Ace Cricketer now PM of Pakistan
Many countries around the world have young leaders at their helms: Macron of France, Jacinda Arden of New Zealand and even Boris Johnsonin UK - give or take a couple of years. And in some countries persons outside politics have won Elections to be President or Prime Minster of the country; example Sri Lanka’s present President and Imran Khan who entered politics quite late in life. The Prime Minister of Pakistan falls into both these categories. He is a rather extreme case because he was first and foremost a cricketer and firmly rooted to his native land – Pakistan.
He is the only son with four sisters of a wealthy businessman of Pashtun descent. From both his mother’s and father’s sides, distinguished ancestries can be traced. He was devoted to his mother and when she died of cancer in the mid 1980s, he is said to have been devastated. Soon enough in 1991 he launched a campaign to raise funds to build a hospital in her memory. He went round the country with a till for donations. Much came from foreign countries. The well equipped Shouket Khanan Memorial Cancer Hospital in Lahore was built for which he gave much of his own inheritance. In 1994 he built another cancer hospital in Peshawar. He has also built schools in remote areas of Pakistan.
The trajectory of his life is interesting. He started off elite, first educated in a prestigious school in Lahore and then in a boarding school in Worcester, UK. He graduated from Oxford University and then was a man about town, a very personable bachelor frequenting posh places and night clubs in Britain. In 1992 at age 39 he captained a rather weak Pakistani cricket team and won the World Cup. But as he said himself in an interview with an Indian journalist, he soon tired of the glamour-boy period. He wanted to settle down and his love for his homeland was gaining ground. In 1995 he married Jemima Goldsmith when she was 21 and he 42 but said she was mature and intelligent. She was converted to Islam, learnt Urdu, studied the Koran, but her Jewish background was always thrown at her in Pakistan. Also his full immersion in politics and being much away from home tore into the marriage though by now they had two sons. It was interesting to hear the sons are not cricket-happy and the second boy told his teacher that his father was a football player! Jemima and he amicably divorced in 2004.
In 2015 he married a BBC weather reporter –Rehana Nayyar - which turned out to be disastrous. They were divorced a couple of months later. Just before the Parliamentary Elections in 2018 where he led the Tehreek-e-insaf (Movement for Justice) Party, and was aiming at the post of Prime Minister, Rehana published an almost defamatory book on his life. Mercifully she was found out and her book did not influence voters. His new party won the elections and he became Prime Minister of Pakistan in 2018.
No head of State lies easy. There is always trouble brewing somewhere; often only criticism but sometimes breaking out to protests. Pakistan has a very chequered political career. Ali Jinnah insisted on the creation of a separate country for the Muslims of India, thus resulting in a hugely bloody and tragic division of the subcontinent to two countries with a bit of Pakistan tucked away in India as East Pakistan.This land seceded from West Pakistan and helped by India, became Bangladesh. Rulers in Pakistan have been assassinated, detonated in a plane, put to death in prison. Everyone remembers the first woman to smash the glass ceiling of men’s dominance. Beautiful Benazir Bhuto was the 11th and 13th PM within the period 1993 to 1991. She was then assassinated. Pakistan has also been under military rule more than once. So, Imran Khan has to tread ever so carefully in the midst of military might; different Muslim sects feuding; religious fanaticism; and the eternal battle of women for equal rights against the might of men. His head lies very far from easy, but he seems determined and capable of holding his own.