Diana flies in to battle royal in Pakistan

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Draped in a bubblegum-pink salwar kameez, the Princess of Wales landed in Lahore yesterday and found herself an unwitting pawn in a feud between the Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, and the cricket idol Imran Khan.

For the Princess, attending a pounds 200-a-plate fund-raising dinner for the cricketer's charity hospital in Lahore, with Mick Jagger expected to provide the entertainment, may have seemed like an escape from the pressures of a royal break-up. But, instead, she has landed in the middle of a spat between the sports champion and his powerful enemy.

Ms Bhutto is not among the dinner guests of the cricket star turned social worker, and even if the premier had been invited, it is doubtful whether she would have accepted.

When Mr Khan and his millionairess wife, Jemima, drove away from Lahore airport in a borrowed Mercedes after picking up the Princess and Jemima's mother, Lady Annabel Goldsmith, they were pursued by another car carrying two government agents wearing loud ties, who were masquerading as reporters.

A rumour ran through the pack of royal photographers that a British tabloid was offering pounds 50,000 for the first exclusive shot of Princess Diana cosying up to the handsome Pathan cricketer. An official who greeted the Princess at Lahore's "Very Very Important Persons" arrival lounge said: "Princess Diana was wearing one of our salwar kameez - but it was slit so very high." When her jet landed the frantic photographers darted back and forth between the VIP terminal and the VVIP terminal like trapped wolves howling for a look at the Princess and the Pakistani hero. But they were bested by the confusion of Pakistani bureaucracy and the contingent of security forces.

The former cricket captain, probably the most popular man in Pakistan, made an enemy of Ms Bhutto after describing her government as corrupt. He has also vowed to launch a popular movement to drive the Prime Minister from power.

Ms Bhutto struck back at Mr Khan by banning his fund-raising advertisements on state television, and her officials have carefully erased any mention or sight of the cricket star from all official World Cup publicity even though he was captain of the 1992 winning Pakistan team.

What angers Mr Khan most, though, are government hints that donations to his cancer hospital are being diverted. He has dared Ms Bhutto to arrest him if she has proof of embezzlement. "For some reason," Mr Khan said, "the government sees me as a political opponent.

"The people's awareness of corruption is growing fast," he added. "So is the resentment at their suffering. It may reach a stage where there are two options - get a green card and emigrate or stay here and fight."

The Princess, however, may be unaware of Imran Khan's political intrigues. She reportedly told a friend of his: "I saw a film of Imran's hospital and I was impressed. That is why I have come."

The Khans live in the family compound with Imran's mother and sisters in an upper- middle-class neighbourhood. The compound was deemed to be too cramped for Princess Diana and Lady Annabel, who are the guests of Jehangir Monoo, a textile magnate whose mansion has high walls and smoked-glass windows for privacy.

Last night the Princess spent an evening out in Lahore with Imran and Jemima, who treated her to dinner at a popular Punjabi restaurant called The Village which also does tandoori takeaways.

Today the Princess will be touring the children's cancer wards at the charity hospital.