Cricket in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka is a lot more than just a game. Not only has it brought fame and fortune to many players, at times it has even provided them with enough clout and influence to declare themselves as candidates for political positions, or lent considerable weight to a political party or a cause of their choosing.
In this piece, we’ll briefly look at the phenomenon in Pakistan.
__________________________________Last year former Pakistan cricket captain and stylish batsman, Aamir Sohail, announced that he was joining the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
This is the first time that the moderate right-wing party has attracted the attention of a known cricketer.
But Sohail is not the first Pakistani cricketer who has decided to take a plunge into politics.
Another former cricket captain, Imran Khan, is the most well known name in this respect, now heading his own centre-right party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).
Though Khan was never before part of any other party, in the 1980s he was said to be close to the ‘Islamist’ Pakistani military dictator, Ziaul Haq. But the relationship was not political. And anyway, throughout his cricketing career Imran’s lifestyle was wholly modern and secular.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that Imran began alluding to political issues.
For example, in 1988-89 when an anti-India insurgency erupted in Kashmir, Imran (who was captain of the Pakistan team at the time), said that the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan should be decided on the cricket field!
In another statement at the time he felt that Pakistan and India should co-exist just as the United States and Canada do: Neighbours with separate and sovereign entities but with strong economic, political and cultural ties.
When Imran decided to retire from the game in 1987, it was left to Zia to coax him back into the game that he then continued to play till 1992.
Khan maintained that cricket teams in Pakistan and the cricket board were infected with all kinds of intrigues and that a Pakistani captain had to run the show like a firm and shrewd politician.
He was invited to join the PML-N by Nawaz in 1992, but he politely declined saying he wanted to concentrate on building a cancer hospital in Lahore.
After completing the hospital, he put in a brief stint as a TV commentator during Pakistan’s 1993 tour of the West Indies.
This was also the time that he experienced a ‘spiritual awakening’ and decided to enter politics.
On the advice of former ISI chief and one of late Ziaul Haq’s closest aides, Hamid Gul, Khan formed the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) to challenge the country’s two leading parties, the left-liberal Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and the moderate right-wing PML-N, accusing both of being corrupt.
He had a falling out with Gul when he married a British national, Jemima Goldsmith, and his party lost badly in the 1997 election.
Till his recent rise as a potential ‘third force’, Khan’s politics have continued to relay contradictory signals.
He’s put up a staunch anti-West/anti-American front and was largely mentored by the chief of the fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami (JI), late Qazi Hussain Ahmed; but at the same time, Khan has demonstrated that his party has overwhelmingly liberal views on various social issues.