Imran Khan‘s journey from cricketer to politician is finally complete, with the former captain and 1992 World Cup winner sworn in today, as the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan. In an inauguration ceremony that saw dignitaries from several walks of life, cricketers featured heavily. Among those were several members of Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup winning squad, including Wasim Akram, Mushtaq Ahmed and Inzamam-ul-Haq – now chief selector of the Pakistan cricket team. Former India batsman Navjot Sidhu was also present, the only foreign cricketer to attend the ceremony.
The oath of the Prime Minister was delivered by Pakistan president Mamnoon Hussain to a visibly emotional and slightly nervous Imran, who promised to: “Discharge my duties and perform my functions honestly, to the best of my ability… and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of Pakistan.”
That Imran would become prime minister was only formally confirmed on Friday after the former allrounder won a parliamentary vote. But following the success of his party – The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice) – in elections across the country last month, his rise to the top political job had been a foregone conclusion for a few weeks. Eventually, he beat the rival candidate, Shehbaz Sharif, by 176 votes to 96.
The inauguration ceremony might have had a few more cricketers from India had Imran decided to stick to its original blueprint. Initially, he had grand plans for the event, wanting it to be a celebration that extended beyond the political nature of the occasion, and hoped to invite a number of his cricketing contemporaries from India. Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar were among those. However, Imran backtracked later, opting for a more “austere” ceremony. Sidhu, who had called Imran a “pure soul who led from the front” after the elections, was present though.
Imran’s dovish remarks about India since winning the election may have given long-suffering fans on both sides of the border hope that cricketing ties between the two countries could resume. Political tensions have meant India and Pakistan haven’t played any bilateral cricket since Pakistan toured India in 2012 for two T20Is and three ODIs, while the last time they played a Test match was back in 2007. Indeed, it wasn’t hard to notice the extension of the recent warmth spilling over into today’s ceremony, with Sidhu and Pakistan’s army chief sharing a gentle embrace following friendly conversation between the two. Pakistan and India’s next fixture is mere weeks away – a group stage tie at the Asia Cup in the UAE in September.
Since retiring from cricket after winning the World Cup in 1992, Imran increasingly turned his attention to politics. He formed his own political party in 1996, but it wasn’t until 15 years later in 2011 that he emerged as a serious political force. His party was one of the main opposition forces after the 2013 elections, when Nawaz Sharif became prime minister.
Now, with Imran’s rise to the job he had eyed for over two decades, there could be significant changes afoot in Pakistan, particularly as far as cricket is concerned. He has a famously poor relationship with the current chairman of the PCB, Najam Sethi, whom he has repeatedly accused over the years of helping Nawaz Sharif unjustly win the elections in 2013. With the prime minister allowed – according to the PCB constitution – to change the PCB chairman if he so desires, Sethi’s days at the helm of the PCB could be numbered.