Imran Khan: The World Cup-winning cricket captain hoping to become Pakistan's new prime minister

Legendary sportsman and philanthropist seeking to lead PTI to victory at the polls has attracted criticism over right-wing views

Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 25 July 2018 11:36 BST

Imran Khan, Pakistan’s legendary World Cup-winning cricket captain, is vying to become the country’s new prime minister as voters go to the polls on Wednesday.

Leader of the centre-right Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Mr Khan, 65, is running on an anti-corruption platform against the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML).

His opposition is the party of ex-PM Nawaz Sharif, jailed over a scandal relating to the undisclosed channelling of funds through offshore companies to bankroll the acquisition of luxury flats in London, which was exposed by the Panama Papers leak in 2015.

An interim government under PML’s current president Shehbaz Sharif, younger brother of the disgraced PM, has run the country since his incarceration.

Mr Khan founded PTI in 1996 and has served as a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan since 2013, proving himself an outspoken figure on many divisive social issues.

Critics of his candidacy suggest he has received excessive support as the preferred candidate of the country's powerful military. He has also faced criticism for courting a group of independent political veterans known as "electables" who will offer their allegiance to the party of the highest bidder, rather than backing candidates best equipped to serve the public.

Born in Lahore on 5 October 1952, the only son of affluent civil engineer Ikramullah Khan Niazi and his wife Shaukat Khanum, Imran Khan was sent to England as a boy and educated at Aitchison College in Worcester before attending Keble College, Oxford.

He made his cricketing debut for Pakistan aged 18 in 1971. An extremely gifted all-rounder, Mr Khan captained the national side between 1982 and 1992, leading them to glory at the 1992 World Cup at the tail end of an illustrious career that saw him make 3,807 runs and take 362 wickets.

He played for Worcestershire in English county cricket and was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame in 2010, the same year a big screen biopic, Kaptaan: The Making of a Legend, hit cinemas.

After retiring from the sport Mr Khan turned his hand to philanthropy, working to promote immunisation programmes in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Thailand and founding the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust in honour of his mother.

The trust opened Pakistan’s first dedicated cancer hospital in 1991.

Like Liberian footballer George Weah and Senegalese musician Baaba Maal, Mr Khan subsequently decided to put his national fame to political use, founding PTI and making headlines through his persistent criticism of General Pervez Musharraf during the period of military rule between 1999 and 2008.

More controversially, he has been critical of progressive feminist causes, advocated embracing radical religious groups (including some linked to the Taliban, earning him the nickname “Taliban Khan”) and pledged to uphold the country’s strict blasphemy laws, which can leave critics of Islam facing the death penalty.

In 2013, he led PTI protests against alleged vote rigging in that year’s general election after his party received just 19 per cent of the vote and played an integral role in calling for the criminal investigation into the business affairs of Nawaz Sharif over the Panama Papers affair.

Mr Khan has also been a vocal opponent of American military intervention in Afghanistan and the use of drone strikes, saying US president Donald Trump “neither understands the history of Pakistan nor the character of the Afghan people”.

In his personal life, Imran Khan has enjoyed a reputation as something of a playboy, known for his friendship with Mick Jagger and marriage to journalist Jemima Goldsmith in 1995.

She converted to Islam and the couple had two children together before divorcing in 2004, after which she became a subject of British tabloid fascination over her relationships with actor Hugh Grant and comedian Russell Brand.

He has been married twice since: to Rehman Khan – another journalist, who has written an as-yet-unpublished and potentially explosive memoir about their 10 months together – and to spiritual adviser and mother of five Bushra Manika since February of this year.

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