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From playboy to the prime minister

From playboy to the prime minister

Imran Khan, former cricket star and new prime minister wants to fight poverty and corruption in Pakistan. But can he break free from the military's shadow? His first speech positively surprised many.

After more than two decades and many political campaigns, most of which he led from the political sidelines, Imran Khan is finally becoming the prime minister of Pakistan. On his long road, he had to endure many "humiliations, hurdles, and sacrifices," as his former wife Jemima Khan wrote on Twitter. But now the former cricket star, party stallion, and philanthropist could become one of the most powerful civilian statesmen Pakistan has ever had. Until the last day of his sporting career, the player was at the top of the cricket betting websites.

Imran Khan

In many countries, he is well known for his days as a cricket star. He played at Oxford while studying political science, philosophy, and economics at Keble College and was one of the best-known Pakistanis in Britain at the time. He kept appearing in tabloids and was regularly seen in exclusive clubs.

He was a regular in stores like "Annabel's" and "Tramp." He was friends with Mick Jagger, Sting, and Goldie Hawn and greeted Prince Charles and others from the British royal family. He married Jemima Goldsmith, the millionaire heiress, journalist, filmmaker, and sister of Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, and he invited Princess Diana to his native Pakistan.

For Pakistanis, Khan was one of the few in their country of whom they could be truly proud. His victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup was one of the rare moments when Pakistan was celebrated internationally. By then, Pakistanis had long since tired of being permanently described as some kind of Third World madhouse, with enormous social problems and abysmal treatment of women, minorities, and the poor. When condescending English cricketers like Ian Botham described Pakistan as a place "where you would send your mother-in-law at most," Khan also publicly confronted this racism.

Pakistanis longed for a confident, handsome representative. And the former cricketer was just right for that role. That's one of the reasons many gave him their vote.

"I believe that Oxford-educated Imran Khan is on par with world statesmen and thus can confidently represent Pakistan as well," wrote Haroon, a Pakistani singer and one of the many celebrities who endorsed Khan. What is amazing, however, is the large number of people from religious conservative backgrounds, rich businessmen, hard-working middle-class people, cab drivers, and factory workers who voted for him.

Khan has a very different meaning for people. One very important aspect of his appeal is the fact that he has never been in power. Time and again, his supporters were heard to say, "We tried the others," referring to the parties of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and concluding, "We'll try him this time." For those appalled by the endemic levels of corruption, Khan represents the rare honest and financially "clean" politician who bravely stands up to the venal order so entrenched in the country. Among the religious conservatives and the nationalists, he soothes their feelings of wounded pride and restores their courage.

There are some people, however, whose support he should be thoroughly embarrassed about. Sara Taseer, for example, a Singapore-based entrepreneur, mocked the pictures of poor women from Balochistan who flocked to vote: "I think it's quite nice that these women can participate. But then I ask myself: Would I allow these ladies to have a say in what is cooked in my kitchen today? And then these ladies should be allowed to have a say in the future of our country. It's a frightening notion."

And then there are some other supporters from whom he might do better to distance himself. Asad Umar, Khan's finance minister-designate, posted photos of himself soliciting the support of Fazlur Rehman Khalil, a man who is on the U.S. list of wanted terrorists.

Contradictory statements

Khan's rhetoric is built on his denunciation of poverty in the country and the greed of elites. "A country should not be judged by how its rich live," he declared in his first post-election speech, "but by how it treats the poorest of the poor." Critics charge that his speeches contradict the makeup of his party, which is dominated by some of the wealthiest in Pakistani politics. Many of Khans candidates this time around were from the old, conventional parties or former military governments, contradicting his claim that their election will usher in a "new Pakistan."

Imran Khan

There are many a contradiction in Khan's own statements, which people do notice. In an interview with the British newspaper "Independent," he made a thoughtful, polite, serious and thoroughly good-humored impression. During his election campaign, on the other hand, he came across as boastful and arrogant to many - for example, he made crude remarks against his rivals, referred to those who supported his opponents as "donkeys" and vilified liberals as "bloodthirsty."

He condemned terrorism, but at the same time was attacked for his somewhat lax attitude toward the Taliban. Khan initially emerged as a critic of Pakistan's blasphemy laws and defended religious minorities, but only recently vowed to protect the laws and accused his opponents of belonging to an international conspiracy to undermine Pakistan.

Imran Khan was originally a fierce critic of the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf. He took to the streets for an independent judiciary and was even arrested for criticizing the emergency laws. He gave speeches against the arrests of journalists, disappearances, civilian casualties in military operations, and also protested against CIA drone attacks. All of this can hardly be reconciled with his image of being nothing more than a puppet of the Pakistani army.

As prime minister, Khan will want to be the country's most powerful political leader. That role was otherwise held by the head of the military, which has ruled the country directly for three decades and pulled the strings behind the scenes the rest of the time. It will be interesting to see how he deals with these structural tensions, reported Some points of contention between Khan and the army have become less important: drone strikes are rare, the military operations he criticized are a thing of the past, and the U.S.-led and Pakistan-supported "war on terror" is all but over.

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