Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan is batting to strike out two major â€œconventionalâ€ political parties — the leftist Pakistan Peopleâ€™s Party and the conservative Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz — simultaneously. He talks about eradicating corruption, handling the grievances of the Baloch and the tribal areas, â€œfriendlinessâ€ as the ultimate foreign policy, and his plans to combat four of Pakistanâ€™s biggest â€œemergenciesâ€ in 90 days, should his party, Tehreek-e Insaf, win Pakistanâ€™s general elections planned for 2013.
Massive public turnout at his rallies — what he calls a â€œtsunamiâ€ of support — has inspired self-doubt among other politicians who claim to have captured the hearts of Pakistani people. But Khanâ€™s critics are unforgiving; some call his approach radical, and others believe he is backed by the establishment, although Khan dismisses such claims. Kiran Nazish talked with Khan about his meteoric rise and his plans to achieve what he calls â€œthe New Pakistan.â€
Kiran Nazish: You have been talking a lot about leading a civil disobedience movement, but it hasnâ€™t happened yet. Will it happen at all?
Imran Khan: We have thought many times [that we might] go for it, but we have been reluctant to initiate because we do not want to exaggerate the chaos that has already shaken Pakistan. There was a point when we used to discuss amongst ourselves, that we should really commence the movement, but we refrained because we knew that it would only worsen the situation for the common man. However, if we do see the state of governance in the current regime getting out of hand, we would have no other choice but to go for it.
If the current government does anything unconstitutional, my party will boycott that and protest that. I am and will stand against anybody who goes against the judiciary or does not respect the judiciary. Anyone includes everyone. These few thieves [the politicians] have looted billions from the poor nation, and to save their own wealth they are now after the only sovereign institution [the Supreme Court].
KN: You keep calling the current government corrupt, making aggressive statements regarding the government-Supreme Court rift. But this government got elected democratically. Isnâ€™t that like saying you are against the peopleâ€™s choice?
IK: If you read Condoleezza Riceâ€™s books, she has exhaustively explained how the U.S. worked with Benazir Bhutto and General [Pervez] Musharraf to form their own type of puppet government. Now this government is responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians and soldiers who have been killed in [the war on terror].
With the extent of corruption that this government has been indulging in, it was inevitable that they had this clash with the Supreme Court. The day the Supreme Court had called the NRO [National Reconciliation Ordinance] government unconstitutional, it was decided right then that this government couldnâ€™t have survived a good relation with [the Supreme Court]. Sadly, we have had no genuine opposition in this country. [There might have been] an opposition within parliamentary members who could have stood up and questioned the government, but that did not happen. The government did not resign, and everyone else was busy trying to save democracy — while of course the government was trying to save their corruption.
The Supreme Court of any state [is the institution that should have] the highest reliance and authority. Such an institution in a democratic state has no [ground for] military intervention and has the highest power to launch a control system for the corrupt actions, or a corrupt state. If and when any other democratic institution fails to perform, the Supreme Court can control them and make them accountable. No one can challenge the Supreme Court. Our government, on the other hand, is a corrupt government. I reject calling it a democratic state, it having laid its foundations on the basis of a corrupt engagement called the NRO.
KN: So how do you plan to protect the Supreme Court?
IK: Now the Supreme Court is openly attacked and insulted, which I hope you agree is not a democratic act. Should we let the corrupt government spoil the first independent chief justice in the Supreme Court? I donâ€™t think so. We will decide in our party central executive committee meeting soon when we will draft a plan and later present it. This presentation will have guidelines on how to protect the system and the judiciary from an imposed failure.
KN: How do you think this idea of civil disobedience can save democracy?
IK: There is just one thing that I suggest, a singular solution, which is something the Supreme Court has also suggested. And that is: go to the people — which means, we should have free and fair elections, and let the people decide their true, democratic leader.
KN: What would you say about the â€œMemogateâ€ crisis?
IK: If at any point the government fears military takeover, it should act with maturity not impunity. A democratic government needs to go to the people, not to outsiders. This happened twice in our country. In 1999, according to [counterterrorism expert and former CIA analyst] Bruce Riedel, [former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz] Sharif went to him and asked him to save him from the military. And now we have this memogate [with Adm. Mike Mullen and former Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani].
A democratic government should never fear, and needs to take responsibility. I take responsibility! Whoever takes responsibility, it will be very difficult for them. When I take responsibility, I will need authority as well. If I donâ€™t get that authority, I will go back to the people. The people who elected me! I will never [put] a foreign agenda [ahead of] my own people. I will not go to the U.S. for help — or anywhere else for that matter.
KN: Are you ready for the elections if they take place sooner?
IK: We are ready for elections anytime. Our entire party will be ready, whether the elections happen now or later. We have been talking about mid-term elections since the NRO cases came out in the open, and yet were dismissed in the Supreme Court by the government. But it seems that at that time the N-League [Nawaz Sharifâ€™s party] wanted to save the system. We have been ready, and now we think we should have early elections. We will reveal our action plan soon.
Whatever happens and whenever the elections take place, PTI [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf] will sweep the elections. We canâ€™t be confident enough.
KN: You have been making too many promises. What would you do if you are unable to handle things, if and when you come into power?
IK: I am completely confident; I will not fail at anything. My party will not fail. I will change the entire system in 90 days. If the system is not corrected in 90 days, it will never be corrected at all. I believe there is a proper way to handle every institution. The only way to run a government appropriately is when the institutions are strong and work under a system of accountability and in synchrony. We need to restore the institutions.
I have a well-thought-out plan to change the system in 90 days. When a country loses its ethical leadership, that is when its physical leadership takes over. This means if your democratic government fails, your army will take over. We need to ensure that point doesnâ€™t come. And I take that responsibility.
KN: What role do you want to give to the army? How much intervention will you allow?
IK: In a democratic government, the power is held by the state head. Every policy is supposed to be made by the government and not the army. Foreign policy is the job of the democratic government and not the army. Why is the army controlling the war on terror? I will never understand.
I am against military takeover or any sort of military intervention, to any extent at all, in any capacity at all. Pakistan needs democracy and public political participation without any sort or form of authoritative control.
Itâ€™s the responsibility of the civilian government to take control of state matters, especially those which have to do with stateâ€™s sovereignty. I donâ€™t think I will be so lousy that the army would have to make my decision[s].
KN: And how would your civil military policy balance out?
IK: No aid, proper taxation, and proper division of resources are my major strategies to balance out the whole system. We canâ€™t free the people until we give them what they want. We need to identify the needs of this country and focus on that. Why would the military intervene if the democratic government is operating in harmony and giving the people what they want? My goal is to bring that harmony. Everything else will fall into place on its own.
KN: Whatâ€™s your policy on the U.S.?
IK: Friendly! Look, we donâ€™t want to make any enemies. My nation and my people is my priority. I will do whatever is my peopleâ€™s priority. The war on terror was fought for dollars, and do you see what lesson we learn from it? The lesson is, to not fight the war for dollars. The lesson is, to not disadvantage your own people, to feed your government. We donâ€™t want dollars if they will overshadow our peopleâ€™s interest.
KN: Whatâ€™s your policy on Israel?
IK: Pakistanâ€™s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, wrote a letter to Harry S. Truman talking about the injustices done to the people. Every Pakistani stands by that letter. We stand by the one simple fact that Palestinians should be given their homeland. PTI is not against any people, we are with the people. We believe in human rights, and that is our ultimate stance.
KN: Whatâ€™s your policy on the India-Kashmir conflict?
IK: We will definitely try to work our way around our relationship with India. India is indeed our closest and most familiar neighbor. We would love to improve trade and other interactions.
The only problem with India is that there has to be a road map. Once we figure that out, we will know how to go about it too. We will try to work on the Kashmir issue with whatever mutuality allows us to. But it is very important to note that we cannot ignore Kashmir. Or else, if another Mumbai happens, we will be back to square one.
KN: How do you plan to deal with the militants or Jihadis?
IK: We have learned that proxy policies donâ€™t work. To keep militant groups is not the idea we should follow and is certainly not the strategy I support or will follow. In Karachi when the Supreme Court did the hearing, they found out the three major parties had hired militant groups to escalate their fights. We canâ€™t let such things happen. People get hurt.
We need to do a truth and reconciliation strategy in the tribal areas. Why should we keep fighting? Wars donâ€™t achieve anything. We are having a dialogue as we speak. Americans are having a dialogue, and we need to do this too. So far, since the dialogue has been initiated by the U.S. and ourselves, havenâ€™t you noticed how militancy and bombing has come down significantly?
KN: You have conducted dharnas (sit-in boycotts) against drone strikes, and protested against the governmentâ€™s act of carrying them out. But the U.S. and Pakistan governments say that they are efficient in targeting the Taliban.
IK: Drones can never be good. Like I said, war is never good for people. Give me one example of war that has reconciled a nation or brought peace. There is no possibility that drones can help these people. What kind of country or nation gives permission to another country to have drones attacks within their country. What kind of country takes money to kill their own wives and children? This is a corrupt government with greedy leadership, and drones for them is a mere barter for dollars and luxury. Therefore, it supports these drones. An honest government should think about the people. If this government had any honesty, it would have come up with alternative strategies.
KN: Whatâ€™s your vision for Pakistan?
IK: First, we need to understand what kind of country we want. Pakistan should be an Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which should follow the Objectives Resolution, something every political party of the country has endorsed, at all times: the ideology of the Quaid [Muhammad Ali Jinnah] — who is my greatest inspiration — and the ideology of Iqbal when he spoke about spiritual democracy. No one must bow down to anyone who speaks against the interest of the people.
We will declare four major emergencies. First and foremost, the education system.. There must be one core system of education, with a singular syllabus. A proper syllabus committee will be established. It will be ensured that there are equal opportunities for everyone and equal competition for everyone. Equip the people with a technical education.
Nothing can be done if there is [no] rule of law. We will also strengthen the judiciary and the police system. We will de-politicize the police, step out of the war on terror, and invest [our] time and resources on internal system cleansing. Revenue collection is next. We need to establish [a better] tax culture and eradicate contamination in tax distribution. And the most important agenda is to control corruption. Conflict of interest law will be established. This all needs to be done in 90 days. If you cannot do it in 90 days, the corrupt system will come back.
KN: How will you change Pakistan in 90 days, when the environment is conducive to the contrary of your agenda of filtration and cleansing?
IK: We need to create good governance and an enabling environment for good people who want to work. I will work towards attracting overseas Pakistanis and make it feasible for them to work here. Once that environment is created, recovery will automatically be on its way.
We will support professional politicians who will be ready to make sacrifices and compromises to take politics seriously. There is no room for opportunity seekers and no room for corruption and the corrupt. I will support and invest in the process of strengthening the NAB [National Accountability Bureau]. I will ensure the judiciary is strong.
KN: Your critics find it amusing that you talk about asset declaration while there is a bandwagon of politicians joining your party simultaneously — many of whom you have criticized in the past. How do you justify that when you talk about accountability?
IK: Iâ€™m not going to be hijacked by a few people. When someone joins PTI, the first step for them is to declare their assets. If they default, they are held by our accountability committee. The corrupt system has to change. I believe that if you cannot do it in 90 days, you will never be able to do it. Itâ€™s basically the question of who has the will. Itâ€™s not what we have to do; itâ€™s who wants to do it.
KN: People of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] and Balochistan have been secluded by the state for six decades. You say you plan to accommodate them. How would you do that, given their hostility?
IK: We will have a completely new relationship with the people of FATA and Balochistan and Gilgit. We will sit with them. We will mutually explore which laws they want to keep. We will try to develop mutual understanding on every matter that concerns them. A PTI government will execute massive development in FATA and Balochistan. We will try our best to ensure that the grievances of the people, of the common man, in any area, from any background, are not ignored. We will engage with every single Pakistani and ensure everyone gets their basic rights. Their right for food, employment, education, equity, and human rights. And we will do all this by good governance.
The way Pakistan is run should be changed, thatâ€™s what I mean by a New Pakistan.
Kiran Nazish is a journalist, activist, and academic based in Pakistan. She can be followed on Twitter @kirannazish.