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Thursday, July 9, 1998 Published at 01:24 GMT 02:24 UK

World: South Asia

Imran Khan's new game

Imran Khan: "Politics was something that never entered my mind."

After a stunning career in cricket in which he took 300 Test wickets and scored 3000 runs, Imran Khan has given up sport for politics in his native Pakistan.

But his entry into the political arena has been less than spectacular. His Pakistan Movement for Justice party failed miserably in its first poll last year.

And Khan himself has come under fire for supporting Pakistan's nuclear tests.

Nuclear stance

In an interview with the BBC's Hard Talk programme, he said he had decided to support the tests because, he said, India's actions left Pakistan feeling insecure and vulnerable. Pakistan was left with no option but to follow suit, he said.

"The test had to be done to tell India that Pakistan had a bomb, because there was a lot of ambiguity on whether we had the bomb. My party was clear that we had to tell India that we had a deterrent," he said.

The Pakistani tests had left his country feeling more secure because, with their nuclear capability clearly established, the security threat had gone.

[ image: Despite sanctions, Pakistanis supported the tests]
Despite sanctions, Pakistanis supported the tests
The cost of nuclear testing has been high, however. International sanctions have caused Pakistan to tighten its belt.

But despite this, he said, 97% of Pakistan's population approved of the tests.

"Most of us in Pakistan feel that we should not be dependant on development aid. National self-esteem suffers when our leaders have to go begging for money. We have to get our house in order. We have to conduct reforms on our country and stand on our own feet."

The politician

The former cricketer said he decided to enter politics after a personal crusade to raise money for a cancer hospital in Pakistan.

The death of his mother, who died from cancer, made him reassess his life, he said.

The hospital fundraising changed his attitude towards people when he found that those who could least afford it gave most generously.

Imran said Pakistan was "in the grip of political mafias who use politics to further their own self interest".

[ image: An election campaign poster]
An election campaign poster
Despite standing on an anti-corruption platform, his four-month-old party failed in the last election. Next time round would be a different ball game, he said.

He added that the country's future prosperity hinged on radical change, including establishing an independent judiciary, revamping the police, deregulating the economy and cutting bureaucracy.

"We need decentralisation, empowering people at the grass roots," he said.

The cricketer

His early ambitions focused solely on cricket. But he jokes that his cricketing career started as badly as his political life - he fell asleep during his initial first-class match.

While he enjoyed his Oxford education and the county cricket circuit, he soon got bored playing at that level.

[ image: Cricket record is stunning]
Cricket record is stunning
"My ambitions outgrew county cricket. The focus became Test cricket, international cricket, and the ambition was to make Pakistan the top team in world cricket."

With the game came a playboy image with high profile girlfriends at his side. Khan admits to being a cocky 18-year-old, which he says was not helped by his star-treatment.

Playboy turned family man

But peer pressure introduced him into the fast-lane lifestyle.

"I was growing up, a child of the 60s and 70s - I was affected by my environment.

"That is not what gave me happiness. In fact, being a married man and having a son has given me far greater happiness. If I had to lead my life again I would lead it differently because there were far more complications in my life, there was a lot of emptiness in the life I led."

Now his life is committed to politics, and he promises to continue his battles until he sees the change in his country that he wants.

"We believe Pakistan can be a prosperous country. If it can have scientists that develop nuclear bombs then we can develop our own country."

Click here for BBC News online coverage of Asia's nuclear crisis

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