The latest detention and questioning of Imran Khan by U.S. authorities in Toronto has earned the Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician further popularity at home and throughout the world, but his eventual fundraising tour in America versus his staunch opposition to U.S. drone strikes are seen by critics as signs of hypocrisy.
Khan is, according to opinion polls, the most popular Pakistani politician nowadays who may become Pakistan’s prime minister. He has built his popularity partially on his anti-American stances, or more precisely on his fervent opposition to U.S. drone strikes.
Last Saturday, he was briefly detained and questioned by U.S. immigration authorities before he boarded a flight from Toronto to New York to attend a fundraising event.
He tweeted that he was “interrogated on views on drones,” adding, “My stance is known. Drone attacks must stop.” Moments later, he tweeted, “Missed flight and sad to miss the fundraising lunch in NY, but nothing will change my stance.”
For critics, it may sound absurd to see Khan vehemently opposing America, yet going there for lunch and for the money.
Addressing his fundraising tour in the United States, Asif Khawaja, a member of the National Assembly from Sialkot in north-east of the Punjab province and a close lieutenant of Nawaz Sharif for years, stated that for “a leader who promises to bring fundamental change in our political /economic /social system, this is a huge contradiction.”
“He professes change but his actions do not match his claims, his dream team has defended and strengthened status quo for last three decades. His fundraising for PTI & SKMT from the same platform raises serious transparency issues,” Assif added.
He explained that the fundraising team for Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and his Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust (SKMT) is “almost the same” as “most of them are office bearers in both organizations.”
“His politics and his association with SKMT are raising questions of financial propriety and ethics ... One cannot lead in politics with such a glaring paradox,” Assif stated.
“His apparent opposition to drones and NATO supplies through Pakistan vs. fundraisers for PTI & SKMT in America are too hypocritical even for decadent Pakistani politics he claims to change,” he added.
But Khan’s visit to the United States is most likely seen in the context of paradox and hypocrisy only by two rival parties in general and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League in particular, according to Naveed Ahmad, a Pakistani journalist, academic and a co-founder of Silent Heroes, Invisible Bridges, an Istanbul-based digital media source.
“To my understanding, Khan is pursuing a policy of mutual co-existence and friendship-at-parity with the United States and other NATO nations,” Ahmed said, adding that Khan “is clearly anti-America, thus he has not even spoken openly against Bashar al-Assad.”
In what Khan’s critics’ may strongly describe as another sign of hypocrisy, Ahmed told Al Arabiya English that the PTI chairman “is convinced that the Alawite leader is massacring his own people in broad day light. In private, he calls Bashar a killer.”
But the past of the former cricketer is probably more critical to the rising of Pakistan’s “new star” than his present might be.
“Imran Khan's past as a cricketer and then a philanthropist which culminated into his role as a politician over a decade ago remains untainted from any kind of wrongdoing or corruption, except that he initially supported Pervez Musharraf but soon became the most bitter critic,” Ahmed said.
“I would say rise of Imran Khan as a politician can be termed as Pakistani version of Arab Spring,” Ahmed added. “His stance on drone attacks and his simultaneous engagement with the Pakistanis there, American media and politicians is pragmatic and not hypocritical,” he explained.