Minister of the 5th largest country in the world (by Population). In 2018 he was elected, marking the first ever Pakistan National Assembly in which Tehreek-e-Insaf holds a majority. What has therefore led to Imran, once the nations most loved sporting hero, to governing a country that has been plagued with political turmoil since Partition? What has guided the one-time cricket star to a meeting with US President Donald Trump?
Imran Khan was born in 1952 in Lahore, Pakistan. He grew up in an affluent family attending Boarding School in his home country before moving to England to attend Royal Worcester Grammar School. Aged 20, he enrolled at Oxford. However, it was in England, and playing County Cricket for Worcester, where his cricket career began to excel.
He had in fact made his Test debut for his country before beginning University and was indeed called up to the 1975 World Cup squad during his finals period of his PPE degree. A distraction to his studies it may have been, but it would eventually see him become Pakistan’s most revered cricketer. Made captain in 1982, he saw Pakistan win their first series win in England, as well as providing stern opposition against the dominant sides of the West Indies and Australia.
However, nothing had prepared Pakistan for what was to come in the March of 1992. Pakistan had several times throughout the World Cup faced elimination. However, it was Imran’s leadership skills that saw Pakistan through to the final. In the match, Imran top scored for Pakistan and took the final wicket, cementing his place as the greatest captain and all-rounder of his era. His work as captain has been lauded by cricketing experts to this day, with an ESPN documentary branding him as the ‘Lion of Pakistan’.
It is no surprise, therefore, that his stature and leadership skills, evident during his time as Pakistan captain, made him a popular choice for the Pakistani elections just last year. Imran formed the Tehreek-e-Insaf party in 1996, four years after his World Cup triumph and retirement from cricket. The party itself runs on the mandate of creating a Welfare State, as well as a liberal Islamic Republic. The party has also taken a strong stance against the corruption that has plagued Pakistani politics since its independence from India in 1948. Since the inception of the nation, three Prime Ministers have been killed whilst either serving their position, or maintaining a notable position in Pakistani politics. The most infamous of these was the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Bhutto was the daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who founded the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) as a secular opposition to the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) that had been formed by Mohammed Ali Jinnah during the partition. Zulifqar, who was also Prime Minister, was executed in a military coup in 1979.
Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party has arguably gained power due to it’s desire to create an Islamic Social state, feeding off the supporters of both the secularist PPP and religious PML. The party was successful in the 2018 elections, winning just short of 120 seats in the National Assembly. After Imran’s election, he spoke of his disgust at the state of Pakistani politics with the Guardian claiming how he would be ‘ashamed’ to live in the Prime Minister’s residence. He instead declared his intention to open it up as a University or Education Centre to help further Pakistan’s development as a social and welfare state.
Imran, who has recently met with Russian President Vladimir Putin (pictured above) is now due to be hosted by President Trump to begin to improve relations between the two allies whose relationship hasn’t always been straight forward. Pakistani had once been the US’s loyal ally during the Cold War. Under President Eisenhower they received both financial and military aid for their opposition to Chinese Communism, as well as incentive to reduce tensions with non-aligned India. However, due to the war in the Middle East spreading to the Afghan-Pakistani border, Imran believes that the closeness of the alliance has led to Pakistan becoming overrun with extremists fleeing American Drone strikes and military operations in Afghanistan. Tensions have also appeared as the Pakistan military has also been accused by the US of funding the Taliban in Afghanistan to promote their own ideological militancy in the region.
The US have now been fighting in Afghanistan for almost two decades. A stable alliance with Pakistan is seen by Washington as one of the key ways they can end the war, but Imran and Pakistani government are convinced that it is their alliance that has seen the rise of extremism and terrorism within the country. As Imran meets Trump, it is clear that Trump’s Make America Great Again policy has alienated many of the US’s former allies. The President’s rhetoric has not eased these fears with him heavily criticising Pakistan in a tweet last year.
The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 1, 2018
However, despite these tensions, Imran has vowed to work with Trump in looking to end the conflict in Afghanistan. The comparison may seem ridiculous, but his fearless leadership on the cricket field, combined with his popularity at home, may prove to be something of a useful tool for the West in their fight against the Taliban and their efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.