Imran Khan: From Swaggering Cricketer To Populist Prime Minister Imran Khan has been a world champion cricketer, a playboy splashed across gossip columns, and the husband of a British heiress. Now, he's poised to be the next prime minister of Pakistan.
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Imran Khan: From Swaggering Cricketer To Populist Prime Minister

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Imran Khan: From Swaggering Cricketer To Populist Prime Minister

Imran Khan: From Swaggering Cricketer To Populist Prime Minister

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now, to Pakistan, where a cricket hero will be the country's next prime minister. That follows last week's election. His name is Imran Khan. And for who he is and what kind of leader he'll be, we turn to NPR's Diaa Hadid, who has this profile from Islamabad.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Before Imran Khan was a politician, he was a legendary cricketer. This sport is worshipped here, and Khan led Pakistan to victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup.

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BILL LAWRY: That's up in the air. He's getting under it. This could be victory, it is. Pakistan win the world cup.

HADID: It's still a really big deal says Umar Riaz (ph), a political analyst.

UMAR RIAZ: You hear this chants, which says who will save Pakistan? Imran Khan. Imran Khan.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Chanting) Imran Khan. Imran Khan.

HADID: For his followers, Khan will do the same for the country. He preaches a new Pakistan. He rages against corruption. He promises jobs and offers dignity; a chance for Pakistanis to be proud of who they are.

HADID: One of his fans is Iftikhar Ahmed (ph). He's a 23-year-old salesman.

IFTIKHAR AHMED: (Foreign language spoken). We want change. Imran will improve education. He will stop money laundering. He will put an end to corruption.

HADID: Imran Khan has a rare trajectory. He's a sporting legend, a handsome playboy and a British celebrity. He married one of the wealthiest socialites in Britain and transformed his public image - became a philanthropist, embraced religion and politics. He and his first wife, Jemima Goldsmith, divorced on good terms after nine years of marriage. There's volumes written about him, including a salacious tell-all book by his second ex-wife, a broadcast journalist. Now, at 65, he has a third wife. He married her in secret. She's one of his spiritual advisers, and she covers her face in public. Imran Khan's popular.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Chanting) Imran Khan.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Imran Khan.

HADID: But his victory, it's tainted. His chief opponent, the former prime minister, accuses the army and the courts of initiating corruption cases against him to curb his own electoral success and to help Khan win. Weeks before the election, the former prime minister was sentenced to prison. And there was a crackdown on media outlets sympathetic to him. The army denies any interference. So do the courts. At a recent press conference, I ask Khan for his response. He said his rival was brought down by corruption. There can't be any sympathy for somebody like the former prime minister.

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IMRAN KHAN: How would a Western government react? Would they not put someone like that behind bars?

HADID: But Khan has plenty of critics in Pakistan's liberal media. On the campaign trail, he supported Pakistan's blasphemy laws; laws that have encouraged vigilantes to kill people, even rumoured to have offended Islam. They say he's close to militants, particularly the spiritual father of the Taliban, who Khan has supported in the past. That's a dangerous charge in a country under fierce scrutiny for not cracking down on extremist groups. The U.S. recently cut off most of its military aid to Pakistan precisely because of that accusation. Analysts here debate if Khan's conservative or just politically expedient. Riaz, the analyst, says it's not that. Khan's contradictory, like many Pakistanis.

RIAZ: Imran's not alone in being someone who can appeal liberal at one moment, but also holds conservative views, be comfortable in the West and also be comfortable in a village.

HADID: Imran Khan has juggled so many identities; playboy to pious, sportsmen to politics, a Pakistani comfortable in English and Urdu. Now, the question for Pakistan is which one of these men will lead their country? Diaa Hadid, NPR News Islamabad.

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