ISLAMABAD: Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan on Wednesday abruptly cancelled a visit to India after it emerged British author Salman Rushdie would speak at the same conference.
Khan was scheduled to attend the India Today Conclave in New Delhi on Friday as a keynote speaker but pulled out, in a move likely to raise further fears among liberals about his brand of politics.
A statement from his party said “he could not even think of participating in any programme that included Salman Rushdie, who has caused immeasurable hurt to Muslims across the globe”.
Organisers announced on Tuesday that Rushdie would speak at the conference, two months after death threats forced him to withdraw from India's premier literature festival.
Rushdie's 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” is still banned in India and Pakistan for allegedly blaspheming Muslims.
The 64-year-old writer, who was born in Mumbai, spent a decade in hiding after Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for his death over the book.
Khan guided his country to a World Cup win in 1992, entered politics after founding his Movement for Justice Party in 1996.
In recent months, he has emerged as a credible political voice in Pakistan, unnerving his opponents by drawing crowds of more than 100,000 to rallies in which he has promised a “good tsunami” against injustice and corruption.
Women and liberals have raised concerns, however, about Khan's links with right-wing Islamic groups and his call for peace with the Taliban.