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Political Rivals Sling Mud At Imran Khan's Marriage Plans

Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, addresses the media after the Supreme Court dismissed a petition to disqualify him from parliament for not declaring assets on December 15.
Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, addresses the media after the Supreme Court dismissed a petition to disqualify him from parliament for not declaring assets on December 15.

As general elections loom in Pakistan, the leader of the country's second-largest party has love on his mind -- and his political rivals are using his googly eyes against him.

Cricketer turned politician Imran Khan, a contender to be prime minister depending on the election alliances that form after the July vote, recently announced that he had proposed marriage to his spiritual adviser and was awaiting her response.

Khan, 65, asked supporters and well-wishers in a January 9 tweet to pray that he "find personal happiness."

Among his critics and rivals, however, the news was not met with joy for Khan and his recently divorced would-be fiancee, Bushra Maneka.

Khan's critics took the opportunity to sling mud, questioning the appropriateness of his proposal and suggesting he was a homewrecker.

The most vocal and harsh criticism came from senior members of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) Party (PML-N), the archrival of Khan's Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

"The way [Khan] behaves, no one would even keep him as a security guard, let alone elect him as the prime minister of Pakistan," Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah was quoted as saying by Pakistani media.

"The courts should question his piety and trustworthiness," Sanaullah said. "He is trying to persuade a pious lady and I request the nation to hold him accountable for his actions."

PML-N Senator Pervaiz Rasheed warned that "the controversies Mr. Khan is creating with his marriages will badly affect his party."

"It is against our cultural values. Mr. Khan's credibility is shattered. The way Mr. Khan separated a settled family is disgusting," Rasheed claimed, alleging that Khan played a role in Maneka's recent divorce.

Unmatched 'Spirituality'

Maneka, 50, and her former husband Khawar Farid Maneka, a customs officer, divorced some three months ago after 30 years of marriage. The couple have five children together.

Khan insists his working relationship with Maneka had nothing to do with her divorce. He publicly said he has not even seen Maneka's face, as she was behind a veil when Khan visited Maneka at her family home in Punjab's Pakpattan district to seek spiritual healing.

"I met Bushra almost two years ago. I will like to reiterate that every time I met her, with family and alone, she has been in purdah," Khan said in a television interview on January 11.

"My interest in her lies in the fact that I have not seen or met anyone with her level of spirituality," he explained.

In a series of tweets on January 9, Khan accused PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif of leading a "vicious, gutter media campaign" aimed at tarnishing his reputation.

Pakistani media initially reported that Khan had married Maneka in a religious ceremony on January 1.

PTI dismissed the marriage reports and eventually issued a statement saying that "if and when" Khan's marriage proposal is accepted by Maneka, he would announce it publicly.

Surprising Support

Surprise backing for Khan came from Maneka's former husband, who told Geo News TV that the PTI leader was not responsible for their divorce.

Khawar Maneka praised his ex-wife as a most pious woman and called Khan the noblest person he had ever met.

Khan has always considered the Maneka household his spiritual home, he added.

In a separate video, one of Maneka's sons confirmed that his parents had separated, but rejected rumors that his mother remarried.

Pakistanis are familiar with Khan making headlines. Khan became the cricket-mad nation's darling in the 1992 when he led Pakistan's team to a World Cup triumph, with a victory over England in the final. Khan's fans still affectionately call him Captain.

Khan was previously married to British heiress Jemima Goldsmith and then to television journalist Reham Khan. He founded centrist political party PTI in 1996.

As Khan awaits Maneka's answer to his marriage proposal, many Pakistanis have taken to social media to voice their opinion on his marriage plans.

#BushraManeka and #ImranKhanMarriage are already trending on Twitter, with social media users sharing opinions, facts, and gossip.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.