Flirting with the Taliban: Portrait of Pakistani politician Imran Khan

Analysis, posted 02.21.2014, from Pakistan, in:
Flirting with the Taliban: Portrait of Pakistani politician Imran Khan (Photo: AFP)

Recently, when the Pakistani Taliban named Imran Khan as one of a five-man team to engage in peace talks with the Pakistani government, liberal sections of society exclaimed, "See, we always said that Khan was one of the Islamists!" Although Khan immediately refused to take part in the talks, the controversial "Taliban Khan" tag that he has earned over the years got another endorsement.

Imran Khan is now one of the key players in Pakistani politics. His party came third in the May 2013 parliamentary elections and now rules the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan. He wants Islamabad to make peace with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and sever its alliance with the US in the "war against terror".

"We will win this war if we disengage from the US," Khan recently told the media. "As long as the Taliban believe we are fighting the US war, they would declare jihad on us. This would be a never ending war," he added. This is certainly a very different image for the liberal person who studied at the University of Oxford and played in the English cricket league in the 1980s. Back then, Khan was discussed in the British press as much for his sporting talent as for his alleged love affairs.

Khan went on to become one of the most successful cricketers Pakistan has ever produced. Under his leadership the nation won its first Cricket World Cup in 1992. He later engaged in philanthropic work in Pakistan and married British writer and campaigner Jemima Goldsmith. The marriage didn't last long.

Khan entered politics in the late 1990s, forming a party called Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI, Movement for Justice). Although he was worshipped by millions in the country as a great cricketer, Khan was never considered a serious politician, even by his ardent fans, until 2011.

But now, for many of his fellow countrymen, the 61-year-old is the "last hope" in a country which is facing innumerable problems ranging from a dysfunctional economy to a protracted Islamist insurgency. For others, he is a right-wing politician who wants to appease the Taliban.

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By Shamil Shams

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