In politically fractious Pakistan, at a time when uncertainty marks relations between its politicians, armed forces and the judiciary, Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan has enjoyed a groundswell of support of late. He spoke to Pranay Sharma at his farmhouse off Islamabad, an elegant piece of work, hacienda-like in scale, and overlooking the city down below from the heights of Bannigala. Excerpts from this interview appeared in print:
We know Imran the cricketer but not Imran the politician. How does he want to rebuild Pakistan
I want to rebuild the Pakistan it was supposed to be: A model of an Islamic democratic welfare state as perceived by our founding fathers Jinnah and Iqbal. It was to be a state where there was complete freedom of religion, freedom of speech and expression, a democracy that would encourage free debates. Iqbal called it a spiritual or humane democracy. When Jinnah, Iqbal and even Gandhi talked about religion not being separated from politics, they did not mean a theocratic state where other religions would be second class. They meant a society that was humane. A democracy devoid of any spiritual value is where humans behave like intelligent animals, where might is right and survival of the fittest the norm. This is opposed to a humane society which is just and where the poor and the weak are cared for. For someone like me, the first generation that grew up in a free country, we saw the degeneration of the ideals and morality of the society. A moral collapse comes much before the economic collapse and we saw the country going down a track where it has reached its present position.
So it is the state of the country that drew you into politics. When did you realize things were going wrong?
Perhaps in the 1980s because despite the dictatorship of Ayub Khan, the sixties was a period when there was tremendous hope in Pakistan, we had pride and expectations. Then it was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who had two aspects to him—on one hand, he was a nationalist who gave the country self-esteem and seemed to stand up to the West. But on the other, he was quite a megalomaniac who had this desire for power and oppressing opponents. Then in Zia’s time— though he pushed us into this Afghan jihad and a lot of problems that we face today are from that era—the country was growing at a fast rate. The majority felt we are in a good cause in Afghanistan because we were trying to help them in freeing themselves from the Soviet occupation.
Is it still the same now?
No it is not the same feeling we have in this war which is seen by most as the ultimate humiliation for the country where the same people you had prepared to fight the Soviets you are now killing because the present occupiers are giving you money. Your army is killing the person they had prepared and that gives one a sense of contradiction. In Zia’s time it was different but he attempted to change things, but when a dictator tries to make himself a democrat, he has to destroy the system to do that. So a lot of problems we have today go back to Zia’s time. We also saw the first tenures of Benazir and Nawaz Sharif and neither was qualified to be in their positions. Benazir’s only qualification was that she was her father’s daughter.
So you are against family politics?
Benazir had no experience; she did not come through any political struggle. Say for instance Rahul Gandhi—though I am basically against family politics, but at least he has run around and gone through the process. In her case, she went to jail, came out of jail, went abroad and came back to become the Prime Minister.
So you are opposed to a lateral entry?
The whole idea of democracy is that the leadership comes through merit and has to go through a process. That is what propels you. But Benazir’s first job was that of the Prime Minister. Her marriage, unfortunately to Zardari, who used that relation to make money— and she just didn’t stop him. Nawaz Sharif again was totally unqualified. He was completely a product of the army who did not bring him in because he had some great capability but because he was controllable. The army’s great fault in this country is that it always chose politicians that it can control. By definition anyone who is controlled cannot be a leader.
What is the single most important issue that ails Pakistan today and stands between its growth and development?
We have been taken over and hijacked by crooked and most selfish political elite. All the political parties in our country are today run by families, they don’t have democracy in their parties and all of them have made enormous wealth out of politics. Look at their wealth before they came to power and look at them now.
So are we talking about plundering of national resources?
Politics is just a way of amassing wealth. It’s a short cut to make money and as a result similar people have been attracted all of whom want to make money and find politics the most convenient way of doing so. But wherever you have corrupt ruling elite it is always at the expense of the masses. People have gone poor and these tiny elite have gone richer. That’s why you need a revolution.
So what kind of a revolution are we talking about?
A revolution can be peaceful or bloody. People always looked to the army for revolution. Each time a general came he was greeted with open arms by the people. This is also true of Musharraf — everyone thought he will come up with a revolutionary programme and bring political stability to Pakistan after a decade of corruption and lack of governance under Benazir and Nawaz Sharif. But each time there was a military takeover, they tried to treat cancer with Dispirin. For a while it felt good but then the cancer spread and they left behind a much bigger mess than they had taken over.
So are we looking at a revolution in Pakistan and are you leading it?
What you see now is a movement that started as a lawyers’ movement against Musharraf, it was the beginning of our ‘Arab Spring.’ It was the demand for reinstating the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who Musharraf had dismissed. But it was hijacked by Nawaz Sharif, who initially said he will not contest elections but then did a volte- face three times before contesting. The second issue is that of the NRO—something that Condoleezza Rice triumphantly describes in her book and how she got Musharraf and Benazir together by removing the corruption cases against her. But would she do that in her own country, give amnesty to crooks and allow them to contest elections? But they did it here to bring a moderate alliance—basically replacing one puppet with another so that they could do their fighting, killing our own people. But people of Pakistan have now become aware and they demand the same rights that they see elsewhere.
So what happens now?
What you see now is a political tsunami which is basically against the corrupt political elite and wants a change.
Many now see you moving more to the right. Is that correct?
I am someone who has complete faith in God and is a practicing Muslim. Yet, if you talk about my economic policy – I don’t believe in this naked greed in the garb of economic liberalized policy. So economically I am left but I am not an atheist. I consider myself a liberal who believes in complete freedom of religion and freedom of expression. I am a pacifist and don’t believe in war. In Pakistani context if you accept all American policies like a slave you are a liberal, but if you oppose them then you are become a rightist. In the Vietnam era those who opposed the war were considered liberals. But here if you oppose the war on terror, you become a rightist. This is bizarre.
Many in India believe you have been propped up by the army. Is that so?
My relationship or communications with the army is lesser compared to Nawaz Sharif and Zardari. They are much close to the army than I am. I have very little meeting with the army. The idea that the army could get the sort of crowd that we get in our rallies—all of them have been a record. You cannot get the army to bring people out for the rallies.
Looking back do you think it would have been better if you had engaged with Salman Rushdie than staying away from the meet in India?
As a Pakistani politician I engage with everyone because otherwise you risk radicalisation. Bur Rushdie is a different thing altogether which is difficult for non- Muslims to understand. The Prophet (PBUH) and the Quran are very important to the Muslims for the Prophet is the witness to the Quran and the Quran is a way of life for us. So Quran becomes a guide for us on how we conduct our lives. When these symbols are attacked there will be a very strong reaction among the Muslims. So the anger against Rushdie, who came from a Muslim home, was double. You cannot hide under the freedom of expression because he was mocking, making fun of our Holy Prophet. I have read his books; he always comes across as someone who looks at the ugly side of life. His mistake was that he miscalculated the reaction in the Muslim world.
But you could have gone across for the meet and made these points there?
I was not going there (India Today Conclave) because I did not have much time and there was so much happening here. The flights were through Dubai and it was a three and half days' circuit. Then they decided to send a chartered flight for me and that is when I decided to come. But I still did not see the list of speakers and then they sent me the programme and it came the morning when I read in the papers that Salman Rushdie was going there. The moment I saw that I decided that no way was I going to the same Conclave. What he did was wrong and it had such strong repercussions that it caused deaths and it caused a bigger gulf between Muslims and the West. So we hold him responsible and then he went around making money. And the saddest thing is that he became some sort of martyr, some sort of upholder of the freedom of expression. Why is it that someone who causes so much pain to billions of people walks around like a celebrity?
What kind of relations do you think India and Pakistan should have?
I always believed that the two should have the kind of relations that Jinnah had envisaged, like Canada-US relationship. This is what was expected but the sad events of partition and sadly the Kashmir issue became a thorn in our relationship. So knowing the potential of the trade and cooperation on energy—not only the economic benefits but the dividends of peace are so great that it is criminal that we are not able to able to have a civilized relationship after 60 years.
Do you think trade can be an area that can help normalize relations?
I think it can be a simultaneous policy—trade can tie the countries together and then deciding that we have an issue like Kashmir which we need to resolve politically.
Do you think terrorism originating from Pakistan is an issue between the two sides?
I acknowledge that but by not recognizing that as an issue you will have problem here. Pakistan needs to now completely disarm its militant groups which were spawned by the CIA and the ISI during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The time has come where Pakistan cannot afford to have them anymore. They have to be disarmed. But when you disarm them, you will have to bring them into nation building and turn jihad into nation-building.
Do you think Hafiz Saeed is a terrorist?
There are two ways of looking at it—one through the Indian eyes and the other through the Pakistani eyes. In India you consider him a terrorist. But in Pakistan we don’t know whether he is involved in militancy or not. We don’t have any evidence. But we know one side of Jamaat –ud- Dawa—when there was an earthquake and floods, it was the most active humanitarian service that took place. When I visited these areas I found them to be in the forefront of humanitarian work. So you have Hafiz Saeed who heads one of biggest religious charitable organizations. You have another Hafiz Saeed at whom India points a finger for his terrorist activities. How do we deal with him? I think it must be dealt through a court of law. Because if he is a terrorist and you want to create more terrorists, the best way would be to do something extra-judiciary because what the Americans have done is not the way to do it. If something happens to him I guarantee you there will be lot of Hafiz Saeeds following him because he will become a martyr.
But do you think it is worth probing the terror links of those involved in Mumbai terror attacks?
I agree with that 100 per cent because the relationship that we want to build up has to be based on trust and it means serious queries about someone who is involved in terrorism. You have to probe into and you have got to stop it. But remember that it has to be through a judicial process in Pakistan people have a lot of faith in the Supreme Court. It has the people’s power behind it.
What about action against perpetrators of Mumbai terror attack?
I completely agree that whoever was involved should be brought to justice. It was horrendous terrorist act. We watched it live and it across the board people condemned it and all across Pakistan there was the opinion that if there is anyone involved in it he should be brought to justice. It had clearly left a big scar in the Indian psyche and quite rightly so.
What kind of ties should Pakistan have with the US?
It should be the same ties that India has with the US where there is mutual respect. I find Pakistan’s relation with the US to be humiliating. Recently 24 Pakistani soldiers were murdered by the US troops. For 90 minutes multiple messages were sent to them saying these are our soldiers and in all that time they conducted multiple attacks against them. And then they won’t even apologize because it is like they are paying the mercenaries. No matter how much Pakistan has suffered you are still treated like someone who is paid to do a job and is not doing it. I blame the Americans for pushing us in this war which was not really our war. But I really blame our ruling elite—a corrupt, decadent, ruling elite who sold us cheap in this war. We cannot assess the true cost of this—but it has created a situation where a cricket team refuses to come here and investors, who are far more cowards, will not come. The country has got more radicalised than before. You are scared to say anything because you may be targeted for saying something that is quite benign.
Are you going to revisit the relationship?
Completely, we should stop taking any aid and make that into a policy. That will force us to put our house in order because we have lived beyond our means because of aid. We have seen our rulers live the life of a Mughal Emperor. So aid has been a curse for us and that is what we need to stop.
It seems Imran Khan (‘This is a Political Tsunami...’, Apr 30) wants to have his cake and eat it too. He’s now a career politician craving after power. How can he be truthful, reasonable or logical in matters related to India and Pakistan?
G.N. Rao, Hyderabad
What distinguishes Imran from others is that he is not focusing on trade alone...it can’t be the only way to keep the two countries connected.
Muhammad Ahmad, Aligarh
Someone must let Imran know that Rahul Gandhi is aiming to become PM straightaway and not putting himself through the paces as he supposes.
R. Ram, Reunion Island
Those out of power tend to make statements reflecting a practical and wise approach, but change once they get power. I hope Imran, sportsman that he is, stays committed to what he says.
Lt Col S.P. Karir, on e-mail
I am impressed with what Imran says. But even if he means it 100 per cent, will circumstances in Pakistan allow him to put it into practice?
H. Brahmbhatt, San Diego
Actually, I did read it and I was impressed.
Even if he was being 100% honest in his words, it is hard to say real-politik of Pakistan will let him do what he desires (just like same on Indian side). On the other hand, power has a way of corrupting people so it is also hard to say if he would sing a different tune once in power.
But, regardless of how he approaches relations with India, Pakistan is in dire need of new leadership that avoids the extremes (Turkish-style military imposed secularism or Zia-style again military-imposed fundamentalism). If he can create a space for true Pakistani democracy and find some room to breathe for people of Pakistan, he would have achieved a lot.
I sure hope with age and experience he has developed a world-view that he can comfortably stick to and if that is the view he is honestly expressing in this interview than Pakistan has something look forward to.
Yasser >> TV news channels leave much to be desired. Almost as bad as fox news
Watch Lok Sabha TV. Parts of it are good.
The comments on this forum are idiotic. Did anyone bother to read the interview? Imran condemned the Bombay attacks. He wants a welfare state with a complete freedom of religion. He also mentioned that the issue of militancy needs to be tackled but it has to be done tactfully. Declaring outright war on the militants is going to destroy the country. Who in India dares to take on fascists like Bal Thackeray or Narendra Modi. Problems in India and Pakistan and with each other do not exist in a vacum. There is a long and complicated history there and these issues need to solved now than to keep leaving them for future generations. I have been following the Indian media for a while now. While the publications such as Outlook and Tehelka are excellent, the TV news channels leave much to be desired. Almost as bad as fox news which in my opinion makes the public poorly informed.
Imran says that Rahul Gandhi has run around the process only to compare and say that Benazir became sirectly the PM! RG ran around what? Let Imran know that RG too is aspiring to straight become the PM!
As a cricketer, he was one of the top class of his time; as a cricket commentator he analysis are based on his practical experiences and therefore interesting! But the way he answers one way to the foreign press and the other way to the local media, he does not inspire any confidence! He and his statements are like a knife that cut on both the sides!
His lie to have never met with Salman Rusdie while he did meet with him further downgrades him in the esteem of the people! His political inexperience reveals itself when he takes his country's army in a lighter vein!
Imran is pak army's stooge. pml's army faction is gravitating towards him and he is spouting army line on saeed, us and taliban. his rallies are attended by army supporters and taliban supporters. he is bad news for India.
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