October Issue 2016
Interview: Imran Khan
By Aasim Zafar Khan | Cover Story | Newsbeat National | Published 7 years ago
You have virtually no security apparatus surrounding you. Is this by choice?
Democracy is a mindset which is reflected in the way someone who gets into power behaves. If you look at the entire Third World, power is perceived to be a privilege to enjoy, but not a responsibility. And this is how the rulers live. When they come into power they detach themselves from the people, because the object is not to serve the people, but to serve themselves. As opposed to them, look at the [rulers of the] Scandinavian countries or of Britain, look at the way they are — one amongst equals.
How cohesive is the party right now considering all that’s happened regarding Saifullah Khan Niazi and the youth revolt?
There is no such thing as a youth revolt. All we are trying to do is to reorganise the party. Things were manageable till 2011. After October 30 (of the same year), the party grew like wildfire and we could not cope with such expansion. We tried to hold (party) elections, but unfortunately they weren’t successful everywhere. Indirect elections posed problems of money, and then we headed straight into the General Elections. When Panama happened, we were trying to figure out which format to go with for the elections. We all thought this (Panama) was a defining moment in Pakistan’s history, and since PTI is a party that is struggling to fight corruption and calling for accountability, we decided to close ranks, delay the (party) elections and concentrate on Panama. But in my opinion, the party is more united now than it has been since 2012.
And what of Saifullah?
My training as a cricket captain was to win the match with the best team. Nothing else mattered, not even blood relationships. And nothing else should ever matter, when you have bigger goals. Saifullah’s resignation is just one example. There is also the youth issue where, because of restructuring, some people are losing their positions. These are all relatively small matters which I haven’t had time to address, as my total concentration is on the Raiwind march. But we will resolve them.
Jahangir Tareen’s name keeps coming up as well, and not in the best way. What do you have to say about that?
When you select someone for a position, the only thing that must matter is whether he is the best man for the job. If I had not done this, I would not have developed a team that not only won the World Cup, but in my opinion, was the best team for the next 10 years. I don’t know why anyone questions Jahangir Tareen’s appointment as the secretary general of the party, because I have never had any doubt that he is the right man for the job. Just look at what he has achieved: model farms, model sugar mills — certainly you must have a certain mindset to make that happen. The only other person who could have been in that position was Asad Umar, but even he backed Tareen for the secretary general’s position.
September 30th… everybody is looking at it as a watershed moment, but a lot of people have also said that the PTI has become just a dharna/protest party; that whenever something happens, you take to the streets and disrupt the system. Has that worked?
If the PTI doesn’t do anything now, the Panama issue will die down within a few weeks. Khawaja Asif, the senior minister, had the gall to assure Nawaz Sharif in Parliament not to worry about Panama, as our people would soon forget about it.
A crime has been committed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, with allegations of corruption, tax evasion, money-laundering and concealment of assets. You have two options: the first is to go to the state institutions [for redressal]. But we have seen the way these state institutions function. I have reports now that NAB squashed the internal report about Panama. And I know for a fact that there are 12 pending cases against Nawaz Sharif and one against Ishaq Dar and NAB has been sitting on them ever since Sharif has been in power.
I also know for a fact that if we do not do anything today, none of the state institutions will do anything. The biggest problem with corruption is that it affects investment. Then, money which should be spent on human development is diverted into mega projects. Pakistan spends the least amount of money on its people, of all the countries in the subcontinent. When your PM is corrupt, he can only be corrupt by destroying state institutions. He not only destroys them to engage in corruption, but also to protect that corruption. And if he indulges in it himself, how can he stop his ministers from corruption? A Rs.140 billion scam in WAPDA, and a Rs.10 billion scam in the Railways have been unearthed according to the auditor general; is the PM going to ask his ministers about this?
Most importantly, corruption and election rigging go hand in hand. If I am only going to serve the people, why do I need to rig the elections? I will only rig the elections because going into power means making money. I’ll spend a lot of money to make sure I get there.
So the first option of going to the state institutions looking for relief is a non-starter. The only other choice is to come out on the streets and force the state institutions to act. That’s what we are trying to do.
And you believe if you create enough noise, somebody with a conscience in a state institution will take notice…
It’s about putting the state institutions on trial. According to NAB itself, the daily corruption in Pakistan is 12 billion rupees a day. That’s more than your total tax revenues. This is being done by people in government, not outside. How much of it has NAB controlled? Even the Supreme Court asked NAB why it was only targeting small-time crooks. If you close NAB down, what difference will it make to Pakistan? So either, like a dead society, we sit back and take all injustices, or we come out like a society which is alive. If I have to, I’ll go it alone — then, at the end of the day, at least I can say that I stood up to these criminals.
There’s the criticism that by reverting to protest politics, PTI is looking to disrupt the democratic process.
Was the democratic process disrupted in Iceland when the people came out to protest against their prime minister? In fact they strengthened it. This country’s corrupt system is being protected by those that directly benefit from it: people in the media, and all the state institutions, including NAB, the Election Commission and the judiciary. It’s the people of Pakistan who are losing out. According to a report in The Guardian, 40 per cent of Pakistanis have stunted growth. This not only means that these people cannot achieve their full body frame, but also that their brain size doesn’t develop fully. And this is just because they’re not getting adequate nutrition. This in a country that ought to be exporting nutrition. With these sorts of human development indicators, why is it that you still can’t question the criminals in power who have stolen billions from the people? The usual retort is that everyone else is corrupt too. What does that say about our parliament?
Post the last elections, the PTI had made great inroads both in Lahore and Karachi. Judging by the visibly reduced public presence at your recent rallies in both cities, do you feel your strength on the ground has waned?
Rallies can be big and small for various reasons. But if you look at all our by-election results, PTI has done better than in 2013. In Jhelum and Burewala for instance, our loss margins have come down dramatically. By all accounts, the PTI is gaining.
How do you build on your results from 2013, considering the state machinery will work in favor of the PML-N and all that happens during and post the elections?
If you have free and fair elections, PTI will wipe out PML-N. Look at the by-election results, it clearly reflects that despite the state machinery, PTI is gaining in Punjab. Jahangir Tareens’s by-election is a great example — we won by 40,000 votes, despite the Prime Minister announcing a package of Rs 2.5 billion for the area! As I said before, the party vote bank has spread tremendously, but the challenge right now is to organise the party and that’s what we are trying to do. The problem, however, is that you have a government that has made billions through corruption and is again capable of buying another election.
2013, in my opinion, was the most rigged election in the country’s history. And 22 parties said so. We only asked for a recount of four out of the 413 petitions filed where it was charged rigging had been conducted. In its findings, the judicial commission gave 40 observations against the Election Commission (EC), but not one investigation took place. Why? Because the EC and the PML-N fought the elections together.
You have said that if need be, you’re willing to go the last mile yourself. But politics is about inclusion, it’s about taking people along and doing what is possible. Would you be willing to work with other people to ensure that what happened in 2013 doesn’t happen again?
We have taken all parties on board on the Panama issue. They seem to have a problem with coming out on the streets. I don’t know what their reservations are. What I do know is that PTI cannot let Panama go the way of many other mega corruption scandals — ie just get lost in the files till another scandal comes up. This is now a matter of Pakistan’s survival: either this tiny status quo elite, which has a stake in the system, will survive and destroy Pakistan, or Pakistanis will rally, take a stand, and insist that the PM must be made accountable for his actions.
How long do you intend to stay at Raiwind?
That I’m going to decide when I go to Raiwind. This is not going to end. If we stop, we know this issue is going to die down. What’s the worst that can happen? Well, we’ll keep trying. What’s the best that can happen? We might end up making Pakistan into a genuine democracy with strong democratic institutions.
Why did you decide to funnel so much money to the seminary known as the birthplace of the Taliban. And did you have any game-plan of how you would ‘mainstream’ the madrassah, which you are known to have said was your motivation?
There are about 2.4 million children in religious madrassahs and you must get them in the mainstream. Because what is happening in Europe right now is a classic case of how marginalising people radicalises them. We should learn from it. The question should be: how do we bring the madrassahs into the mainstream so that poor Pakistani children, who have been marginalised, can have a better future. The KP government decided to go with Haqqania because it was understood that it produces those people that go to other madrassahs to teach.
What is your current stand on the Taliban? Do you still believe there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban?
It’s not that relevant right now. When I was saying these things, there were 50 different Taliban groups, and many were fighting for a variety of reasons. All I was saying was ‘talk to them to find out why a particular group is fighting.’ That way, you could isolate the ones who are beyond remedy.
The real test will come once the army comes out of the tribal areas. If we leave the area devastated, and the people return to no homes or jobs, we could have another major crisis on our hands.
The best way forward is to integrate the tribal regions with KP and have a local government that goes down to the village level formed immediately, and through this local government, to start a rehabilitation programme.
How do you see the balance of the civil-military relationship in the country?
Look at Turkey. When you have a democratically elected PM who delivers, the people are the ones who protect democracy. If instead, you have a kleptocracy, with a small elite plundering the country while the people suffer, would they want to protect that system? Nawaz Sharif is a danger to democracy. If there’s any intervention, people will again distribute sweets like they did in ’99.
The writer is a journalist based in Lahore. He is the current managing editor of MIT Technology Review Pakistan, a bi-monthly science and technology magazine.