Imran Khan, in full Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi, (born October 5, 1952, Lahore, Pakistan), Pakistani cricket player, politician, philanthropist, and prime minister of Pakistan (2018–22) who became a national hero by leading Pakistan’s national team to a Cricket World Cup victory in 1992 and later entered politics as a critic of government corruption in Pakistan.
Early life and cricket career
Khan was born into an affluent Pashtun family in Lahore and was educated at elite schools in Pakistan and the United Kingdom, including the Royal Grammar School in Worcester and Aitchison College in Lahore. There were several accomplished cricket players in his family, including two elder cousins, Javed Burki and Majid Khan, who both served as captains of the Pakistani national team. Imran Khan played cricket in Pakistan and the United Kingdom in his teens and continued playing while studying philosophy, politics, and economics at the University of Oxford. Khan played his first match for Pakistan’s national team in 1971, but he did not take a permanent place on the team until after his graduation from Oxford in 1976.
By the early 1980s Khan had distinguished himself as an exceptional bowler and all-rounder, and he was named captain of the Pakistani team in 1982. Khan’s athletic talent and good looks made him a celebrity in Pakistan and England, and his regular appearances at fashionable London nightclubs provided fodder for the British tabloid press. In 1992 Khan achieved his greatest athletic success when he led the Pakistani team to its first World Cup title, defeating England in the final. He retired that same year, having secured a reputation as one of the greatest cricket players in history.
After 1992 Khan remained in the public eye as a philanthropist. He experienced a religious awakening, embracing Sufi mysticism and shedding his earlier playboy image. In one of his philanthropic endeavours, Khan acted as the primary fund-raiser for the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, a specialized cancer hospital in Lahore, which opened in 1994. The hospital was named after Khan’s mother, who had died of cancer in 1985.
Entry into politics
After his retirement from cricket, Khan became an outspoken critic of government mismanagement and corruption in Pakistan. He founded his own political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Justice Movement; PTI), in 1996. In national elections held the following year, the newly formed party won less than 1 percent of the vote and failed to win any seats in the National Assembly, but it fared slightly better in the 2002 elections, winning a single seat that Khan filled. Khan maintained that vote rigging was to blame for his party’s low vote totals. In October 2007 Khan was among a group of politicians who resigned from the National Assembly, protesting Pres. Pervez Musharraf’s candidacy in the upcoming presidential election. In November Khan was briefly imprisoned during a crackdown against critics of Musharraf, who had declared a state of emergency. The PTI condemned the state of emergency, which ended in mid-December, and boycotted the 2008 national elections to protest Musharraf’s rule.
In spite of the PTI’s struggles in elections, Khan’s populist positions found support, especially among young people. He continued his criticism of corruption and economic inequality in Pakistan and opposed the Pakistani government’s cooperation with the United States in fighting militants near the Afghan border. He also launched broadsides against Pakistan’s political and economic elites, whom he accused of being Westernized and out of touch with Pakistan’s religious and cultural norms.
Khan’s writings included Warrior Race: A Journey Through the Land of the Tribal Pathans (1993) and Pakistan: A Personal History (2011).
He grew up as the only son in the family, with four sisters. The family are ethnically of Pashtun origin. Paternally, Khan belongs to the Niazi Pashtun tribe which has long been settled in Mianwali in northwestern Punjab. Khan’s mother hailed from the Burki Pashtun tribe settled in Jalandhar, Punjab, which emigrated a few centuries ago from South Waziristan in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. Khan’s maternal family has produced several great cricketers, the most prominent of whom are Javed Burki and Majid Khan.
From 1995 to 2004, Imran Khan was married to Jemima Goldsmith, a British socialite turned writer and activist, and member of the influential Goldschmidt family of England. They have two sons from the marriage Sulaiman Isa Khan (born 1996) and Kasim Khan (born 1999). The marriage ended amicably in divorce in 2004.
In early 2015, Khan announced his second marriage to the British Pakistani journalist Reham Khan. The marriage lasted nine months and ended in divorce on 30 October 2015.
In 2018, he married Bushra Maneka, who was previously his spiritual mentor.
In the months leading up to the legislative elections scheduled for early 2013, Khan and his party drew large crowds at rallies and attracted the support of several veteran politicians from Pakistan’s established parties. Further evidence of Khan’s rising political fortunes came in the form of an opinion poll in 2012 that found him to be the most popular political figure in Pakistan.
Just days before legislative elections in May 2013, Khan injured his head and back when he fell from a platform at a campaign rally. He appeared on television from his hospital bed hours later to make a final appeal to voters. The elections produced the PTI’s highest totals yet, but the party still won less than half the number of seats won by the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N), led by Nawaz Sharif. Khan accused the PML-N of rigging the elections. After his calls for an investigation went unmet, he and other opposition leaders led four months of protests in late 2014 in order to pressure Sharif to step down.
The protests failed to oust Sharif, but suspicions of corruption were amplified when the Panama Papers linked his family to offshore holdings. Khan organized a new set of protests in late 2016 but called them off at the last minute after the Supreme Court agreed to open an investigation. The investigation disqualified Sharif from holding public office in 2017, and he was forced to resign from office. Khan, meanwhile, was also revealed to have had offshore holdings but, in a separate case, was not disqualified by the Supreme Court.
Elections were held the following year, in July 2018. Khan ran on a platform of fighting corruption and poverty, even as he had to fight off accusations that he was too cozy with the military establishment. The PTI won a plurality of seats in the National Assembly, allowing Khan to seek a coalition with independent members of the parliament. He became prime minister on August 18.
As prime minister, Khan faced a mounting balance-of-payments crisis. Though the economy was experiencing growth, imports and debt commitments from before his term had skyrocketed in recent years, especially because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative. Just weeks into his term as prime minister, the crisis worsened when the United States withheld $300 million in promised military aid, saying Pakistan had not done enough to stem terrorism. Khan attempted to seek foreign aid from “friendly countries” first; because a dozen previous packages from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had failed to solve Pakistan’s macroeconomic problems, his avoidance of an IMF bailout reflected popular fatigue with the IMF. After he was unable to secure foreign aid on favourable conditions from other countries, however, Pakistan submitted a request for emergency lending from the IMF. He continued to seek foreign aid from other sources and later received promises of investments from China, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Aside from courting foreign aid, Khan oversaw several significant developments in Pakistan’s foreign relations. The country successfully brought the Taliban to negotiations with the United States, improving relations with the country and with neighbouring Afghanistan. In February 2019, in a show of force against militants in Kashmir, who had recently staged a suicide attack killing 40 Indian security personnel, India launched an air assault in Pakistan for the first time in five decades, raising fears of a new conflict between the two countries. Pakistan downplayed the impact and appeared to avoid escalating the situation. When India again entered Pakistan’s air space, Pakistan shot down two fighter jets and captured a pilot but returned the pilot to India soon afterward. After the incident, Khan implemented a crackdown on militants, issuing arrests, closing a large number of religious schools, and promising to update existing laws to reflect international standards.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in early 2020, aggravated the country’s economic woes. Relative to his critics, Khan was slow to endorse a lockdown. In contrast, the provincial government in Sindh, controlled by an opposition party, was quick to implement a strict lockdown in March. Khan eventually imposed a nationwide lockdown in April; in May his government began restricting lockdowns to localities with high infection rates.
Removal from office, subsequent political activity, and imprisonment
Meanwhile, Khan continued to face opposition for his close relationship with the military establishment, his crackdown on militants, and the fragile state of the economy. In late 2020 the major opposition parties formed a coalition, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), with the stated goal of increasing the independence of civilian government from the military establishment. Protests and rallies organized by the PDM accused Khan of being a puppet of the army and called on him to step down. In March 2021 these parties boycotted a vote of confidence initiated by Khan’s government, which he survived narrowly with the support of his coalition partners. Later that year Khan fell out with the military establishment after a failed attempt by Khan to influence its top posts. As frustrations rose over sustained inflation, the opposition moved in March 2022 to hold its own vote of confidence; key allies of the PTI withdrew from the ruling coalition, and several members of the party also defected. The vote was held, and on April 10 Khan became the first prime minister in Pakistan’s history to be removed by a no-confidence measure.
The economy only worsened under a new government led by Shehbaz Sharif and the PML-N, setting the stage for a remarkable comeback by the PTI months after it was ousted. In a surprise landslide victory, the PTI won 15 of 20 seats in the July 2022 legislative elections of Punjab province, Pakistan’s largest province and a traditional stronghold for the PML-N.
But as Khan sought to ride his momentum in rallies held around the country, he ran into significant challenges. He came under fire in August for threatening in a speech to sue police officers and a judge in Islamabad. He afterward faced charges for that speech, the first charge in a wave of legal troubles in the months ahead. In October he was temporarily barred from holding public office after the election commission alleged that he was guilty of corrupt practices. While heading a protest convoy from the city of Lahore to Islamabad in November, he was shot in the leg in an apparent assassination attempt.
Khan made repeated assertions that a military officer was responsible for the assassination attempt, an accusation that the military publicly dismissed as “highly irresponsible and baseless” after a rally in May 2023. Days later he was taken into custody by dozens of paramilitary officers for lack of cooperation in ongoing corruption investigations. The arrest was dramatic and prompted demonstrations and violence by Khan’s supporters against military installations and government buildings. The PTI was subsequently subjected to a crackdown while dozens of prominent members of the party defected.
In August 2023 Khan was convicted of corrupt practices after a trial court heard the electoral commission’s case against him. Khan, who had not cooperated with the trial, was sentenced to three years in prison. In a prerecorded message he urged his supporters to protest peacefully. In light of the crackdown on the PTI, however, the response on the streets was muted.