| Imran Khan |
Calcutta: Imran Khan, head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and a member of his country’s National Assembly, spoke to The Telegraph for over 30 minutes on Saturday evening.
As fit as ever even though he’s 61 now, Imran (a cricket World Cup-winning captain) was in the city for two days on a “private visit.”
Q Just how closely are you following the run-up to the general elections in India?
A I do get to read some of the happenings. I’d say it’s a very interesting phase in Indian politics, for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is changing the political discourse.
Were you surprised by the AAP’s success in the Delhi elections?
Yes and no... Surprised because it took them such a short time to make a mark... Not surprised because social media is a factor in today’s world. We gained from it, as did the AAP. The Arab Spring, three years ago, was driven by social media... Social media mobilises the urban youth. Today, there’s a raised level of awareness among the youth, something which didn’t exist before. People, especially in the urban areas, are going to rally around an anti-corruption theme.
Could the AAP play spoiler in the general elections?
(Pauses) I’m not sure of that, but the AAP will put a lot of pressure on the other parties to change their manifestos, to make corruption an issue and to not compromise with corruption.
Do parties like the AAP stand a better chance in the subcontinent, where corruption is a major issue?
Well, corruption was one of the issues which led to the founding of the Tehreek, in 1996. For the first time in Pakistan, after the general elections in 1997, corruption became an issue. Nothing happened, but at least people began talking about it.
There, clearly, are similarities between your party and the AAP...
Yes, in the sense that both took a similar route, drawing people who’d become fed up with corruption. Corruption destroys good governance and prevents a country from developing.
What do you make of Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP supremo and Delhi’s chief minister?
I don’t know much about Kejriwal, I’ve just read about him... From what I’ve gathered, he’s clean himself... It remains to be seen just how far he goes, the sort of compromises he makes or doesn’t make.
Has Manmohan Singh’s second term as Prime Minister disappointed you?
It won’t be fair to say that... In India, you have large coalitions and coalitions make it very difficult to take hard, strong decisions. The bigger the coalition, the more partners you have to carry along. Unless you have a powerful leader who can stand up to the partners/ take everybody along, it’s difficult to take tough decisions... In the context of Indo-Pak relations, I don’t see it happening.
Did the dual power structure, Singh on one side and Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the other, play a part in the Prime Minister’s performance or the lack of it?
I’m not sure... It’s always about personalities... Prime Minister Singh is honest and likeable, but as I’ve said, maybe the coalition partners made it difficult.
If you had a vote, who would you vote for — Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi — in the upcoming general elections?
I wouldn’t like to comment, for people from another country shouldn’t express their opinion. It’s for the Indian people to decide.
Is Modi making Pakistan uncomfortable?
It depends on how Modi behaves if and when he comes to power... I recall Atal Bihari Vajpayee made us very uncomfortable when he became the Prime Minister, but he turned out to be the one to start the peace process.
The Kashmir issue remains a sore point. Why is it not getting anywhere? What’s the way forward?
As an issue, Kashmir is getting nowhere because, unfortunately, we don’t have a leadership — on both sides — capable of taking strong decisions. Hard decisions call for being prepared to take the pressure, of being ready for the fallout... Anything on Kashmir is going to be big, so the leadership on both sides has to sit down and make the necessary compromises. However, the consent of the people of Kashmir has to be taken, the will of the people of Kashmir has to be taken into account.
Bilaterally, another thorn is the 26/11 attack on Mumbai... The sentiment in India is that Pakistan hasn’t done enough...
How can we make the people of India understand what Pakistan is going through? We have a 26/11 every few days... Around 20,000 people have been killed in Karachi alone in the last 10-15 years, yet nobody has been sentenced... Hundreds of policemen have been killed in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province where my party is in power... The point to note is that the stronger Pakistan becomes as a state, the easier it will become to rein in the militant groups. The weaker the state becomes, because of the war on terror and pressure from the US to do more, the more Pakistan will descend into fanaticism.
It’s important to keep the peace process going. If we (in Pakistan) identify the groups willing to come to the table and isolate the groups not willing to do so, then we have a chance to win the war on terror. Once that’s done, it will be easier to rein in the militants.
How is Nawaz Sharif shaping up in his latest innings as Prime Minister?
Sharif has been a huge disappointment. He came in with a mandate to hold a dialogue with the militants, but the peace process hasn’t gone anywhere. He has failed to pressurise the Americans to allow peace to prevail in Pakistan... Our economy is in a shambles, the Rupee has been devalued and inflation is at its highest.
Are you a constructive leader of the opposition?
We didn’t do anything for the first six months after Sharif became the Prime Minister, for we wanted to give him time to settle down. But, now, inflation is such a big issue and we have to be with the people. We’re carrying on peaceful protests.
Frankly, did the results of the last general elections, in May last year, leave you disappointed? Your party came third...
Not really... Third in the number of seats (35), but second in terms of the percentage of votes. Also, we have a government in one of the provinces.
There were allegations of rigging. Your take?
The elections were massively rigged... You know what, every single party, including Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, said that the elections were rigged! The Pakistan People’s Party alleged rigging in the Punjab, the Muslim League alleged rigging in the Sindh... It was bizarre... We’ve asked for the auditing of only four seats, yet nothing has been done so far. They (the Establishment) fear the opening of a Pandora’s box.
Why is it that you’re always going hammer and tongs at the US?
I’m not Anti-American... Indeed, I’ve never been against any nation... I know that most of the Americans agree that the Drone attacks violate human rights... Such attacks violate the Geneva Convention... Internationally, Drone attacks have been termed as a war crime... How can an outsider (the US) be allowed to conduct such attacks on Pakistan’s soil? Would the Indian government allow it? Deaths related to the Drone attacks are extra-judicial killings and the Tehreek will always protest against them. Also, such attacks are counter-productive, for they’re helping militancy to rise even more.
Some keep suggesting that you’re soft on the Taliban...
Not at all... I keep talking about the need for a dialogue, as I’m opposed to war. But every time that I take the anti-war line, there’s a pro-US lobby in Pakistan that brands me as pro-Taliban. Surely, being anti-war can’t mean being pro-Taliban! Somehow, our so-called liberals are pro-war.
Is Pervez Musharraf being hounded or is he getting what he deserves?
Why should anyone be above the law? If he has violated the Constitution, then why shouldn’t he be hauled up in a court of law and, then, made to answer for it?
You’ve put in 18 years in politics... What has this period taught you?
It has been a tremendous experience, starting from the grassroots... I’ve learnt about Pakistani politics and have learnt what’s needed to achieve my goal.
To turn Pakistan into the Pakistan it was meant to be... (Mohammed Ali) Jinnah’s Pakistan.
Who are you more comfortable talking to — cricketers, businessmen or politicians?
Cricket is a very small part of my life now... I’m comfortable talking to interesting people, people who’re passionate about what they’re doing and have a belief system.
Your fall from the forklift during the closing stages of electioneering left millions in a state of shock... Eight months on, what are your emotions?
(Pauses) I’m thankful to the Almighty for being alive... This is my second life... It’s a miracle that I survived... After such an accident — I thought there was a handrail, but it wasn’t there — death isn’t the worst option, being paralysed is... Well, I was destined to survive.
Finally... Was it an accident or did you suspect sabotage?
It was an accident... The commandos guarding me had to be on the same forklift as I’d been targeted. The next day, through intercepts, a plot was actually unearthed.