Imran cancels India trip over Rushdie factor
AFP ISLAMABAD PAKISTANI cricketerturned- politician Imran Khan on Wednesday abruptly cancelled a visit to India after it emerged British author Salman Rushdie would speak at the same conference.
Khan was scheduled to attend the India Today Conclave in New Delhi on Friday as a keynote speaker but pulled out, in a move likely to raise further fears among liberals about his brand of politics.
A statement from his party said “he could not even think of participating in any programme that included Salman Rushdie, who has caused immeasurable hurt to Muslims across the globe”.
Organisers announced on Tuesday that Rushdie would speak at the conference, two months after death threats forced him to withdraw from India’s premier literature festival.
Rushdie’s 1988 novel The Satanic Verses is still banned in India and Pakistan for allegedly blaspheming Muslims.
The 64-year-old writer, who was born in Mumbai, spent a decade in hiding after Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for his death over the book. Khan guided his country to a World Cup win in 1992, entered politics after founding his Movement for Justice Party in 1996.
In recent months, he has emerged as a credible political voice in Pakistan, unnerving his opponents by drawing crowds of more than 100,000 to rallies in which he has promised a “good tsunami” against injustice and corruption.
Khan’s popularity comes as Pakistan wilts under attacks linked to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, power cuts, a feeble economy, flood damage, friction between civilian and military leaders and tensions with Washington.
Women and liberals have raised concerns, however, about Khan’s links with right-wing Islamic groups and his call for peace with the Taliban.
“We deeply regret that Imran Khan will not address the India Today Conclave because of Salman Rushdie’s participation. The India Today Conclave is a platform for free and frank exchange of ideas,” India Today Group chairman Aroon Purie in a statement.
“We do not endorse the views of any of our speakers but we do stand for the freedom of expression in all that we do; it’s an essential principle of a free nation and free media,” he said in a statement.
“We wish that Imran had used this opportunity to express his views at the Conclave with all the force and lucidity that he possesses.
We can all agree to disagree but we must present our argument,” it added.
The India Today Conclave is being held March 16-17. Rushdie could not attend the Jaipur literary festival in January this year and his video address was also cancelled after several Islamic groups demanded that he should not be allowed to come to India for hurting religious sentiments of the community in The Satanic Verses .