Imran Khan was one of the greatest cricketers of the 20th century.
Then in 1996 he went into politics in his native Pakistan.
Since then Khan struggled to build up a base.
Finally last year he started to gain some real traction, with his outspoken condemnation of the United States’ war in neighboring Afghanistan, and U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Khan hopes to win power in elections due in the next 6 months, and most observers had expected him to at least gain a substantial block of seats in parliament.
That crime has sparked a wave of criticism across Pakistan, and disgust with the Taliban.
Imran Khan went to her bedside in a Peshawar hospital the next day.
But at a press conference afterward, the former cricket superstar said something extraordinary.
Khan condemned her attempted murder, but he refused to pin the blame on the Taliban, even though the Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility.
And he said the people who are fighting in Afghanistan against foreign occupation are fighting a jihad.
In other words, the Taliban are fighting a holy war justified by Islamic law.
The Afghan Taliban is separate from the Pakistani Taliban, but they are allied.
“One of his nicknames is ‘Taliban Khan’,” says Jon Boone, Pakistan correspondent for the British paper, The Guardian.
“People say he’s too soft on the Taliban,” Boone says, “too willing to make excuses for them.”
“We’re waiting to see whether this public reaction to the attempted killing of Malala Yousufzai is a flash in the pan,” says Boone. “If it sticks,” he adds, then this openness to the Taliban “just won’t wash.”
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Marco Werman: All mainstream politicians in Pakistan have condemned the Taliban shooting of Malala Yousufzai. Imran Khan, the head of one opposition party went to her bedside last week in Peshawar. But at a press conference afterward, the former cricket superstar said something extraordinary.
Imran Khan: [speaking Urdu]
Werman: Khan said the people who are fighting in Afghanistan against foreign occupation are fighting a jihad, in other words, the Taliban are fighting a holy war justified by Islamic law. Jon Boone is Pakistan correspondent for the British paper The Guardian. He’s in Islamabad. Now, the Afghan Taliban, Jon, is separate from the Pakistani Taliban, but they are allied. So why would Imran Khan say something so inflammatory immediately after visiting with Malala Yousufzai?
Jon Boone: Well many analysts and some media observers here would say that Imran Khan has a rather conflicted view of the militancy problem in Pakistan. One of his nicknames is Taliban Khan because people say he’s sort of too soft on the Taliban as a phenomenon, too unwilling to really condemn them and too willing to sort of make excuses for them. So almost his critics would say to apologize for them by saying really these people are a reaction to what he calls America’s War in Afghanistan, and in particular to the issue of drones, which are used as you know, in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
Werman: So clear something up for us. Is Imran Khan pro Taliban, or just a confused politician or simply seeking publicity?
Boone: Well, I suppose his various critics would say all three. I mean he has developed this populist argument about the problems that Pakistan face, which is really blaming it all on outsiders, blaming it on the United States and that has real traction. It’s one of the central planks of his intellectual campaign and that’s basically talking tough on anti-corruption. But again, his many critics would say you know, you just can’t have it both ways. You can’t make comparisons with you know, the murdering of, the attempted murder of a 14-year-old schoolgirl and compare that with drone strikes inside Pakistan or the war in Afghanistan. His critics say you know, you need to condemn both.
Werman: And given the surge of sympathy for Malala in the past few days, Imran Khan’s comments seem politically courageous or maybe foolish.
Boone: Well, again, I think we’re still waiting to see whether this public reaction to the attempted killing of Malala Yousufzai is a flash in the pan or whether it’s something more significant. I mean if this sticks and there’s a real shift in public opinion, then I think Imran is in a difficult position. And many analysts and commentators are already you know, suggesting that he’s trying to kind of tack a little bit and to try and soften his line, but if this really is as I say, a permanent shift in Pakistani popular opinion, then this sort of language just won’t wash.
Werman: Jon Boone, Pakistan correspondent for the British newspaper The Guardian, thank you very much.
Boone: Thank you.
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