Two years following his removal through a vote of no-confidence, former Prime Minister Imran Khan continues to exert significant influence on Pakistan’s political landscape. Despite being ineligible to participate in the upcoming general election on February 8, the 71-year-old remains a formidable figure, polarizing the nation of 240 million people. Some view him as an anti-establishment hero, while others criticize him as power-hungry and corrupt.
Initially gaining international prominence as a cricket star, Imran Khan transitioned from his playboy image to a decade-long marriage with billionaire heiress Jemima Goldsmith. His political career took off with promises of combating corruption and revitalizing the economy, leading to his election as Prime Minister in July 2018. However, just four years into his term, he became the first prime minister in Pakistan’s history to be ousted through a vote of no-confidence.
Facing over 170 legal cases, including corruption and terrorism charges, Imran Khan contends that these accusations are politically motivated to prevent his electoral participation. Despite the legal challenges, he maintains considerable support, evident in widespread protests following his removal from power and subsequent arrests.
Imran Khan’s downfall intensified political turmoil in Pakistan, impacting its already fragile economy. Legal battles and jail sentences, including a three-year term and a 14-year sentence for illegally profiting from state gifts, have hindered his political aspirations. The Supreme Court’s decision to strip his party of its symbol further compounded his challenges.
Initially hailed as a “change” candidate during the 2011 general election, Imran Khan’s popularity waned due to economic mismanagement, inflation, and mounting debt. His tenure saw a $6 billion IMF bailout in 2019. By March 2022, defections eroded his parliamentary majority, leading to a successful vote of no-confidence in April.
Imran Khan attributed his ousting to a foreign conspiracy related to his policies on Afghanistan, Russia, and China. Subsequent charges under Pakistan’s official secrets act, known as the cipher case, resulted in a 10-year jail sentence just a week before the 2024 election.
Critics argue that Imran Khan lost support from the military, a dominant force in Pakistani politics. Accusations of sidelining opponents and clashes with the military undermined his position. Despite facing adversity, Imran Khan, born in 1952, remains a prominent figure with a significant impact on Pakistan’s political landscape.
His journey from a cricket legend to a philanthropist, highlighted by his marriage to Jemima Goldsmith, has been marked by political highs and lows. Imran Khan’s complex legacy includes achievements such as Pakistan’s successful COVID-19 response and advancements in poverty alleviation, contrasted by criticisms of rising Islamist militancy and strained relations with India. As opponents strive to keep him out of the upcoming ballot, the future of Imran Khan’s political career remains uncertain, with some speculating that adversity may bolster his popularity among certain segments of the electorate.