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Opinion: Imran Khan was a top sportsperson, can he now be a good human being?

Opinion: Imran Khan was a top sportsperson, can he now be a good human being?
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By

Saksham Mishra

Published: 28 Feb 2019 4:30 PM GMT
Imran Khan assumed office as Pakistan's Prime Minister on August 18, 2018 in an environment of hope and optimism. The relations between India and Pakistan had slipped from bad to worse and there had been no ongoing dialogue between the two sides when Khan came to power. The generation of cricket lovers who had followed his playing career very closely were particularly expectant that the man had the guts to actually affect a change. It had taken him almost two decades to come to power, a claim which was mocked at by most when he campaigned for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) or when Pakistan Movement for Justice was founded by him. An Oxford graduate, Imran comes from an affluent background and does not seem to have the sense of hostility against India that most Pakistani politicians either harbour or cater to, in order to appease their vote bank.

A cricketing legend

The cricket lovers had seen him hold aloft the World Cup trophy after Pakistan's 22-run win against England in the 1992 Cricket World Cup final at the MCG and were fascinated by the imagery. Khan had begun his cricket career in 1971 as a fast bowler who stood out as startlingly quick and aggressive. After a more than two-decade-long cricket career, he was regarded as one of the top all-rounders to have ever played the game. Khan had been the captain of the Pakistan cricket team in an era when it had several cricketing stars who had influential personalities and if someone had to lead the team, he had to be a tough taskmaster; which is what Imran Khan came to be known as. Even today, he is referred to as "Kaptaan" (captain) in Pakistan.
Khan's interest in philanthropy was visible from quite an early time when just after his retirement, he raised funds to open a cancer hospital in the memory of his mother in his hometown Lahore in 1994. In the years to follow, Khan distanced himself from his playboy image and made public shows of devotion to Islam, which helped him build a considerable political following in northern Pakistan, especially with the conservative Pashtun population. Khan became the only sportsperson after George Weah, one of Africa's greatest footballers who took over as president of Liberia, to head his nation's government.

A novice politician

But that is precisely where the problem lies. Imran Khan had been an exceptional leader who could extract the most out of his team, but now, he does not have to only lead but govern as well. And that comes with its own set of challenges. Prior to assuming office, Imran Khan had no experience of governing. In a nation like Pakistan, things are a lot more complex than in most other countries. The Prime Minister of Pakistan is the designated functional head but by no stretch of imagination, he has a free hold over the government. There are a lot of influences and parallel power structures that he has to deal with. The Pakistani Army along with the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) is the real governor of the state. The country is also home to several terrorist organisations such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Al Badr which the state itself created and nurtured over the years in order to extract political mileage. But now, uprooting them completely is an enormous task and one that requires great political will. Given that Imran Khan is the head of a coalition government and his party alone could not garner the required number of seats to come to power alone, it further cripples him.
The stands that Imran Khan has taken as Pakistan's Prime Minister in the last few days following the Indian Air strikes at Balakot in Pakistan have been quite interesting. He has refrained from war-mongering and has alluded to peace talks time and again. However, in the same breath, he has also indicated that Pakistan is ready for a war. Now, one has to understand the compulsions that are leading him to make such statements. He is the elected representative of Pakistan and hence, he is obliged to make statements in line with the traditional stand that Pakistan has taken and to uphold the sovereignty of the nation.

A shot at changing the status quo

There is an incident worth mentioning which can help us draw a parallel between cricket and the current geo-political scenario. It was during a clash between India and Pakistan when Krishnamachari Srikkanth was adjudged out lbw by the umpire off the bowling of Waqar Younis. However, Srikkanth suggested that the ball had taken the edge of the bat. In a courteous gesture, Pakistan captain Imran Khan called Srikanth back. This was a prime example of sportsman spirit. As per recent developments, Pakistan has agreed to send back Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman back to India which - howsoever political a gesture it might be - is welcome. If Khan really wants to make a change, he must continue to chip away at the terrorists and their support system which his country has been patronising since decades. Imran Khan remains an immensely respected cricketer. If he can do his bit to alleviate tensions between India and Pakistan, he would qualify to be a revered human being as well. https://twitter.com/pid_gov/status/1101112226503643136 (Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the organization)
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