The Curious Case of Imran Khan

Posted by sepoy on December 09, 2004 · 3 mins read

Yesterday I linked to an essay by Imran Khan. Something has bothered me for a while and I think I will hash it out here. Why has Imran Khan failed in Pakistani politics?

Imran Khan, from '85-'95, was Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Joe Montana rolled into one. He retired from Cricket (after winning the World Cup) and started a project to build a free cancer hospital in Lahore. For this project, he solicited donations, did fundraisers, gathered monies from NGOs, all to guarantee that the poor have a world-class facility. I can't even begin to describe the goodwill and cheer he accumulated through his philanthropy.

Then, he decided to enter into politics and established the Tehrik-e Insaf [Movement for Justice] to foster an agenda of anti-corruption and development. He should have been elected PM in under a month. Yet, he has struggled to be taken seriously by our politicians or public. He still makes more news through his personal life than through his political one. He attacked the major parties as being corrupt and exploitative of the public and that not only cut him out of the immense organizational structure required to engage in local politics but also made him a political pariah. The religious parties had no use for this recent playboy with a gori wife. He went through phases of political wranglings and compromises [even doing the mullah bit - for like 5 seconds] which destroyed his reputation of being a non-compromising gentleman among theives.

His party never won any seats to speak of and he has barely managed to get elected in the few chances he has had. After 9/11, he criticized US foreign policy and has been by-and-large anti-US since the Afghanistan war. If you don't have friends in D.C. and you don't have friends in Riyadh than you ain't got a chance in Islamabad. His latest move is to lead a XI-strong against The General. He is trying to emerge as the leader of a unified front - akin to the M.R.D. against Zia in '81. The thing is that MMA is doing the same thing. Chances are that Imran Khan will get sidelined, once again.

So, what does this say about Pakistani political landscape? Why can't an immensely popular and well-liked individual take a populist platform and still fail to gather any support as a leader. Masses are malleable only to the ones in power? Or is this a unique case? In the absence of any desire for change, can Pakistani civil and political society re-allign itself against The General? Don't I have any shot at becoming the Manmohan Singh of Pakistan?


thabet | December 09, 2004

"So, what does this say about Pakistani political landscape?" I never knew Pakistan actually had a political landscape. I always thought it was run by a collection of semi-feudal overlords, who rely on nepotism and sycophantism. Speaking from personal experience that is.

Sohail | December 11, 2004

A pertinent issue u have raised, Sepoy. It's important to analyze such cases as Imran's to understand the political milieu of pakistan. One of the reasons of Imran's failure as a politician is (perhaps) one that u have mentioned: that is, he does not have friends in Washington. But I guess, a major factor is the apathy of the people towards politics, towards the idea of taking charge of their own destiny, towards anything that is beyond the immediate issue of survival and subsistence. They have probably lost faith in revolutions, reform, progress or related ideas. Perhaps, what can move them, if at all, are someone like Bhutto with his shenanigans and loud oratory skills.

dods | December 21, 2004

Yes, a very sad case is his. Analyzed from the general public outlook, I always thought it was his move of taking a gori wife, his divorce unfortunately sent the message further that he did not make a wise decision. If he couldnt make the right choice in his life, how could he make the right choices for the country? I personally, was willing to overlook that. Good outweighs the bad in his case for me; why can't the awam of Pak see that? We really don't know and care to know what's going on like Sohail said. What can be done? : \

Niket | December 27, 2004

And we in India almost elected a gori wife of a previous prime minister (this isn't a sarcastic statement). Also, I am not sure how not having Saudi/American backing would be an issue in elections. I believe, the single reason for his failure is that he did not have a strong grass-roots campaign. Even in a well-connected country like US, the "foot soldiers" do make a difference in the elections. Or am I missing something here?

mohammad azeem kakar | March 28, 2007

pakistan is a country sufficient in emotional fools, regarding the failure of PTI i will only say that there is great difference in sports leadership n politics one. the movt of tahreek e insaf ended with the completion of shaukat khanum where as the fact is..............pakistan needs more, more n even much more foundations. 2dly we r a country with 70% poors community, imran should contribute with the whole pakistan..........

zeeshan | April 17, 2007

hi i do not agree with it as far as my information is concerned i think he is going to be the future of pakistan this has been our bad luck as a pakistani that we have not understood him and let me tell you as i have spoke to a lot of people in pakistan and every one likes him but why they do not vote him no idea but hopefully there will be a day when pakis people do voe for him ,,

waheed | May 08, 2007

I think he realises the situation on ground and trying to make some adjustments with some political parties having the same one point agenda of restoration democracy. That might not be an ideal situation for an ideological party but in this way he might be able to build his political image and contribute for the betterment of masses while in reign (coalition). I am hoping for his best political future in the upcoming elections.

Fawad | July 10, 2007

Just to correct the person who mentioned that 70% of Pakistani population is poor. My dear the figure is about 32%. Perhaps you are talking about 1949 figure but we are in 21st century, try keeping up with the facts.

asad | July 19, 2007

i would say its a bit premature to regard imran khan as a failure. i personally feel he has a long way to go in politics yet the opportunity is just about right to make inroads into pakistani politics. there is a lack of credible leadership and he is showing strong on various talk shows in political debates. his personal life i pray is not going to haunt his political life for he seems a genuine person to me

Sania Saeed | August 09, 2007

Imran Khan is not a failed politician. He also isn't a dirty politician. That's my opinion, because he was already rich, well off, popular etc and he didn't need to get into politics. He was also doing great charitable work. He is one of the very few people who I have hope and faith in. Not blind faith, just hope and faith. I couldn't care less about his "gori" wife or his divorce. Pakistan has been riddled with Pakistani men with Pakistani wives sucking Pakistani blood like leaches. It's time to give Imran Khan a chance.

Zahid Sheikh | October 18, 2007

Every democratic country has two or to the maximum three main political parties, Republican Party, Democratic Party in USA, Liberal Party, Labour Party, Conservative Party in UK, for instance. Imran Khan's straightforwardness, selfless and daunting approach is welcome, however, His political future is bleak as long as he has ambiguity in accepting his role in one of the two mainstream parties in Pakistan, PPP and PML. PML (N) is in APDM and that's where he should go hands in hands with Nawaz Sharif to step into active opposition politics which will eventually pave his way towards a real statesman in future.

saud | February 03, 2009


amna | March 26, 2009

pakistan will have a better political situation the day people stop caring about who has a gori wife and focus on who thinks for betterment of country.

Qalandar | March 26, 2009

I'm a bit taken aback to read sepoy's post on Imran Khan: I think he was never able to inspire the same affection/allegiance from Pakistani liberals/"English medium" classes because he was seen as a hypocrite -- someone who had found religion (not to mention cultural authenticity and a cheap/facile anti-American attitude) rather late in the day. Stated differently, it was in fact the very power of Imran Khan's image, its potency, that has HARMED him in politics IMO -- because his image is not that malleable, and has hindered his attempts at re-invention. [A useful contrast may be offered with the legendary Tamil superstar and subsequent Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M.G.R., who also had a larger-than-life image but was able to make it the vehicle for a rather malleable politics that could and did mean different things to different people. Chiranjeevi is trying to replicate the same in Andhra Pradesh.]

Qalandar | March 26, 2009

To clarify (I didn't articulate it very well above), not all images/personae are equally malleable, and while Imran Khan was "big", the NATURE and QUALITY of his persona was such as to make re-invention difficult; and some of this was a function of the fact that the political narrative he wanted to construct around his own persona was at odds with the glamorous narrative of his life in many ways. [In the M.G.R. example used above, the politics was presented as a logical continuation of the on-screen persona]. This muddled thinking has hurt Imran Khan IMO (it has also hurt Rajnikanth, the biggest movie star in Tamil cinema since M.G.R. but one who has not been able to walk that fine line straddling "stands for something definite" AND "can be many things to many people", which ability is, I feel, a sine qua non for the celebrity-turned-politician).

Aiman | August 25, 2010

today pakistan is going through from big crises...1 person can save pakistan who is imran khan...we want you to be the next president of pakistan....pleaseeeee save our pakistan...its a piece of heaven at earth..we don't want to lost it... you are awesome and a great peerson...hope you will be next president..because zardari dont deserve come soon....we want you to save our Pakistan....

suleman | October 16, 2010

kanow in thes days the pakistan want the honest president.I think imran khan is the best.Beacuse he is like the rols.he is honest person.pllllllllllessssssss.every people try it.if you wan to save the pakistan.

JAVED SARFRAZ | April 17, 2011


Noor Rana | June 11, 2011

If we want pakistan to prosper we need to get honest with our selves first. Its not about cricket or politics, it all about the leadership qualities in a person with strong decision making and imran khan is much capable of it. What I think Imran khan is the only man left in politians who really want to do something good for pakistan with honesty rather then filling his pockets full of corruption like others..! I being honest with my self will vote for imran khan this time not any of my relative standing for MNA or MPA...! We r still not late and easily get through with problems of energy crisis, terrorism,inflation, unemployment, Pakistan. Due to his good geografical localitiy has a lot of resources which r being extracted by american companies ! All we need is honest people to govern our country , if this happened we will never be MAUHTAJ of others and would not be depending on foreign Aids.