Imran Khan cancels Delhi appearance after learning Salman Rushdie was also invited

 

Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan has pulled out of a conference in Delhi because the author Salman Rushdie is booked to speak at the same event.

In a statement issued by his political party, Mr Khan said he “could not even think of participating in any programme that included Salman Rushdie, who has caused immeasurable hurt to Muslims across the globe”. He apologised to the organisers and said he had only received the full programme the day before and immediately took action.

The decision by the former national captain, now riding high in the polls as Pakistan’s most popular politician, was likely taken to preempt the controversy that was certain to have been sparked in his country once it emerged that Mr Rushdie was taking part in the event. It is also a reminder, especially to those in the West who like to believe the former sportsman is a progressive bastion, that Mr Khan draws some of his support from religious conservatives and that his position is much more nuanced. Has has often called for peace talks with the Taliban.

The World Cup-winning captain who heads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, was to have taken part in the upcoming India Today Conclave, organised every year in Delhi by a leading media group and which attracts a range of leading international figures. Mr Khan was to deliver a keynote address.

But it then emerged on Tuesday that Mr Rushdie, author of the 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, was also among the guests and that had been invited to speak at a session. Also taking part in that session is Aatish Taseer, son of Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province who was killed by his own bodyguard in January 2011 because he had called for the reform of the country’s anti-blasphemy law.

“We deeply regret that Imran Khan will not address the India Today Conclave because of Salman Rushdie's participation,” Aroon Purie, Editor-in-Chief, of the India Today Group said in a statement. “The India Today Conclave is a platform for free and frank exchange of ideas. We do not endorse the views of any of our speakers but we do stand for the freedom of expression in all that we do.”

The incident follows controversy earlier this year when Mr Rushdie pulled out of the Jaipur literary festival, amid protests from some Muslim groups over The Satanic Verses, which the Indian government still prohibits from being brought into the country. A video link, organised after he said he felt he should not be present in person after receiving threat warnings from the police, was also cancelled.

In relation to Mr Rushdie’s decision not to participate in the Jaipur festival, Mr Khan said that no-one had the right to “inflict pain on a society” and described the author’s works as “painful”. On Twitter, Mr Rushdie responded by saying: “30 yrs ago Imran Khan was a fan at my 1982 Delhi lecture and 100 per cent secular. Now my work “humiliates” his “faith”. Which is the real Imran?”

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