He Is Trying To Play A Very Difficult Game”: The Once And Future Imran Khan
A fascinating piece in Vanity Fair about the contradiction that Imran Khan, the Pakistani cricketing superstar and now Prime Minister, has turned out to be. Pakistani author Aatish Taseer compares Imran’s relationships with women of contrastingly different backgrounds to his ambivalent political stances on Islamic extremism or Western influence. Whilst Aatish reckons some of this has strategic intent to balance the forces at play to achieve his ultimate goals, he also suggests such conflicts are in some ways a reflection of the dichotomy that Pakistani society is dealing with. Full of interesting anecdotes, some quite explosive in true Vanity Fair style, Aatish produces a thoroughly entertaining yet thought provoking article on cricket’s most decorated ‘allrounder’.
“The distance between the “day-time Khan” and the “night-time Khan,” his biographer suggests, was something that people had noticed about him even in the 1980s, when he was playing county cricket in Britain. But what one can dismiss in a sportsman is harder to ignore in a politician—especially one who is as stern a moralist as Khan. “To the Weekly Standard,” writes Sandford, “he was the ‘Khan artist’ who continued to ‘inveigh against the West by day and enjoy its pleasures by night.’ ” In treating the West as nothing but a source of permissiveness and turning the East into a romantic symbol of purity, Khan provides a fascinating mirror of the cultural confusions and anxieties of our time.
….“Here he is, trying to play a very difficult game,” Salman Rushdie said of Khan at a panel I chaired in Delhi in 2012. (Khan, the chief guest, had withdrawn in protest upon hearing that the author of The Satanic Verses would be present.) Khan, Rushdie said, was “placating the mullahs on one hand, cozying up to the army on the other, while trying to present himself to the West as the modernizing face of Pakistan.” He added acidly, “I’d concentrate on that, Imran. Try and keep those balls in the air. It’s not going to be easy.”
…Into this gladiatorial arena, shirt open, eyes bedroom-y, hair long and tousled, stepped Khan. He was one of those rare figures, like Muhammad Ali, who emerge once a generation on the frontier of sport, sex, and politics. “Imran may not have been the first player to enjoy his own cult following,” writes his biographer Christopher Sandford, “but he was more or less single-handedly responsible for sexualizing what had hitherto been an austere, male-oriented activity patronized at the most devoted level by the obsessed or the disturbed.”
Arrestingly handsome and Oxford-educated, albeit with a third-class degree, Khan found the doors of the British aristocracy thrown open to him. Mark Shand, the brother of Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall, was among his best friends; he was seen out on the town with Jerry Hall and Goldie Hawn; if his second wife, the television personality Reham Khan, is to be believed, he took part in a threesome with Grace Jones. The man who shunned the label of “playboy”—“I have never considered myself a sex symbol,” he told my mother in 1983—nonetheless left a long line of Khan-quests from Bollywood to Hollywood, with a pit stop in Chelsea, where his flat, with its tented ceilings of gold silk, was one part harem, one part bordello. “He had a lot of women in his life,” my uncle, Yousaf Salahuddin, one of Khan’s best friends and a cultural institution in his own right, told me recently in Lahore, “because he was a very wanted man. In India, I have seen women from the age of just 6 to 60 going crazy over him.” In 1995, at age 43, Khan married Jemima Goldsmith, the daughter of the tycoon Jimmy Goldsmith, who is said to have presciently remarked of his son-in-law, “He’ll make an excellent first husband.” As a teenager, I remember gaping over paparazzi photos of the newly wed couple, including some of them in flagrante on a balcony in Marbella. If the fascination with Khan’s sexual prowess was fetishistic in Britain, it was edged with racial pride in Pakistan. As Mohsin Hamid, the country’s most famous writer, told me in Lahore, “Imran Khan was a symbol of emancipatory virility.”
….Khan, like a real-world version of Stannis Baratheon desperately consulting the Red Woman in Game of Thrones, had begun to see Pinky for “spiritual guidance.” The clairvoyant’s usual fee for making the impossible possible, a senior media figure in Karachi told me on condition of anonymity, was great vats of cooked meat. These, he explained, over a Japanese meal, she fed to the jinns she kept at her disposal.
Then he came to the surreal story that is on the lips of everyone in Pakistan, from senior diplomats and ministers to journalists and entertainers. Although Maneka has dismissed it as mere rumor, the story has attained the status of fable—a supernatural tale that seeks to illuminate a deeper truth. Once Maneka had her prophetic vision, the media veteran told me, no amount of cooked meat would suffice to fulfill Khan’s ambition. The voice in her dream was clear: If Imran Khan was to be prime minister, it was imperative he be married to the right woman—i.e., a member of Maneka’s own family.
In one version of this torrid tale, Maneka offered her sister to Khan. In another, it was her daughter. Either way, Khan demurred. Then Maneka went away to dream again. This time, however, she was no bystander to someone else’s vision. The voice in her head told her that she, Bushra Maneka, a married woman and a mother of five, was the wife Imran Khan needed. What Maneka now wanted from Khan was what every woman had ever wanted from him: She wanted him.
Khan had never set eyes on Maneka, for she consulted her followers from behind a veil. But this time, he acceded to her vision. The stars aligned and Maneka’s husband, a customs official, agreed to give her a divorce, praising Khan as a “disciple of our spiritual family.”
In February 2018, cricketer and clairvoyant were married in a private ceremony. Six months later, Imran Khan was elected prime minister of Pakistan, and Pinky Peerni, a character who would stretch the limits of Salman Rushdie’s imagination, was its first lady.”