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The road ahead for Imran Khan: Can he stage a cricket-like comeback? – India Today

by Arifa Rana

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The year was 1986, the venue Sharjah, the UAE. Imran Khan was the captain of the Pakistan cricket team when the last-ball six by Javed Miandad off India’s Chetan Sharma became the symbol of his team’s spirit of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Imran Khan tried showing the same combative spirit with a promise “to fight till the last ball” in his innings as the Pakistan prime minister. He got cleaned up by a united Opposition where the Pakistan Army played the “neutral” umpire.
A year after the last-ball six, Pakistan lost in the semi-final match in the 1987 cricket World Cup, and Imran Khan retired from international cricket while he was still considered at the peak of his game.
Imran Khan was the second-highest wicket-taker in the World Cup. He would turn down every request to continue playing cricket. By sheer chance, Imran Khan met a seer near Lahore on a shooting trip. The seer, called Baba Chala, prophesied that Imran Khan was “not yet finished” in cricket.
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When he returned from the shooting trip, the Pakistan Cricket Board made a formal request to Imran Khan for a comeback. He declined. The fans made a beeline outside his residence, asking him to return to the cricket ground. He did not relent.
In January 1988, Pakistan’s President General Zia ul Haq who was killed in a plane crash later that year made a personal request to Imran Khan to resume playing for Pakistan. He could not refuse and announced his second coming with a historic win over the mighty West Indies on their home turf in a Test match.
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Four years later, Imran Khan took the Pakistan team to their only World Cup victory battling a revolt by senior players confirmed by Javed Miandad just before the semi-final match against New Zealand, and top-scoring in the final match against England.
He retired as a victorious captain.
Now, observers of Pakistan politics are saying it would be premature to write off Imran Khan, the politician, in his second innings. Because Imran Khan can bounce back.
Like in the cricket World Cup, Imran Khan faced rebellion in the rank his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and the allies who extended support to his government as he fell out of favour of the Pakistan Army in the past few months, ultimately losing the prime ministerial seat.
In cricket, he countered rebellions by propping up ‘change’ players and leading the Pakistan team with aggression even against the most formidable of the teams. In politics, he was branded as a “change candidate” in the 2018 parliamentary election held under the guard of the Pakistan Army.
By the end of his 45-month government, Imran Khan has positioned himself as a political captain who stood up to the mightiest candidate in Pakistan politics the military. This is a contrasting picture for a Pakistani politician who was viewed as an army prop in the prime minister’s office.
On the front of governance, Imran Khan failed to deliver the promise of building a Naya Pakistan by making the country self-reliant. Much against what he promised, Pakistan under Prime Minister Imran Khan saw prices rising to uncomfortable levels, debt increasing, jobs hard to find, cost of living becoming extremely high, the Pakistani rupee plummeting, China and the US both bogging the country down, Pakistan Taliban presenting a very serious threat after the victory of the Afghan Taliban, and Pakistan losing its blackmail advantage over India after post-Pulwama showdown.
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Imran Khan not only had to negotiate a laboured $6-billion bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the organisation he had vowed not to seek help from but also recast himself as a pious and austere Muslim leader promising to establish an “Islamic welfare state” in Pakistan.
Imran Khan is selling this dream to Pakistani people to relive the experience of retiring but retrying to win. Then in cricket, now in politics.
Imran Khan is no longer a novice in politics. His rise in Pakistani politics might look sudden in 2018 but he had launched his party, the PTI, long back in 1996 just four years after winning the cricket World Cup for Pakistan. So, at 69, Imran Khan is a veteran politician with more than 25 years of experience.
This was on display when he began setting up the narrative for his second innings in the final days of March and early April when he sensed that his days in the prime minister’s office were numbered.
He blamed the “foreign hand” in destabilising his government and Pakistan for not toeing their line. Imran Khan thus questioned the nationalist credentials of all those who wanted him gone incumbent PM Shehbaz Sharif, his ally Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and also Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Imran Khan tried every possible trick that Pakistan’s Constitution could possibly offer to stave off a defeat in the National Assembly. This offered him time to take a lead in launching his election campaign.
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He used the time to make the political debate about Imran Khan, knowing well that the rivals were plagued by the absence of charismatic leaders such as Nawaz Sharif and late Benazir Bhutto to match his individual popularity.
Imran Khan is again pitching to build Naya Pakistan that he could not during his first tenure as the PM against dynasty and corruption, and for an inclusive society. His rivals, Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto, have a family legacy marred with charges of corruption to answer for. Former parliamentarian and influential cleric Fazlur Rehman, whom Imran Khan refers to as “Maulana Diesel”, carries a taint of corruption.
The way forward for Imran Khan looks clear that he is going back to the street and using every nook and corner of Pakistan to campaign for his return. He has the experience. First time, when he undertook a mission to build a cancer hospital in the memory of his mother.
Imran Khan was the only son among the five children of Shaukat Khannum, who lost her battle against cancer in 1983. Imran Khan spent days in the cancer ward when his mother was admitted and witnessed the distress of patients.
Six years and a retirement later, Imran Khan made their first public fundraiser appeal in Lahore’s cricket stadium during an India-Pakistan match in 1989 it was the series in which genius batsman Sachin Tendulkar and toe-crusher fast bowler Waqar Younis made their international debuts.
Imran Khan’s campaign to build a cancer hospital for free treatment in Pakistan was considered a ‘laughable’ idea. But he kept appealing to supporters and sponsors for donations.
The victory in the 1992 cricket World Cup gave it the boost Imran Khan needed suddenly about $2 million flowed into his kitty. Construction of the hospital had already begun in 1991. In 1994, it was inaugurated. Imran Khan’s campaign had yielded results.
The second time, Imran Khan undertook a ‘laughable’ campaign at hand was in 2014 when he staged a 126-day sit-in outside Pakistan’s parliament building in Islamabad, challenging the might of Nawaz Sharif. He accused Nawaz Sharif of corruption, a malaise that he promised to rid Pakistan of corruption and corrupt politicians.
Since then, Imran Khan has become an expert in organising protests and using public rallies to his advantage, drawing massive crowds. His ouster saw massive outpours of supporters in several Pakistani cities over the last weekend, when the protesters shouted slogans against the Pakistan Army.
Imran Khan may have damaged his reputation by not quitting the government in an ‘honourable’ manner and trying to stick to power despite having lost the number game. But his popular appeal, reports from Pakistan say, remains unmatched just like his command over Pakistan’s cricket team.
But unlike the cricket team that he led, Imran Khan has failed to pick and groom talent who could be a match-winner in his political game. His best bets are Arif Alvi (Pakistan’s president), Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Fawad Choudhary and Usman Buzdar. None of them is the political counterpart of Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis or Inzamam ul Haq from Imran Khan’s cricket World Cup-winning team.
Imran Khan has announced that he will hold a public rally in Peshawar to press for early elections. “On Wednesday, I will be holding a jalsa [rally] in Peshawar after Isha my first jalsa after being removed through a foreign-instigated regime change. I want all our people to come, as Pakistan was created as an independent, sovereign state, not as a puppet state of foreign powers.”
“We are demanding immediate election as that is the only way forward to let the people decide, through fair and free election, whom they want as their prime minister,” Imran Khan wrote on Twitter.
Incidentally, his critics have taken to Twitter to point out that Imran Khan is launching his second political campaign from Peshawar, a place he did not visit to offer condolences to 60 people who lost their lives in a suicide bombing attack at a mosque in early March.

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