We at Right Off the Bat have already turned our magisterial attentions to cricketers-turned-politicians here, but it’s worth dwelling on the phenomenon that is Imran Khan. Simply put, Khan was probably the greatest all-rounder of his generation. (His heyday was the 1980s.) Like Shakespeare’s Prince Hal, Khan was a playboy in his youth—a handsome man-about-town who eventually turned his attention to his native land, where he was lionized as the man who led Pakistan to World Cup triumph in 1992.
Like King Henry V, Khan has now assumed a sterner, more conservative demeanor. He’s vocal in his opposition to the American drone attacks (not a particularly controversial position in Pakistan) and against corruption (popular but difficult to achieve). In a land where the Bhuttos and the Sharifs have carved out so much power (when the army lets them, that is) Khan represents a refreshing change, and he’s riding a wave of support at the moment.
Khan is an interesting figure: at once familiar and disconcerting. Although as Anglophone, smooth, and cosmopolitan as presidents Zardawi and Musharraf, should Khan come to power he would represent a sterner test to American diplomacy than these two. He seems his own man, with the sort of regal self-possession that only a man with a last name like his could carry off. He also represents a challenge to Western perceptions of Pakistan. His first wife, Jemima Goldsmith (they had two sons together), was not only a foreigner (English) but a scion of one of England’s most prominent Jewish families, which has left Khan open to accusations of being a Jewish agent (ones we won’t dignify with a link). The divorce was amicable, and Jemima still comes to Pakistan. If Khan became president it would offer the chance for Pakistan to be at once more assertive of its interests independent of American military aid and one more welcoming of developmental and regional assistance. As on the cricket field, Imran Khan is one to watch.