New Delhi: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairperson Imran Khan, who is being touted by many as the next Prime Minister of that country, has gained international repute as a cricket legend.
However, over the past five years, he has cultivated another image — one which is not so flattering. His political opponents in Pakistan have dubbed the 1992 Cricket World Cup winner ‘Taliban Khan’. While he has fought this image, Khan’s utterances over the years have not painted a picture of someone who wishes to disassociate from the Pakistan Taliban.
Khan courted controversy for describing top Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander Wali-ur-Rehman as ‘pro-peace’ when he was killed by US forces in 2013. “The drone attack that killed pro peace Waliurrehman led to r soldiers being killed/injured in revenge attacks! This is totally unacceptable,” he tweeted.
Later that year in September, Khan suggested that the Taliban should be allowed to “open an office” somewhere in Pakistan. He argued that if the US could open offices for the Afghan Taliban in Qatar, why couldn’t the Pakistan Taliban do the same?
In March 2014, senior PTI leader and health minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Shaukat Yousafzai said PTI had “always supported the opening of a Taliban office in Peshawar”. Later, yet another minister in the PTI-ruled KPK Province said the Taliban should be allowed to open an office “anywhere in Pakistan”.
In November 2013, after the US killed Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike, Khan said it was “absolutely deliberate — this was a deliberate targeting of the peace process”.
The cricketer-turned-politician’s love for the Taliban is not one-sided. In February 2014, the terror outfit nominated him to represent them in mediation talks. While Khan eventually refused, the incident showed the faith the Taliban has in him.
In March that year, Khan said the Pakistan Taliban’s only demand was that it wanted to disassociate the country from the US’s war, which is something even PTI has been demanding.
Khan’s utterances in support of the Taliban continued well into 2018 as he defended the group’s system of justice in an interview to BBC HARDtalk. Pakistan People’s Party chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had lashed out at Khan after his comments.
In January this year, the PTI gave a grant worth PKR 550 million to madrasas of Sami-ul-Haq, who is also known as the ‘Father of Taliban’. Ahead of the polls, PTI joined hands with Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, who is on the US terror watch list.
While Khan has claimed repeatedly that his criticism has been fuelled by “Indian and American propaganda”, he will have to answer some tough questions in front of the world.