‘We want the same relationship with the US as what it has with India’
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I am in Davos and catching up with a friend of many decades, Imran Khan. For the third time, and if I may use the expression in three different avatars, once talking cricket, once talking politics as an underdog, and now I presume talking politics as a top dog with a little bit of cricket as well. Life changes.
That's the beauty of life. It's never static and you can always change the situation you're in. They say a small party never remains a small party and a big party never remains a big party. Life changes and you can change your destiny.
But you remember the first time you came into politics? You were very naive. You contested from five seats in five provinces with disastrous results. Was there a time then that you thought that this is not for me?
It's like when I first came into cricket, I was dropped after my first Test match. For three years, I was in the wilderness and when I was dropped, the entire team predicted that it was the last time I was going to play for Pakistan. Basically when I came into politics it was even worse of a situation than when I came into cricket. I was not very good when I came into cricket. I had only played about 10 first class games. I was only 18 years old. So, when I came into politics, I was an outsider. I hardly knew anything about Pakistani politics. I knew about international politics but not about Pakistani politics. I had no idea how politics worked in Pakistan and then I formed my own party and refused to take other politicians with me and took the most difficult route you know single-handedly. We were offered an alliance with Nawaz Sharif. A five-month-old party was offered 30 seats by a party in a two-party system that was going to win—Nawaz Sharif's PML-N. We refused because I said that he is equally corrupt as Benazir (Bhutto) and we ended up getting wiped off.
But what has changed things around so dramatically now? You are getting huge rallies and people are watching and that's why you are in Davos and are the toast of Davos.
No one can defeat us now. I used to know when we were playing cricket that a time would arrive during a game when without having actually won, you knew you were going to win. That stage has arrived in politics. Once the people stand with you, which is what has happened, once you got a movement going, once you got the young people out on the streets standing with you, it is very difficult for parties with status quo to come and challenge you.
But what changed it? In terms of public opinion and perception there has been a dramatic shift. Rallies of this kind have not been seen since Benazir.
No, not since her father. Even Benazir never had such big rallies. Over half-a-million people attended both the two big rallies. It wasn't a sudden change. Over three years, there was a pattern. You could see people changing, people getting disillusioned with the old parties. The economic situation deteriorating, lawlessness. A point came when people realised that unless we changed, we were doomed.
So what are you offering that others are not?
Well, I came in on a platform of anti-corruption which was 15 years back. Corruption has now become a major issue in Pakistan. People now realise that poverty is because of corruption and that was consistently my platform. And secondly, on the war on terror, I was the only one who kept saying that there's no military solution. I said there's only a political solution. Now after 40,000 people dead, now everyone realises that there is no military solution. I got a lot of flak on this. They kept calling me pro-Taliban because I said there's no military solution. I stood my ground and finally these two ideas raised my credibility because as they say an idea's time has come. What I stood for and believed, people now understand and believe.
The Taliban now have an office in Qatar which the Americans have blessed in a way.
Absolutely. Sooner or later the Americans were going to realise that they are not fighting some ideology but fighting a population. They are fighting a war of resistance. You can only beat terrorists if the people from where they are operating, they also consider them terrorists. If they consider them freedom fighters, then you've lost the war.
Let's go to each problem one by one. How will you fix FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas)?
Truth and reconciliation. Win the people of FATA over to our side. The people of FATA are sick of war but they will not take on the militants because as long as the militants are fighting a foreign occupation, it is jihad and jihad is a religious duty. And so as long as it is considered jihad, then the people of the tribal areas will not take on the militants. The moment you have a ceasefire, you no longer are perceived to be fighting the US's war and that is the time when the jihad will stop and the people of the tribal areas will then take them on. You don't have to have an army there. There are about 800,000 to 900,000 armed men in the tribal areas. There are only about 20,000 to 30,000 militants. So the war will be over quickly. But as long as we are perceived to be fighting America's war, there will be jihad and there will be no end to the fight.
Do you think the Pakistani Army will be in harmony with this thinking?
Surely they are seeing Pakistan going down. If we are bankrupt, the first institution that's going to take a beating is the Army. So the interests of the people of Pakistan and the Pakistani Army have now converged. All of them want a Pakistan that can be stable, an end of the war on terror.
You've been described as the Army's candidate sometimes.
It's my opponents. My opponents do not understand this phenomenon. They cannot understand how suddenly the party has shot up because they are still living in the old days. They haven't realised that the vibrant electronic media in Pakistan has changed the country. The level of political awareness in Pakistan is unprecedented and these parties have got exposed.
Is that one of the reasons that the Army has been made to back off this time even in a confrontation with Gilani?
There is a consensus in Pakistan that the military is not the answer, that a military coup is no longer the answer. I mean here we are and we also think that these two parties are the most corrupt parties, they've taken Pakistan to the brink, but we don't think the Army's the answer.
I'll tell you a story. A Davos story. Many years ago, Husain Haqqani and I were having coffee in the lounge at the Congress centre in Davos and we saw Shaukat Aziz walk down the steps. Shaukat Aziz was then the Prime Minister and Husain said to me, I will give you a quote which you can use—this is before Husain was in the establishment. He said if Davos is the Disneyland of the human mind, there comes its Mickey Mouse. Now would that description fit?
You would expect that from Husain Haqqani because he was good at it. And this is what has got him places. The sound bytes, these gimmicks.
But that's what's got him in a bad place right now.
The people of Pakistan perceived him as more of an American ambassador than Pakistan's ambassador in Washington. This memogate, if it's true, is shocking. President Zardari, through Haqqani, telling the Americans to save him from the Generals and if he got his own Generals, he would be able to serve American interests better. That's really the bottomline. It's treason.
So would you say the same description would fit Gilani as well?
Gilani is a stooge of Zardari. Call him whatever but he has no power, Zardari calls the shots, he is the chairman of the People's Party of Pakistan and basically what Gilani right now is doing is that he is trying to protect Asif Ali Zardari's 60 million dollars lying in Swiss banks. While the Supreme Court wants Gilani to write a letter to the Swiss banks for the 60 million dollars, rather than protecting the interests of the people of Pakistan, he is protecting Asif Zardari's 60 million dollars. It is because Zardari controls him.
So do you now think that the disillusionment with these two parties is total?
Well that's why we are gaining. That's why we have these crowds.
Is it all because of domestic reasons or are there external reasons as well?
Well one, the way we were taken into this war on terror. Here is Pakistan being used as a hired gun. I think the humiliation of being a client state, being told to kill your own people and being told to do more. And 40,000 people died and you are still not being considered an ally. So I think a combination of the two: the domestic situation and the humiliation of this whole war on terror.
Let me put a different spin on it. This is a different turn in the client state relationship but the fact is that the Pakistani establishment has allowed Pakistan to be a client state for nearly sixty years because that was one way they saw of dealing with India. Pakistan signed security agreements with the Americans in the 50s and very often with the Pakistani elite and public opinion, the regret has not been that we are a client state, the regret has been that we don't get treated as a genuine loyal client state should be.
If you do not respect yourself, nobody respects you. You beg and borrow for money, you lose your sovereignty and your dignity and that's what has come out. The people of Pakistan have realised they don't want to be treated like this any more. We much rather have a low standard of living rather than being humiliated and treated like we have been treated. And the reason is our ruling elite, and I'm saying everyone who is part of the ruling elite, is responsible for this humiliation and hence you see this whole upsurge. The youth, who want dignity and respect, they are now standing behind me because from day one I said what we are doing for dollars, taking dollars to kill our own people, it is the ultimate humiliation of a nation. If you don't respect yourself, if you are going to take dollars to kill your own people, then no one will respect you.
Is Imran Khan anti-American?
Imran Khan is a Pakistani nationalist who wants his country to be a sovereign country, who wants him and his people to live with dignity and self respect. I want Pakistan to be a sovereign, democratic country.
And where does America figure in that world view?
As a friend. We would want the same relationship with the United States as what it has with India. I mean it's with your democracy.
That's a good point but let me take this one step forward. India can have this relationship with America because India doesn't relate its view of America to the need to neutralise or balance Pakistan whereas Pakistan has looked at America and China as senior allies to counterbalance India for its own strategic reasons—right or wrong.
No, not for strategic reasons. Pakistan relations with India started on the wrong foot with Kashmir. Because of the Kashmir issue, we've ended up with three wars. These three wars created huge amount of insecurity in Pakistan. It's exactly the same argument that Israel uses for having atomic bombs and the army and the aid because it's surrounded by hostile neighbours. Pakistanis have a neighbour seven times the size of Pakistan, the feeling of insecurity, three wars and hence you could understand the security establishment wanting some sort of help. But what I am now saying we've moved on. Time has moved on.
So let me say in the past, the sort of commentators' or pundits' formula used to be three As: Allah, Army, America. So Allah is the constant, I would propose that the Army has weakened its hold on power and public opinion and the special position in Pakistani power structure. It was the protector of the ideology of Pakistan, not just its territorial frontiers and America can now be looked at completely differently because of the disillusionment. So the Army and America do not play the same role in the division of power like they did in the past.
If you have Allah, you don't need anything else. Now, look at Turkey, the army was always defending its ideology, which is secularism and you always had the army interfering and yet look at Turkey now. A democratic government comes in, a credible leader comes in, the people rally behind the leader, he gives great results economically and what happens? The army has been put into its role which it should have been.
Why go so far—Bangladesh. In Turkey much more than Bangladesh. In Turkey, there was a history behind it. Kemal Ataturk, secularism, army. Musharraf said (Kemal) Ataturk was his model.
Ataturk is not my model. I mean Ataturk was a great general but in the other things he did, he was not my model. I am talking specifically about the role of the army. We have seen in Turkey, a credible democratic leader make the army's role what it should be by actually performing. Because he performed and he got the people to rally behind him and he gave the results, look at him. That's a sort of model we want in Pakistan. A credible democrat.
Did the establishment exploit the India and Kashmir card with the people of Pakistan, saying that unless you let us have this special position in power or a special political system in Pakistan, India will swallow us? Or if you do it we may get Kashmir?
They didn't have to do it. The fact that India was a huge country, a feeling of insecurity automatically led to Pakistan becoming a security state. If we did not have the hostilities with India, if the Kashmir dispute wasn't there, maybe this wouldn't have happened. We would have had a different relationship, maybe our democracy would have got embedded. But sadly, it's because of the security concerns. But that's all in the past. Now it's time to move on.
You talked about what causes insecurity or anger in Pakistan, I'll tell what causes insecurity and anger in India. It is incidents like 26/11 and a generally held view, which I believe in, that these have happened because of collusion between armed fundamentalist groups and the Army and ISI. You think you can break that nexus? I'm not referring to Hafiz Saeed's speeches. Anyone can give speeches.
The same is said in Pakistan. At the moment, the Balochistan issue, where every day people are being killed, they are saying RAW is behind it.
You are already talking like you are in the government, but 26/11 is 26/11.
We can keep going. We have about three hundred 26/11s. Around 40,000 Pakistanis are dead. In one year, there were 500 bomb blasts. In Pakistan, India is blamed for anything and there (in India), for any bomb blast, the ISI is blamed. I'm saying, it's time to move on. We can only move on if there's a realisation in the subcontinent that the peace dividends are so enormous for the subcontinent that we cannot go on as we have been.
Also what's required is realism. So I repeat my question, you think you will be able to cut this nexus in one day, one week, two weeks or do you think it is already cut?
I think you will have to take strong decisions. Eventually you will realise that this is the future of Pakistan and what is best for the future of our country is best for the future of the people of India—to have peace. Trade has shown that whenever you have trade, the standard of living has improved in both countries as the Europeans have shown. If the Europeans could get together after killing millions of them in the last century, so can we.
Imran, tell me your view on India. You are maybe the Pakistani who has probably travelled to India more than anybody else. You've played, competed, supported, commented on Indian cricket.
We will always be neighbours. When I was in university, guess who my closest friend was? Vikram Mehta, an Indian. So we have more in common with each other than what we have with other people because of a common shared history. In Europe, they have so many differences and yet they have formed a union. So you can live as civilised neighbours despite our differences and knowing our commonality.
Imran, before I let you go, inevitably, tell us what went wrong with our cricket. Just the other day we were number 1 in test cricket, we won the World Cup in ODIs, and suddenly boom.
You need 20 wickets to win a Test match. India does not have the bowling to take 20 wickets. And secondly, the defensive techniques are going down—which you need in a Test match and of which Sunil Gavaskar was a master—because of too much T20.
Tell me about Dravid, Sachin, Sehwag and Laxman. Four people who made India World Champions, now in terminal decline or do you see any of them coming back?
They are great players but obviously when you cross 35, the clock is ticking.
Transcribed by Arun Subramanian
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