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Imran Khan: Is He the Most Loved Pakistani ever?

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Hafeez Ahmed Khan

Imran Khan, born on October 5, 1952, in Lahore, Pakistan, has had a controversial and eventful career as a politician, culminating in his historic ousting as the first prime minister of Pakistan to be removed by a parliamentary vote in 2022, popularly known as regime change in Pakistan. Before his political career, Khan gained widespread recognition as an iconic cricket player, leading Pakistan to a triumphant Cricket World Cup victory in 1992. Hailing from an influential Niazi Pathan family from the paternal side and Burki Pathan family from the maternal side, Khan received his education at prestigious institutions in Pakistan and the United Kingdom, and his cricketing prowess was evident from a young age.

A successful cricket career preceded Khan’s entry into politics. He captained the Pakistani national team, and his impact on the sport was substantial, culminating in the 1992 World Cup victory. Following his retirement from cricket, Khan shifted focus to philanthropy, spearheading the establishment of the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital in Lahore, named in honor of his late mother. This endeavor reflected Khan’s commitment to charitable causes and public service.

As a political figure, Khan is known for founding the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in 1996. While the PTI initially faced challenges in elections, Khan’s unwavering stance against corruption and economic disparity resonated with many, particularly the younger demographic. His strident criticism of the Pakistani government’s cooperation with the United States in combating militants near the Afghan border, as well as his outspoken opposition to the country’s political and economic elites, further fueled his political ascent.

Khan’s rise to prominence was marked by significant developments, including leading protests and allegations of election rigging, which ultimately resulted in his victory in the 2018 elections. However, his critics allege that the powerful establishment also supported him in ascending the throne. His election as prime minister in 2018 was a watershed moment, and his tenure was characterized by a focus on combating corruption and poverty. However, his premiership was not without its challenges, particularly with regard to economic issues and helming complex foreign relations.

Throughout his tenure, Khan faced a mounting balance-of-payments crisis and grappled with external pressures, including guiding Pakistan’s role in the region amid heightened tensions with neighboring countries. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic presented formidable challenges, and Khan’s responses to the crisis ignited public debate and scrutiny.

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Imran Khan’s journey from cricketing excellence to political prominence has been marked by a multifaceted and eventful career, reflecting Pakistani politics’ dynamic and complex nature. His impactful contributions to both sports and politics have left an indelible mark on the country’s history and society.

Imran Khan faced sustained opposition and political turmoil after his historic ousting as the first prime minister of Pakistan to be removed by a parliamentary vote in 2022. His close relationship with the military establishment, crackdown on militants, and the fragile state of the economy sparked protests and rallies organized by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) in late 2020. The PDM accused Khan of being a puppet of the army and called for his resignation. In March 2021, the PDM boycotted a vote of confidence initiated by Khan’s government, which he narrowly survived with the support of his coalition partners.

In March 2022, as frustrations over sustained inflation grew, the opposition moved to hold its own vote of confidence, leading some key allies of the PTI to withdraw from the ruling coalition and several members of the party to defect. Khan’s removal from office looked increasingly likely, and he made allegations about the United States conspiring against him for visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin. Khan was ultimately removed from office by a no-confidence measure in April 2022, becoming the first prime minister in Pakistan’s history to face such an ousting. Political pundits in Pakistan believe that Khans’ ouster was due to the manoeuvring of local and international establishments.

However, the economy worsened under a new government, and the PTI experienced a surprising comeback months after being ousted. However, Khan’s legal troubles and an apparent assassination attempt in November 2022 had a profound impact on Pakistani politics. His repeated assertions about a military officer’s involvement in the assassination attempt were dismissed by the military as irresponsible and baseless. In May 2023, Khan was taken into custody by paramilitary officers for lack of cooperation in ongoing corruption investigations, prompting demonstrations and violence by his supporters, reflecting the deep divisions within the society.

Despite the setbacks, Khan’s resilience remained unwavering. His conviction in August 2023, though it led to a muted response from his supporters due to a crackdown on the PTI, did not deter his spirit. He continued to push for the PTI’s return to power as the February 2024 elections approached despite facing further legal challenges and convictions. The PTI’s significant win in directly elected seats in the National Assembly was a testament to Khan’s enduring influence, even in the face of ongoing political uncertainty and turmoil. His party reportedly won more than 150 NA seats in line form 45, but a number of seats were denied due to form 47, as alleged by the PTI leadership.

Imran Khan’s supporters firmly stand by his side, asserting that his imprisonment is a result of his unwavering commitment to upholding the principles of “haqeeqi azaadi,” which translates to the rule of law and the constitution. They argue that many of the cases brought against Khan are fabricated and lack substantial evidence, highlighting what they perceive as efforts by the powerful establishment to suppress him. Despite the prolonged political turmoil and legal challenges, Imran Khan retains a profound and enduring popularity, with many regard him as the most beloved figure in Pakistani history. His popularity is often testified to through the different Republic Policy pulse surveys.

Khan’s supporters maintain that his dedication to eradicating corruption and promoting accountability has led to his confrontation with influential forces within the country. They believe that his steadfast adherence to democratic values and efforts to bring about institutional reform have made him a target for those seeking to maintain the status quo. They emphasize Khan’s unwavering commitment to the welfare of the Pakistani people and his vision for a just and equitable society as reasons for his enduring popularity.

In the eyes of many of his supporters, Imran Khan’s steadfastness in the face of adversity has only served to further elevate his status as a revered figure in Pakistani politics. They see him as a symbol of resistance against powerful entities and a champion of the rule of law, and they express their unwavering loyalty through continued demonstrations of support. Despite the challenges he has faced, there is a strong sentiment among his supporters that Imran Khan’s legacy will endure as an emblem of integrity, perseverance, and dedication to the well-being of the people of Pakistan.

Apart from his supporters, his critics also believe that Imran Khan has been the most popular person ever in the history of Pakistan both nationally and internationally. They even concede that Imran Khan has been the most loved Pakistani ever. He is undisputedly loved as a cricketing hero and a philanthropist and even as a fashion icon. However, he does have a lot of haters in Politics but his supporters easily outnumbers his political haters.

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