Opinion: The Resurrection of Imran Khan

The cricket star came to power in a process that inspired the opposition to call him the “selected,” not elected, prime minister of Pakistan.

Imran Khan Arif Alvi
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leaders Imran Khan and Arif Alvi, during 2018 electoral campaign (Wikimedia)

Wajahat S. Khan


April 1, 2021

On May 7, 2013, Imran Khan, aged 61, was scheduled to address a rally in Gulberg, a swanky suburb of Lahore. Khan was making another run for the premiership of Pakistan. So far, power had eluded him, even though he had been seeking it since the mid-1990s — when he had retired from cricket, departed from London’s nightclub circuit, and graduated from philanthropy to politics in one great, heaving hat-trick.

A forklift stood ready to raise Khan and his security team to an elevated platform, about 25 feet high, where he would address an audience of about 5,000. 

“We will do the intvu [interview] on the stage,” he had promised me via text message just minutes earlier.

Millions would see the videos later, but I saw it happen live. Just as they were elevated to the stage, the forklift swayed: Khan and his security team all tumbled to the ground, somersaulting in the air like a team of uncoordinated acrobats.

Khan lay motionless on the ground, his head bleeding. One of his custom-made Peshawari sandals had been ripped off. His eyes were glazed over, and he was staring straight up, past me and the others on the stage, into Lahore’s dark, smoggy sky. In those first few seconds, as the raucous campaign venue fell silent, nobody dared touch him.

But, despite severe injuries to his spine, neck, and head, Khan lived to fight on. He lost the 2013 election — the accident ended his campaign immediately — but won the next one in 2018. His eventual victory would come through an alliance ranging from corrupt sugar barons to old-money industrialists to reformed secessionists, a coalition blessed by Pakistan’s all-powerful military — a process that would inspire the opposition to cite him as the “selected,” not elected, 22nd prime minister of Pakistan. 

No prime minister in Pakistan has finished his or her five-year term — each has resigned, been deposed, or been assassinated. Nearly three years into his term, things seemed dicey for Khan when his party lost a key Senate seat last month. Undeterred, he took the challenge head-on and survived. Though his journey to get to this office has been long and fraught, Khan — the cricket hero, the playboy, the philanthropist, the anti-war activist — may actually earn another title: Pakistan’s first full-term prime minister. This is the story of how Imran Khan did in government what he was most famous for in his cricketing days: make a comeback.

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