Numerous questions emerged after the Pakistani elections as the opposition claimed victory and President Pervez Musharraf and his Islamist allies were defeated. There were some who stated that the votes were cast against the United States whilst others claimed the voting was against Musharraf and accordingly he should step down. While the western and international intermediaries worked with the idea of Musharraf and the Pakistan Peoples Party forming a coalition government, the Pakistani political scene changed drastically when party leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Accordingly, intermediaries now support the Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (N) affiliated to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Asif Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, who initially became the head of the Peoples Party, spent ten years in prison in Pakistan on charges of corruption. Nawaz Sharif, whose government was also accused of corruption, had spent years in exile under the order of Musharraf. What is odd is that Pakistan wants revenge from Musharraf the “military ruler” by bringing these figures that are notorious for their charges of corruption to power.
Imran Khan, head of the Pakistan Movement for Justice [Tehreek-e-Insaf], responded to this by saying, “The voting was carried out against Musharraf. Every politician who stood against Musharraf and whom the voters had felt would have more chance in defeating Musharraf was voted for.”
Khan rejects the idea that Pakistan ended up with corrupt politicians because public opinion was presented with only two choices and voted for what it considered a better option. “Voting took place more so out of opposition rather than support,” added Khan. The voters turned out at elections to destroy Musharraf for two main reasons. The first reason is related to economics since prices have tripled and the level of inflation has reached over 12% and this has harmed the people in Pakistan. The second reason is the war against terror, which in the view of the Pakistanis is worse than the economical reason since the Pakistani military is killing Pakistanis for a third party. Musharraf is considered a “puppet” controlled by the Americans; this is why people rushed to bring about his defeat.
Imran Khan continued: “Musharraf failed and Pakistanis want to eliminate him. This is why the Peoples Party achieved a landslide victory in Sindh whereas Nawaz Sharif enjoyed large success in the Punjab despite that some Punjabis voted in favour of the Peoples Party. But Nawaz Sharif was Musharraf’s strongest and harshest competition and he refused to bargain with him. The Punjabis took the chance that was presented to them and voted for Sharif. As for the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), success reigned for the secular Awami National Party since the Islamist coalition was known for its secret alliance with Musharraf.”
I asked Khan whether he believed that Musharraf had indirectly assisted in bringing about the defeat of the Islamists especially in NWFP. “The Council of United Action that is headed by Maulana Fazlur Rahman had secretly allied itself with Musharraf though in public it acted as though it was a party of the opposition. Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s government in NWFP did not blink an eyelid when Pashtuns were being killed in tribal areas; this is why people abandoned the Council of United Action,” answered Khan.
It was reported recently that Musharraf threatened to abolish the National Reconciliation Ordinance that was used to drop the charges of corruption against Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Zardari and led to them returning to the political arena, and that Zardari would be re-arrested if he failed to convince Nawaz Sharif’s party to accept Musharraf as president. According to this information, Musharraf’s regime requested that Swiss courts resume with the legal proceedings against Zardari so that he would be forced to accept Musharraf as president.
I asked Imran Khan whether he imagined that Musharraf would still be president this time next year.
“If Musharraf had self-respect, he would have stepped down and left quietly. However, because he is clinging on to power, he will only sink deeper. Unfortunately, the only support that remains for him comes from the White House in Washington. The American Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Condoleezza Rice, still says, ‘Pervez is our man.’” However, he adds that he believes that the Americans are now in search of another “horse” to bet on and that the American view is short-sighted. “They should support the democratic government in Pakistan in the same way that they do in India where America supports any government that has been elected. The Americans do not wage on [certain] horses there; this is a major mistake as it does not back the democratic process. They supported and continue to support Musharraf. They are repeating the same mistake that they made with the Shah of Iran. They supported him against the democratic process, therefore the democrats turned against the Americans there.”
But weren’t the democrats of Iran religious clerics rather than real democrats? Khan responded to this saying, “This is what was left of them; The Shah of Iran had completely destroyed all the secular, liberal, democratic and leftist movements, so there was nothing left but the mosques.” I asked Imran Khan whether he believed that Musharraf could change the situation, find Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri and hand them over to the Americans. He answered, “I do not believe that Musharraf has this privilege; nobody knows where they are.”
Khan believes that there must be radical change in Pakistan’s policy in dealing with terrorism. He cited the American Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen who, in Pakistan, recently declared that there is no military solution to the war on terror.
At a time when the two main parties are looking to form a government that is headed by Makhdoom Amin Fahim (of the Peoples Party), Imran Khan stated that internal policy should focus upon subsidizing the farmers because “under the governance of Musharraf and the ‘imported’ Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who has a background in banking, all subsidies for peasants were eradicated. This destroyed the average Pakistani. They had adopted an inhumane policy and neither Musharraf nor Aziz are democrats and they never acknowledged what is really happening to the people. For this reason, the first act that should be taken by the democratic government is to restore the subsidies for farmers so that prices would decrease and we would be able to combat inflation, especially food price inflation, which is destroying the lives of ordinary people. Pakistan is a country rich in agriculture.”
Khan adds that Pakistan’s foreign policy should serve in the best interest of the Pakistani people and not in the interest of the Americans. He said, “We cannot change our neighbours. We should have good neighbourly ties with India, Afghanistan and Iran without intervention. More importantly, our relationship with the United States should not be one of master and slave; it should be one of friendship.”
Imran Khan boycotted the elections based on principle. His movement calls for a regime that respects the autonomy of the judiciary system. When the Pakistani judiciary acted in defence of the independence of its resolutions and out of respect for the constitution and confronted President Pervez Musharraf, he suspended the judiciary and the constitution and declared a state of emergency and called for elections. Imran Khan said, “We had to stand by the judges, so we boycotted the elections to show our support for the judges who were suspended.”
The two main parties that were successful in the elections, namely the Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (N), announced that they would form a coalition government, however the views of each party towards some sensitive issues, most importantly the reinstating of the judiciary, remain ambiguous.
Imran Khan said, “They must reinstall the judiciary. If they do not, I tell you that the lawyers and my alliance (the Pakistan Movement for Justice and Pakistani civil society and approximately twenty parties) will take to the streets in protest. Reinstating the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is the first action that needs to be taken…This is in their own interest especially if they want to prevent the military from intervening and disturbing the government.”
Imran Khan admitted that these elections were not legitimate owing to the suspension of both the judiciary and the constitution; however he says, “We respect the empowerment of the people but we do not accept that Musharraf is our constitutional president.”
It is well known that the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani had served under Bhutto, Nawaz and Musharraf, so who will he support this time? According to Imran Khan, “If Kiyani does not interfere in the democratic process, neutralises the military and the political wing of the intelligence unit, respects the constitution and encourages the reinstallation of the judiciary, then he will be a hero.” With regards to his friendship with Musharraf who appointed him, Imran says, “Our history has taught us that people do not remain friends when they occupy important posts. In fact, he becomes a friend only to himself and his position.”
Does Khan mean that Kiyani will not help Musharraf to become president with absolute power once again? He replied, “Definitely not. We have also learnt from history that all autocratic military leaders have been overthrown by the military.”
Imran Khan will have no role in the new government or in any post; however, he says “If the judiciary is not reinstalled then our role is clear. We will take to the streets in protest.”