ISLAMABAD – Cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, known for surprising his opponents with inswinging yorkers in the field, startled Pakistan’s Opposition political leaders in Parliament by recommending its dissolution and blocking a no-confidence motion against him despite losing majority.
Khan, who faced his toughest political test since assuming office in 2018 due to defections in his party and cracks in the ruling coalition, in a surprise announcement during an address to the nation on Sunday said he had advised the president to “dissolve assemblies”.
The 69-year-old leader, who was facing the prospect of being run out in the number game in Parliament on Sunday, pushed Pakistan into a constitutional and political uncertainty with his move to dissolve the National Assembly and call for early elections.
Khan had promised to bowl an inswinging yorker against Opposition leaders for tabling a no-confidence motion against him. His supporters dubbed his move as akin to taking three wickets in one ball.
The Oxford-educated Pasthun came to power in 2018 with promises to create a Naya Pakistan’ but miserably failed to address the basic problem of keeping the prices of commodities in control, giving air to the sails of Opposition ships to unceremoniously unseat his government.
Khan, whose 21-year cricketing career overshadowed his 26-year political journey, treated almost all Opposition leaders with disdain, often using derogatory remarks for them while in power, giving them a reason to unite under one banner and successfully topple his government.
Last time when Khan sought a trust vote, he comfortably won it in March 2021.
Khan launched Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which means the movement for justice, in 1996, but struggled to break the dominance of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – the two main political parties that have been repeatedly in power when the powerful military was not ruling the country.
Unable to break PML-N and PPP dominance for years, he even once said, “In Pakistan politics is hereditary”, referring to the leaders of PML-N and PPP parties which are led by the Sharif family and the Bhutto family respectively.
Khan became a Member of Parliament in the 2002 elections. He was again elected to the National Assembly in the 2013 elections, when his party emerged as the second largest in the country by popular vote.
One year after elections, in May 2014, Khan alleged that the polls were rigged in favour of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz led by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
In August 2014, Khan led a rally of his supporters from Lahore to Islamabad, demanding Sharif’s resignation and investigation into alleged electoral fraud.
Khan led his party to victory in the 2018 general elections during which he had promised to crackdown on corruption, enact anti-poverty programmes, improve healthcare and education and turn his country into an Islamic welfare state.
While in power, Khan repeatedly talked about making Pakistan an Islamic welfare state. However, he failed to fix the economy and the basic problem of keeping the prices of commodities in control.
On the foreign policy front, Khan had frosty relations with the West, especially the US. Khan tried to cultivate close ties with Russia while further strengthening ties with all weather ally China.
During Khan’s tenure, ties between Pakistan and India were further strained in 2019 when a Pakistan-based terror group killed 40 CRPF personnel in a suicide attack in February, forcng India to bomb the terror camps in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
An intense aerial confrontation ensued between both countries the next day, in which Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured and later released by Pakistan.
The relations deteriorated after India announced withdrawing the special powers of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcation of the state into two union territories in August, 2019.
Prime Minister Khan, who insists that the Kashmir dispute remained a big issue between the two countries, raised the issue on multiple forums including the United Nations during his tenure.
India has repeatedly told Pakistan that Jammu and Kashmir “was, is and shall forever” remain an integral part of the country.
Later in 2019, Prime Minister Khan formally inaugurated the Kartarpur Corridor, paving the way for Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit one of their religion’s holiest sites in Pakistan without needing a visa.
Khan, once touted as Pakistan’s most eligible bachelor for his rugged Pathani good looks, married thrice. His previous two marriages ended in divorce.
His first marriage was with Jemima Goldsmith, daughter of a British billionaire, in 1995, which lasted 9 years. Khan has two sons from her. His second marriage with TV anchor Reham Khan in 2015 ended after a brief 10 months.
In 2018, Khan married for the third time. This time with his “spiritual guide” Bushra Maneka.
Khan was born in Mianwali in 1952 to Ikramullah Khan Niazi and Shaukat Khanum. His father descended from the Pashtun (Pathan) Niazi tribe of the Shermankhel clan.
He attended Aitchison College in Lahore and the Royal Grammar School Worcester in England. In 1972, he enrolled in Keble College, Oxford where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics, graduating with honours in 1975.
Khan played Test cricket for Pakistan between 1971 and 1992, and was captain of the national team when they won the World Cup in 1992 – the country’s first and only victory in that tournament.