‘I want Pakistan to smoke the pipe of democracy’

M Kumar Lahore

Ever since floating his own political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) in 1996, Pakistani cricket legend-turned-politician, Imran Khan, has come a long way. His cricketing stardom has not fetched electoral success, but he continues to remain one of the most closely watched political voices emerging out of Pakistan. Hardnews caught up with Imran Khan at the hospital he built, the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital & Research Centre, in Lahore on January 15, 2008. Excerpts:

You are known for your staunch opposition to Pervez Musharraf. But your bitter protests have failed to dislodge him. Where has the political programme of your party failed?

It's not a matter of political miscarriage so far as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is concerned. We have remained loyal to our 'doctrine of necessity' which is the unanimous voice of the people of Pakistan. This democratic doctrine demands an unflinching wave of protest against military rule. PTI continues to rub shoulders with all the deposed judges, including Iftikhar Chaudhary. I did everything in my power to convince slain PPP leader Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rahman not to aid Musharraf by contesting this sham parliamentary elections. It's true that they have their own reason to fight elections under protest. But why should I betray the aspirations of my country's heroes? The lawyers inspired a mass movement against the undemocratic and unconstitutional presidency. It is time we rise above petty considerations to arrest the tide of degradation. I am not the one to show white feathers. My battle is bearing fruit, as thousands of bright, young faces across the length and breadth of Pakistan are joining my street campaigns against the February 18 elections.

Benazir Bhutto fell to the same forces she vowed to take on. The White House continues to pledge unstinting support to Musharraf. Do you see him consolidating his power despite all odds?

No way. Musharraf knows that he is on his last legs. I have been pretty simple on this. The longer he is around, the more opportunities he will have to deceive himself and his countrymen. The ghost of Mohtarma Bhutto will keep the White House in a shroud of confusion as to what went wrong. Despite political differences, she was my good friend since Oxford days. I feel bad over the assassination of a courageous political friend, but I blame her stupidity which blinded her to the danger flickering in her face. Conspiracy theories are doing the round, but it only benefits those who derive authority from the policy of mass deception. It's not good being wise among fools and sane among lunatics. This holds true for everyone in the game of power.

You are a globe-trotting politician. Does the rest of the world feel alarmed over the state of affairs in Pakistan?

Look at the mass response on US streets. American people don't approve of President Bush's war on terror in which Musharraf has sacrificed over one thousand valiant Pakistani soldiers. Pakistani mothers have lost their beloved children in a fight against their own citizens. More of our soldiers are being killed in a blinding warfare than by Al Qaeda and pro-Taliban elements. There is a virtual war that Islamabad is fighting to keep the American government happy. The White House continues to turn a blind eye to the misguided campaign. No wonder, rest of the world is alarmed. People all over the world, especially in Washington, London and Paris, are concerned and they are going to watch the February 18 elections with alarm. Even the people of Pakistan believe that Musharraf is trying to transform his prevailing weakness into power.

Political power in Pakistan remains entrenched in the hands of the landed aristocracy. Has your party made any advance in taking on the feudal stranglehold?

My party has gathered strong momentum in the past nine months. Especially in the aftermath of the suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary and our boycott of the February 18 elections, we are the only political party along with Qazi Hussain Ahmad to walk with our heads high. There is one interesting Ethiopian proverb. When the great lord passes, the wise peasant bows deeply — and silently farts. This proverb has enormous currency in present day Pakistan. Nearly all the political parties have deliberately followed false keys to power. In the course of their silly overreaction to the moves of the military government, they have created more problems for democratic institutions. The poor and prudent people in villages and cities are rallying behind the green and red colour of the Tehreek-e-Insaf flag. Our party is a movement for justice. I am not in politics to capture power. Rain or shine, I will continue to struggle for the rule of law, restoration of the 1973 Constitution and the judiciary, and rule of the proletariat. At end of the day, my party wants the emergence of a proud Pakistan with food, cloth, shelter and education for all.

You have admitted on several occasions of your shy and introvert attitude. Don't you think the politics of the subcontinent doesn't augur well for a nice, decent individual?

No, I don't think so. Politics, whether in India or Pakistan, needs more honest characters. It's like saying that an honest individual can't win the confidence of his electorate. All is not yet lost in the tumult and impetuosity of the subcontinent's political landscape. Look at Sonia Gandhi. Isn't she a mass leader and successful in steering the Congress to power? If any woman I admire in India, it has to be Sonia Gandhi for her selflessness and probity. Without any shadow of doubt, she is an honest, committed politician. I find Rahul Gandhi comfortable with the teeming millions of poor who flock to him with wide-eyed innocence. He receives them with the desire to make their life better. This is what I have been doing in Pakistan. The people are aware of my struggle. They know I am shy, but I am not a swindler of their emotions. I served Mianwali in the National Assembly. In every segment of human welfare and development, it has achieved considerable results. I am building a technical university in association with Bradford University of UK. It's only aim is to bring quality professional education home at subsidised rate to the economically disadvantaged sections.

Do you think the response of New Delhi over the present crisis in Pakistan has been adequate?

It doesn't make much difference to us if you talk of the Indian response in comparison with the stands of Washington DC and London. India and Pakistan respect each other's internal affairs, so I won't expect an out of the way situation. We are satisfied over the civil society response in Britain, Europe and the US. Reactions and counter-reactions originating in London matter here. Nevertheless, like Delhi, the British and American governments continue to support Musharraf. I want Delhi to commit to support democratic forces in South Asia.

If you were to rule Pakistan in the future, how will you approach this most vexing issue?

Kashmir is about the people of Kashmir. I value their right to self-determination. Musharraf has betrayed the Kashmiri people. Delhi has maintained a stoic approach over several proposals. Musharraf promised a lot but ended up with egg on his face. My party doesn't approve of deploying military troops in civilian areas. India should try to demilitarise civilian areas and reduce human rights excesses.

What is that factor in Indian democracy which inspires you as a democrat?

To me, the beauty of Indian democracy is its social empowerment of men and women. I marvel over the emergence of socially and economically backward politicians like Mayawati, Lalu Prasad and regional players. Indian masses sho-uld acknowledge the heroic efforts of VP Singh. He took a principled stand on the elimination of social and economic injustice. A politician like him should have ruled for a longer period of time. Democracy helps you get rid of the fear of dark forces of oppression and discrimination. I want Pakistan to smoke the same pipe of democracy.

Which political leader in the Islamic world do you admire the most?

I have high regard for Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia — more than any other political leaders. He is my role model. I want to emulate his political and economic policies in Pakistan. When Mahathir came to power, Malaysia had 35 per cent of poor. By the time he left, poverty had dropped to eight per cent. This is something whose parallel doesn't exist anywhere in the world. Pakistan needs Mahathir Mohammed, not Pervez Musharraf.