Pankaj Mishra in The New York Times:
On a cool evening in March, Imran Khan, followed by his dogs, walked around the extensive lawns of his estate, sniffling with an incipient cold. “My ex-wife, Jemima, designed the house — it is really paradise for me,” Khan said of the villa, which sprawls on a ridge overlooking Himalayan foothills and Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. “My greatest regret is that she is not here to enjoy it,” he added, unexpectedly poignantly. We walked through the living room and then sat in his dimly lighted bedroom, the voices of servants echoing in the empty house, the mournful azans drifting up from multiple mosques in the city below. Khan, once Pakistan’s greatest sportsman and now its most popular politician since Benazir Bhutto, exuded an Olympian solitude that evening; it had been a long day, he explained, of meetings with his party’s senior leaders. The previous two months, he said, had been the most difficult in his life. His party was expanding amazingly fast and attracting “electables” — experienced men from the governing and main opposition parties. But the young people who constituted his base wanted change; they did not want to see old political faces. “I was being pulled apart in different directions,” Khan said. “I thought I was going mad.” Khan’s granitic handsomeness, which first glamorized international cricket and has sustained the British media’s long fascination with his public and private lives, is now, as he nears 60, a bit craggy. There are lines and dark patches around his eyes. The stylishly barbered hair, thinning at the top, is flecked with gray, and his unmodulated baritone, ubiquitous across Pakistan’s TV channels, can sound irritably didactic. “The public contact is never easy for me,” he said. “I am basically a private person.” The moment of melancholy confession passed. Leaning forward in the dark, his hands chopping the air for emphasis, Khan unleashed a flood of strong, often angrily righteous, opinions about secularism, Islam, women’s rights and Salman Rushdie.
That month he had canceled his participation at a conference in New Delhi where Rushdie was expected, citing the offense caused by “The Satanic Verses” to Muslims worldwide. Rushdie, in turn, suggested Khan was a “dictator in waiting,” comparing his looks with those of Libya’s former dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. “What is he talking about? What is he talking about?” Khan started, “I always hated his writing. He always sees the ugly side of things. He is — what is the word Jews use? — a ‘self-hating’ Muslim. “Why can’t the West understand? When I first went to England, I was shocked to see the depiction of Christianity in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian.’ This is their way. But for us Muslims, the holy Koran and the prophet, peace be upon him, are sacred. Why can’t the West accept that we have different ways of looking at our religions? “Anyway,” Khan said in a calmer voice, “I am called an Islamic fundamentalist by Rushdie. My critics in Pakistan say I am a Zionist agent. I must be doing something right.”