August Issue 2018

By | Interview | Published 3 months ago

A Newsline interview with the 2018 Prime Minister-elect conducted in April 1996.

Clearly the cricket field wasn’t going to be enough for Imran Khan once he had tasted the ultimate victory. An astute commentator remarked on a CNN show, once Imran won the World Cup, that part of his life was over. In an instant, as his acceptance speech at the occasion demonstrated, he moved to the next phase: the setting up of a cancer hospital. That done, it was politics. And 22 years later, the man who would be king, is… the 19th Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Q: What was the motive behind the bomb blast at your cancer hospital? Do you think you were the target?

A: It is difficult at the moment to say what the objective of the bomb was, except it is possible to say that perhaps what it intended to do it did not do. According to the military experts, it was a very powerful bomb. If there had been no windows in the building it could have been much worse. Had it been an enclosed building, the whole roof would have come down and we would have had a much larger explosion and much more damage. Possibly all our equipment would have been damaged, and it would have meant the end of the hospital for at least two or three years. Whether I was the target, I can’t say. It just happened that I was supposed to attend a meeting at the hospital two-and-a-half hours earlier. The meeting was cancelled, otherwise I could have been in the building at the time of the blast.

Q: Who do you blame for this incident?

A: Sadly, I don’t think we will ever find out. I don’t think this is the handiwork of an amateur. I can’t imagine anyone having that sort of a bomb… why would anyone want to bomb a hospital? I’ve only had opposition from the government (the PPP was in power) so, really, I should blame the government. But why would the government do this? Perhaps there are people in the government who are out of control. Who knows? There are various theories, but apart from the government, I really have no enemies.

Q: What brings you to politics?

A: It’s actually the state of affairs in the country. Firstly, for the past year I’ve been approached by hundreds of people — wherever I go I’ve been pressurised by people who say I must come into politics. Initially my idea was to do social work, but now I’ve come to the conclusion that in this country the way things are going — the way we are sinking, the way our economy is declining, the way we are morally declining as a country — someone must do something. Our politicians stand up in public and lie blatantly, and even when the lie is caught out they go ahead and lie yet again. In other words, there is a complete moral breakdown. Corruption has broken all records, it has become a way of life. People have been deprived of their rights. For the first time in the past year, I have faced being in the opposition. It’s the first time I’ve understood what few rights a citizen has in this country. If the government turns against a citizen, he is completely defenceless. Incredibly, a government which is supposed to be democratic, which wants people to build hospitals and schools because it has acknowledged it cannot do so alone, is itself trying to pull down a cancer hospital. The fact that we can’t even show a television ad… reflects how defenceless we are in trying to stand up to this government… We are not even allowed to collect donations. Every conceivable hurdle has been put in the way of donation collection for a hospital where 92 per cent of the people don’t pay anything, which must surely be a record in any part of the world.

So it has helped me, in a personal sort of way, to do something. I have decided that we must stand up because the mess will not clear up by itself. I am afraid I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. And that’s why I have come out in the open. Now I want all those people in this country who feel exactly the same way as I do, who watch the sea of corruption around us, to stand up with me.

Q: What are the main points of your movement?

A: Surprisingly, it is not a very complicated agenda. Basically, we want justice. Justice is an all encompassing word: it means rights, the rights of the individual against the state, the rights of the citizens of this country in respect of health and education. We want a situation where the politicians are not above justice, not above the law. There should be one law for everyone. Whether you are rich or poor, a politician or an MNA, you should be accountable under the same law.

Right now poor people have no access to justice because there are hardly any civil courts in the country, certainly too few to cope with the huge number of the cases which are pending. As a result, we end up with justice delayed, or justice denied, and therefore we are seeing a complete breakdown of law and order. So we want an emphasis on justice. We seek reforms which ensure that the constitution is implemented in letter and spirit.

Q: What kind of people do you want in your movement?

A: Anyone can join the movement but the people who will be office bearers will be people with unblemished records; people who are above all not tainted by corruption, whose characters are impeccable. I know that at the moment this looks like a tall order, but believe me there are a lot of Pakistanis who may not be in the limelight right now, but who have character, who have talent, who have merit, and I hope to attract these people.

Q: What is your link with Hamid Gul and your relationship with the Pasban?

A: Well, General Hamid Gul has been a well-wisher of mine. I know there has been a distorted view that I am some sort of a puppet being controlled on a string, but then that is the psyche of our people. Sadly, most of our rulers have been propelled into place by their benefactors, so it is assumed that no one can stand on his own, and he must have someone pulling the strings. This is why there is a fear of  me being exploited by Hamid Gul. In fact, he is someone who has been very good to me. I find him a man of integrity and so I have good relations with him. And if he wants to join us, well, good luck. He, like anyone else as a citizen of Pakistan, has the right.

As far as Pasban goes, they have worked with me in my social welfare programme when we were raising funds. Recently, I noticed that Pasban did something with Benazir Bhutto. They married off a lot of people, poor people. So as far as I can see, they are a social welfare organisation, and if they want to join us, they are welcome to.

Q: Do you plan to convert your movement into a political party?

A: If that is the way we can have reform in this country, we can have a change in the country and we can get justice, well, then that is the way we will go. The point is that it depends on how much support I have in this country. If the people support me, if I feel we can actually go into parliament to make a change, then we will go for it. To go into parliament to form alliances and become just another player in the game, is not my idea of politics. My idea is to have enough force to change things in this country — force which gives the silent majority who want change, a voice. If that force is strong enough, then I will go into parliament, I will fight elections. But if we are not in that position, then we will stay a movement.

Q: Are you aspiring to become the Prime Minister?

A: I keep telling people that becoming Prime Minister is a small ambition. If it is Prime Minister that I wanted to become, then there were much easier  ways of doing it. I mean in 1988 I was offered a ministership under General Zia. At that time he had already been  in power for 11 years and how long he would remain nobody knew. So I could have started there. Then, again in 1992, I was at the peak of my popularity, after winning the World Cup. I could have dived in then. I was also offered a ministership by Moeen Qureshi and I have been offered a very high post in the Muslim League. In other words, if I was an opportunist who was aspiring just for power, for Prime Ministership, I would have taken up one of these offers.

To do this the hard way, to stand by yourself and build an organisation just to become a Prime Minister, is a ridiculous thing to do. God has given me everything. I have had more respect possibly than any Prime Minister. I have love in this country, so why would I want to destroy this by just wanting to spend three or four years in power.

Q: What is your vision of an ideal Pakistan?

A: My vision of an ideal Pakistan is a country which has justice…where everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. A system where we get rid of this ridiculous VIP culture…where the common man is not respected, where the decision-makers in this country have all the privileges and do not even know how the common man lives. And while our leadership lives in these palaces — the Prime Minister’s House, the President’s House, the Governors’ houses, all of which cost us, the tax payers, enormous amounts of money — 60 per cent of our people don’t even have piped drinking water. It is so distasteful. We are the fourth most illiterate country in the world, and we are on the verge of economic collapse: in three years we might go bankrupt according to most economic experts, for it is quite possible that all our revenue will go into paying our debts. So where are we heading? If we could change this, create a more equitable distribution of wealth and power, that would be heading in the right direction.

Q: Why are you so anti-Benazir?

A: It is not specifically Benazir I am against, it is the culture she stands for, the culture she condones — this political culture of corruption and incompetence and injustice. That’s what I stand against.

Q: In your articles you have made some controversial comments about women, such as your view that women should stay at home and not work outside. This has been seen as a rather retrogressive attitude. Would you comment?

A:  There is only one interview in which I spoke about women. It was off-the-record, and what was said was distorted. Basically, what I do not agree with is western style women’s liberation, which I believe has gone wrong and done incredible damage. I disagree with a society where a woman is supposed to be like a man.

A woman is different to a man. If a woman and a man are supposed to be one and the same, this causes complete confusion in society. A woman seems to be fighting against her nature in trying to  be what she is not. And by the way, this is not me speaking but most scholars in the western world recognise that the feminist movement went the wrong way and a lot of women are now speaking up against women trying to behave like men.

When you talk about a woman being liberated and a woman being free, I am all for it. I have sisters who are highly educated, who are mothers and also have professions. But that does not mean that women should try to behave like men.