Courtesy of The Telegraph
Pakistan’s World Cup-winning captain, the talismanic Imran Khan, who is a former Member of the National Assembly, spoke to The Telegraph at the Oberoi Trident during his recent visit to Mumbai. Typically, Imran (now 58) spoke with passion right through the 45-minute one-on-one. The following are excerpts
Q There’s upheaval across parts of the Arab world. Your take on the events?
A (Grins) We’re living in interesting times… Some would consider it a curse, but I see it as the biggest blessing from God… Tunisia, Egypt… I’m convinced this wave is going to come to Pakistan as well.
Nothing can stop this wave and we’ll then get to see a genuine democracy in Pakistan, not pseudo-democracy, as it exists. It won’t be a puppet show, with an American puppet sitting on our heads. We’ll be a sovereign country where people will live with dignity and there will be an end to fundamentalism and terrorism.But the fear is that fundamentalists may actually gain in the countries where there’s a cry for change. Aren’t you worried?
No… Fundamentalism and extremism are reactions to political situations, when people are deprived of justice, denied their rights… It’s a reaction to particular circumstances. Fundamentalism arises when a puppet is imposed by America and he tries to bring about pseudo-Westernisation… In the Muslim world, there’s a reaction to pseudo-Westernisation, but the people want the same liberties, the same rights as enjoyed by the Americans. That doesn’t happen when America supports corrupt dictators, supports criminals. Unfortunately, America hasn’t only supported dictators in the Middle East, but all the dictators in Pakistan as well. And, now, America is supporting the biggest criminal — (Asif Ali) Zardari, the President.
Whatever, today, Pakistan comes across as a failed state…
Look, there are highs and lows in the life of a nation… You know, it happens in cricket as well… Look at Australia at this point in time… In the late Seventies and even in the Eighties, whenever I returned to Pakistan from India, it seemed I’d left behind a Third World country and was back in the developed world… Pakistan used to be prosperous, had a good growth rate, one didn’t see poverty… Look at the India of today… It has gone to another level… India has risen, while Pakistan is on the decline. It’s a cycle… Individuals, cricket teams, nations… All could face a crisis… However, I remain confident that things will change in Pakistan. The wave from Tunisia and Egypt will reach Pakistan… A crisis gives you the opportunity to correct yourself.
Fair enough, but what if the course doesn’t change?
Then the nation will fail… If you learn from the bad times — and Pakistanis have done so, realised that they don’t want criminals running their country — then there’s much to look forward to. It’s a simple thing, really… Pakistanis have also realised that they don’t want American puppets running the show, don’t want men who aren’t protecting Pakistan’s interests, but the interests of foreigners.
Where do you stand? There was a time when some suggested you were close to some fundamentalists…
I am a liberal, I’ve always been a liberal, but have complete faith in God. It’s my faith in God which makes me a humane person… A just person, a selfless person… If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have opened a cancer hospital (in Lahore), wouldn’t have set up a university (in Mianwali). Having had everything in life, I could’ve been selfish. Religion brings the best out of a person, brings out his nobleness. I’m not talking only of Islam, every religion makes you compassionate, selfless. If not, then you’re merely doing the rituals without being touched by it… You may wish to ask what’s my aim in Pakistan… I want to see a welfare state, don’t want to see the naked greed reflected by capitalism, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I’ve always been for socio-economic justice, hence my party (Tehreek-e-Insaaf) stands for justice.
You’ve been called names, given labels. Goes with the territory?
I’ve been called a part of the Jewish lobby for the takeover of Pakistan and I’ve even been labelled pro-Taliban… The latter because I opposed the Army’s action in the tribal areas and, today, whatever I said has been proved correct. I’d said that killing our own people with our Army would backfire… That toeing the American line would backfire… I was right… It has resulted in extremism, in polarisation… The polarisation got reflected in Salman Taseer’s assassination. Clearly, the war in Afghanistan has to stop, as also the operations in our tribal areas. If not, this militant extremism, which shouldn’t be confused with fundamentalism, is going to grow. Taliban have been fundamentalists, the al Qaeda militant extremists… In the latter category are the jihadi groups which India keeps talking about… Our own men have turned against the Army and it’s a civil war which is benefiting nobody except the militant extremists. Till it all began, our people in the border areas were neither religious fundamentalists nor militant extremists. So, who has gained? The al Qaeda and the jihadi groups. All such groups put together are only 5 per cent of our tribal population. That must be noted in the context of the insanity of this war… The very elements that the Americans and our Army wants to eliminate are the ones who’re gaining!
What followed governor Taseer’s assassination was, perhaps, more shocking… Maulvis stayed away from his funeral prayers, his killer was showered with rose petals, lawyers lined up to defend him… How did you react?
(Pauses) With sadness… But I’d warned something like that could happen, I’d feared polarisation… The divide today is such that you’re either anti-Islam and pro-America or anti-America and pro-Islam… That’s the reality… You’ve only followed Salman’s killing, but there have been so many instances of imams, who’d called the bombings anti-Islam, murdered in mosques… Mosques have been bombed… The Shias, who’ve opposed the Taliban, have been made a target… The Christians… Anybody perceived to be pro-America has been killed.
The biggest worry…
That the moderates are becoming extremists.
Does Pakistan have a government whose writ runs beyond Islamabad?
We have the most incompetent and corrupt government foisted upon us by the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) which resulted in all the corruption cases being forgotten… The NRO deal was brokered by the (George) Bush administration. The Bush administration considered 170 million Pakistanis to be tissue paper, to use and throw, in its war on terror. Bush didn’t see that a criminal would be sitting as our President and destroying our country… One puppet (General Pervez Musharraf) left and America wanted another puppet in his place… That’s why the NRO deal was brokered, resulting in the most corrupt and inefficient government in Pakistan’s history.
Aren’t you worried about your security?
You can’t be scared of dying, all of us have to go one day… The fear of death should never come in the way of your beliefs and your goals.
Well-wishers have been advising you to be careful…
I have one guard, that’s it… It’s all in God’s hands, that’s the way I see it.
Do you regret not having fought in the last general elections (2008)?
Not all all… You know me, I don’t have regrets… I’d predicted that the last elections wouldn’t usher in democracy and I’ve been vindicated. It has been a disaster… We were forced into elections by the Americans. The elections just weren’t free and fair, the very foundations of democracy… In fact, today, people believe that (General Musharraf’s) dictatorship was better than this so-called democracy.
When will the Tehreek-e-Insaaf become relevant?
Its time has come. Wish me luck… Watch out for us in the next elections.
For Pakistan, what’s the way forward?
A proper democratic set-up. Democracy means accountability and transparency… A military dictatorship can never be a solution for the ills of any country.
Indo-Pak relations are at a low. Your views?
Unfortunately, after 26/11, relations are back to square one… But I’ll say this, you’ve had one 26/11, we have 350 26/11s every year… Have you counted the number of bombings in Pakistan? In my view, India and Pakistan must cooperate with each… It’s in India’s interest that Pakistan is stable… The more unstable Pakistan is, the lesser its control on the non-state actors.
With Pakistani nationals involved, 26/11 remains a very emotional issue…
Well, what about the involvement of Indians in the Samjhauta Express blast which killed over 50-60 Pakistanis? Does it mean we break off relations? Do we say we won’t talk? India and Pakistan have no choice but to talk with each other, to engage with each other.
You’ve been coming to Mumbai for decades. What was your reaction to 26/11?
I was in the very same Taj hotel, for a function, just a week before 26/11… Criminals did what they did on 26/11 and they should be brought to justice. Terrorism has no religion, so let’s not talk of Islamic terrorism or Islamic extremism… Going back to 9/11, Bush should’ve treated the perpetrators as criminals, not Islamic radicals. Then, he wouldn’t have made them into holy warriors. They should’ve been treated only as criminals and the Muslim world asked to help. Instead, Bush created more terrorists, making the world even more unsafe. Over a trillion dollars spent on war, billions of dollars on security, more than a million killed… Look at what the world has come to. Are we any safer? Anything can happen at any time.
How do you rate Barack Obama?
I’ve been disappointed… He shouldn’t have owned up to Bush’s war.
Our Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh…
I like him… I think he’s a very decent man. He doesn’t evoke anger or hatred.
Going back to Tunisia and Egypt, what’s the top lesson to learn?
That the days of puppet dictators are over… That information technology has changed the world… America must not be on the wrong side of history… It shouldn’t back criminals who destroy democracy. America should make an alliance with the people of different countries, not with puppets.
You’re an icon for India’s youth too. Your message to them?
That the prosperity of the subcontinent lies in India and Pakistan living like brotherly neighbours… Don’t fall for politicians who seek votes in the name of hatred… Please don’t allow anybody to prey on your fears… Prosperity will come with peace, not by buying billions of dollars worth of arms every year.
The final one… Thoughts on Julian Assange…
(Laughs) Thoughts? He’s a hero, no question about it… He’s my hero as well.