ISLAMABAD: When he was captain of Pakistan’s cricket team, Imran Khan would always pick his playing XI, irrespective of what the selection committee had recommended. But in politics, he is both the captain as well as the selector. So one wonders what possible final XI he has in his mind.
Imran knows this is not cricket and he has to pick the best team for Pakistan to run the country, and to prove his opponents wrong about his inability to lead the country. It may not be his 'dream team' but he has to pick the best among the available lot.
Khan, throughout his cricketing and political career, remained an aggressive fast bowler and captain. So, his final team would mostly comprise of people whom he considers 'fighters'.
His best team at present comprises of Asad Umar, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Shafqat Mahmood, Dr Shireen Mazari, Fawad Chaudhry, Murad Saeed, Dr Arif Alvi, Faisal Javed and Sheikh Rasheed, besides possible nominees from the PML-Q, Balochistan Awami Party and the MQM-Pakistan.
Imran will also have to pick the best team for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the most important province, politically — Punjab.
He has, reportedly, Pervez Khattak, Dr Yasmeen Rashid, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and Aleem Khan in mind for the provincial slots. And those who do not get accommodated in the province get a place in the centre.
He also has a good reserve team which includes Shibli Faraz, Shehryar Afridi, Ali Mohammad Khan, Ali Asghar, Ali Zaidi, Faisal Vawda, Atif Khan, Asad Qaiser and Zainab Abbas. He can also pick one or two from this lot.
However, Khan seems to be missing one of his party's founding members, Hamid Khan, author of the PTI's Constitution, who was the party’s candidate in 2013 from Lahore but has now distanced himself amid differences with Imran's trusted aide — Jahangir Tareen.
As a cricketer, he always believed that Pakistan’s 1987 World Cup team was better than the one in 1992. Yet, they won the cup in '92 with a much weaker team. Similarly, he had a much cleaner team (without too many electables) in the 2013 elections but he only won the 'Political World Cup' in 2018.
The challenge ahead for the PTI chief is to pick the right team to run the country under his leadership with players who possess integrity, honesty and ability. It will not be easy and requires a leadership quality, which the PTI chief has already proved he possesses by bringing his party to its present position.
In the next five years, he would be facing stiff opposition from much more experienced players and a team like the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party, which under the umbrella of a ‘grand opposition alliance’ have also geared up to counter the prime minister-in waiting and his playing XI.
As it often happens in cricket that before a crucial match your best player is declared 'unfit' due to a self-inflicted injury, Imran Khan’s dream team suffered the same fate when months before the July 25 election, his most-trusted player, Tareen, was disqualified by the Supreme Court after he was declared not ‘honest’ and ‘truthful’.
Imran always wanted Tareen as his vice-captain but after the setback, is using him as a 'non-playing' captain. However, he will do his utmost to bring him back in the playing eleven, provided he gets relief from the Supreme Court in his review petition.
Tareen continued to enjoy Imran’s confidence and that is why he has been assigned the special task of making his team and a strong government. He has already delivered and brought over a dozen independent candidates into the PTI fold, and also succeeded in getting the support of other parties which may have less seats but could be decisive in the numbers game to reach a simple majority in the National Assembly.
Two other non-playing members of his team include his old buddy and the only member of PTI's founding team, Naeemul Haque, who would like to continue as his spokesman, and Awn Choudhry, who has remained as his closest associate for long.
There could be few surprises in the final playing XI as well, but his likely team will include Shah Mahmood as the vice-captain, Asad Umar as opening batsman, Fawad Chaudhry and Murad Saeed (whom Imran always praised) as hitters, Dr Arif Alvi in the middle order — though he may be facing competition from Ali Zaidi, as the two belong to the same city.
Imran Khan’s two most-trusted players include former KP chief minister Khattak and Lahore’s Aleem Khan. The two are strong candidates for the top slots of KP and Punjab governments, respectively. Khan wanted to include Khattak in his national team as the federal interior minister but the KP politician wanted to retain his position as the chief minister against the other best choice for the job — Atif Khan.
As in Tareen’s case, Imran’s dilemma in picking Aleem Khan as the Punjab chief minister is the controversy around his name and the already mixed reaction from mainstream media about the choice. Except one of Imran's favourite columnists, Hasan Nisar, most of the other anchors and opinion-makers, who by and large supported Imran in the last few years, have opposed Aleem's nomination on the ground that his selection would be contradictory to Imran's own vision of 'Naya Pakistan'.
Dr Rashid, who could have been Khan's automatic choice for health minister, lost the NA race but tops the list on reserved seats in the provincial assembly. She has been in Imran's dream team since long.
Murad has always been regarded as someone with true potential by Imran.
I was present in a PTI convention in Islamabad where Imran singled out Murad as someone who really impressed him a lot. I looked to my old colleague, Shaukat Yosufzai, once a journalist in Peshawar, and said in a lighter mood, “Murad aagay nikal gaya tu ghar ja”. (Murad is ahead of you, time to go home).
Imran also introduced some new faces in the PTI, including some bright women. Three of them must be regretting their recent decisions —Fauzia Kasuri, Naz Baloch and Ayesha Gulalai. While injustice has been done in the case of Kasuri, the other two perhaps became victims of their own mistakes.
How his team will perform during his five-year tenure would be a real test for the captain and the players. But, as a former captain and member of the 1992 World Cup team said about Imran's confidence: "When everyone was down and unsure when Pakistan would be in the final, he came to us and said, 'we will win the World Cup'”.
However, the present game is not a one day final as Imran has five years to perform during his tenure and it is good that the governments now complete their terms in office. There will be no excuse if he cannot deliver and there will be no room for the opposition if he performs well.
At the age of 65, Imran not only needs to perform well but also start considering the future leadership in the party and think about his successor, which will not be an easy task.