Who is Imran Khan?

For our rising new world leader segment, Richard Swift profiles the Oxford-educated former playboy cricketer, and now, Prime Minister of Pakistan

Imran Khan, the Oxford-educated former playboy cricketer, and now, Prime Minister of Pakistan
Cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), speaks after voting in the general election in Islamabad, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

The handsome 65-year-old former cricket superstar finally attained his long-held ambition to become Prime Minister of Pakistan when he was sworn in this August. Khan has made his reputation as a nationalist and a populist bent on wiping out corruption, overthrowing Pakistan’s venal political class and restoring national honour. In the 2018 election, Pakistanis were in the mood for a leader untainted by the two mainstream parties (The People’s Party and the Muslim League) that have dominated politics for decades. Khan went from a marginal player to centre-stage in Pakistani politics.

The Oxford-educated PM has Pashtun roots and a reputation for being a devout but pragmatic Muslim, making his political name for standing against the US drone programme of assassinating suspected militants in the tribal region of western Pakistan. Despite this, he presented himself as a pacifist during the campaign to mend fences with the US and finding common ground to bring peace and reconciliation to the twin conflicts in Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir. How this will go down with Pakistan’s powerful military and security services (the infamous ISI) or the general public is yet to be known.

He also promises to revive Pakistan’s floundering economy, scarred by a deteriorating currency and a crippling debt load. Chances are, Khan will be caught between borrowing some $10 billion (probably from the IMF), while trying to resist creditors’ demands for rigid austerity. He needs a robust level of public spending to fulfill the ambitious promises of welfare and social justice that attracted many young Pakistani voters during the campaign. The balancing skill required in overcoming bureaucratic inertia, managing the economy and resolving regional conflicts will surely test the mettle of the neophyte PM. After all, since the country’s birth in 1947 no Prime Minister has ever completed their term in office.