Imran Khan's political star is on the rise in Pakistan. Just as he did in his two-decade-long cricket career, he is once again dazzling a fractured nation. This time, his aim is not for the bat, but for the ballot box. But will Khan win in a nation that is dominated by feudal politics, corruption, nepotism, old parties and military interference?
Khan's support among Pakistan's king-makers, the media and military intelligence, combined with his high poll ratings, is beginning to yield results in the form of vast numbers of people who attend his rallies. He is filling a political vacuum in a land where there are few leaders. Pakistan: A Personal History is part memoir and part history, but it is mainly his manifesto for creating change in Pakistan.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I met Khan late last year in London, thanks to my friend Jemima Khan, his former wife. He gave me a copy of his book, and we spoke about Sufism and his attraction towards it. Explaining the draw of this gentler, softer Islam of the hearts, he is sincere in person, as he is when he writes about it.
Unlike Cat Stevens, the singer who converted to a more hardline, activist form of Islam, Khan's rediscovery of his more contemplative faith has been steered by a spiritual mentor, Mian Bashir. Khan writes movingly of mystical encounters. He quotes extensively from Sufi philosophers such as Iqbal, and is comfortable within the Sufi tradition. But this quest does not extend to other aspects of Islam.
In the book, Khan adopts popular Pakistani thinking on Islamic politics without applying his critical faculties as well as he does on other areas of his religion and politics. For example, he writes: "Islam is not just a religion to be practised privately by individuals, but a way of life. The Quran lays out clear rules for how a society should be governed, and guidance on how people should behave."