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Q & A with Imran Khan - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Imran Khan (Asharq Al-Awsat Photo by Hatim Owaida)

Imran Khan (Asharq Al-Awsat Photo by Hatim Owaida)

Q: Recently, the US Army launched an attack across Syrian borders, an action that has remarkable resemblance to what occurred in Pakistan early September. What are your thoughts on this policy where the US feels at ease to attack across borders?

A: Had there been a proper leader in Pakistan, he would have stood up by now and told the US that all they are doing is worsening the situation.

This is a tried and failed policy, because all it is doing is creating more hatred for the US.

When you are fighting terrorism you are fighting an idea not a conventional army and basically the more hatred against US, the more people are going to go to the ‘other side,’ people who have nothing to do with 9-11.

The second point is: violating Pakistani territory, and remember that Pakistan is an ally in the war on terror, it has taken a huge beating because of it.

It is true our economy initially gained from money coming in but now we are suffering, there is unrest and a civil war happening between our army and our own tribal people who have nothing to do with Al Qaeda.

Above all most of the time they are killing innocent people, because militants stay on the move.

This results in hatred against the US, hatred against our own army for helping the US.

Q: So if the US should not be allowed to take out the targets itself cross borders and the Pakistani army cannot or will not do it, what should the US do exactly?

A: First of all, this is an idiotic war and it wasn’t really well thought through, the objectives were never clear…they [the Americans] didn’t even know who the enemy was.

To start with, if Al Qaeda was responsible for 9/11 and only Al Qaeda has the capacity to hit Western capitals, why did they [the Americans] take on the Taliban? Why didn’t they take the time to isolate Al Qaeda from the Taliban? That could have happened.

In any case, you don’t take just over three weeks to decide to bomb a whole nation and attack a whole people who have nothing to do with 9/11. War is a last resort not a first option.

By attacking the Taliban and then empowering the war lords, this resulted in no rule of law and drug barons becoming stronger, then the minority Northern Alliance got stronger over the Pashtun majority.

Basically, they now have the whole Pashtun against them, whether it is in Afghanistan or Pakistan…as a result, Pakistan was dragged into this war, Pakistan had nothing with 9/11.

Then I ask: when they attacked the Taliban, they should have cut off the retreat of Al Qaeda, why did they allow them to come into Pakistan and do nothing for two years?

Rather than finishing the job, they [the Americans] ended up in Iraq; you have 140,000 troops in Iraq only 30,000 in Afghanistan.

They aren’t trying to find a solution, because they are creating more problems. The conflict that started back in Waziristan has now spread over 2,500 kilometers on the tribal belt now. We now have a new phenomena called Tareek-e-Taliban that wasn’t there before and they are gaining popularity, so the point is…when you are in a hole, stop digging!

Q: Isolating the Taliban from Al Qaeda, wouldn’t you say that is something easier said than done, you mentioned it was possible, so how was it so?

A: To start with, all the anti-Taliban commanders met in Peshawar before the war and begged the Americans not to bomb the Taliban. They said the Taliban were imploding, they have run out of the steam…they said to the Americans “give us a bit longer and we will bring about a peaceful regime change”.

Second, there was an incident where the Shura (Parliament) of the Taliban met and actually recommended that Osama Bin Laden should leave Afghanistan (before the war).

Third, the Taliban actually said give us proof about Osama and we will hand him over or to a Muslim country, they never refused. There were negations going on.

Therefore, for them to turn around and say, ‘What choice do we have,’ they had a lot of choices.

Q: There is a lot of concern at the moment of Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities falling into extremist hands, how serious do you regard these concerns in reality?

A: This is absolute nonsense. The reason I say this is because there has always been a plot against Pakistan’s nuclear program, this is from the same lobby that is petrified from the idea of the development of the Iranian nuclear power.

Somehow, the Zionist lobby, that has always been in this propaganda against Pakistan’s nuclear and the Islamic bomb, don’t talk about the Indian Nuclear Program.

Whereas Pakistan’s reason for having a bomb is the same reason Israel has a bomb; Israel always claims that it is surrounded by hostile neighbors, well Pakistan is surrounded by a nuclear armed neighbor that is seven times its size, we fought 3 wars [with it].

It is nonsense, there is a consensus in Pakistan that our nuclear program guarantees our security, whether you are religious, moderate or military party…the consensus is that the nuclear program should be protected.

Secondly, how is it going to fall into the hands of Al Qaeda, if only moderate parties are voted for? Religious parties, who are not all extreme by the way, don’t get any votes.

I could add that there are more right wingers that get elected in India, America or Israel than in Pakistan.

Pakistan has an army of 700,000 soldiers, how is going into falling of into the hands of Al Qaeda?

The problem is Pakistan fighting someone else’s war, and as a result is being destabilized.

And in the end, that same someone [for whom Pakistan is fighting the war] is saying because it is getting destabilized the nuclear program should be secured.

Q: In a recent speech, you warned against absolute chaos in Pakistan, you mentioned issues such as rising fuel prices and inflation, poverty and militancy. If you were in power what would you do?

A: First, I would pull the army out of the tribal areas and only use policing and settle this through political dialogue and then cooperation.

By the way, according to an analysis covering all terrorism over the last 40 years, only 8 percent of conflicts were solved through military, all the rest were solved through policing and political dialogue…look at Northern Ireland for example, it was solved through dialogue.

Second, very stringent measures in Pakistan to fix the economy, which would mean massive expenditure cutting on the government, I would make the rich pay taxes.

I would ask all leaders to bring all their money back to the country, and then appeal to the overseas Pakistanis to bring their money in.

We can solve this economic issue, it is not a big problem. But because of so much corruption and all the ruling elite has its money outside after looting it from Pakistan, this creates the problem.

Q: What about the IMF’s help?

A: It is a tried and failed formula, we tried it before and it has always set us back and as far as I know, no other country has benefited from it. The IMF’s recipe is always that the rich get richer and poor get poorer.

Q: How will history remember former President Pervez Musharraf?

A: I think Musharraf will go down in history as the biggest conman that took over Pakistan. He lied from day one and never had any intentions to do what he promised.

The war on terror fell like a gift on his lap, he portrayed himself as a liberal against Islamic extremism, so he milked the US and the publicity, but actually he is responsible for all we are going through today,

Economically, never has any government had as much money as Musharraf did in return for him lending his services to the US, but he still resided over the biggest economic meltdown in the country…all the money went into consumption nothing went to infrastructure, we are short of energy, he never planned anything.

We have the biggest ever inflation and unemployment, the only benefiter was a tiny proportion of the rich elite and the poor people are suffering today.

Above all, he got stuck in this war on terror, which wasn’t our war…and the biggest benefiter are the religious extremists.

That is why I am saying Pakistan needs a leader right now, unfortunately we have a criminal being touted as a leader at the moment, a president who has a lot of corruption cases and whose wealth is laying outside, who has basically been given amnesty through a deal brokered between him, the Americans and Musharraf, and as a result another puppet of the Americans.

Q: Since you’ve labeled Musharraf a conman and considering that you’ve backed him in the past, would it be fair to say that you were conned as well?

A: Absolutely, not only me but the vast majority of people were conned by him. It took us a while to discover that because he was a good conman!

We joined in because of his program, as he promised to bring us genuine democracy, but what he did in the end is that he went back on everything he promised us.

Q: Is there any role that the ISI can still play with regards to the Taliban, considering that many people think it played a major role in actually building it?

A: To think that the Pakistani intelligence agency built the Taliban is really over-estimating the abilities of any intelligence agency.

The Taliban were a product of the chaos caused by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the bloodshed as they killed 1.3 million people of a population of 15 [million].

After that everyone abandoned Afghanistan in 1989, and then it was taken over by warlords who killed hundreds of thousands of people to get power.

From the ashes rose a movement called the Taliban. It is true that Pakistan owned that movement after a while, but Taliban was an indigenous movement that grew in Afghanistan.

As far as the ISI is concerned, I think it was maligned unfairly, I don’t think the ISI is responsible for the mess that is going on… there is a 2500 KM border and about a 100 to a 150 thousand people cross the border every month.

If the intelligence can control this, then why is the Taliban blowing up ISI buses and killing military people? If the ISI is patronizing them, it makes no sense.

Q: What are your thoughts regarding the suicide attack that happened at the Marriot Hotel earlier this summer?

A: I think there are so many players now involved in the tribal areas; the Pakistan government is accusing India and Afghanistan of stirring up trouble in those areas.

Some ex-Pakistani generals have said that some Russian money is flowing into the tribal areas.

American enemies don’t want America to get out of this.

The problem is that when people are getting killed nobody knows who is responsible now.

You see, what Pakistan is doing now (in those areas) is Arial bombardment, and bombs don’t distinguish between innocent and terrorist, this is what is called collateral damage.

Obviously, the more the collateral damage, the more people are picking up arms and there is more than one group operating now… it is true that whoever is fighting the Americans and the Pakistani army is called Tareek-e-Taliban but it isn’t a centralized movement.

There are a lot of small group operating, the Taliban didn’t claim it… so we don’t actually know who has done it.

Q: What are your thoughts on exporting the ‘Sahwat’ phenomena which some argue has worked in Iraq, where fighting the extremists is handed to local citizens to Pakistan?

A: What has happened now is that the Americans are now facing Pashton nationalism.

It is not the Taliban anymore, as the Pashton have allied themselves with them.

And actually what has always happened throughout Pashton history, the factions always fight among themselves, but when an invader comes, they always stand together against him.

To replicate this model, they (Americans) would hope they would pay money to one group of people to contain the other… its not going to happen, as the Pashton would take the money but will not fight other tribes for someone else. The circumstances are just different than Iraq.

Q: How much weapons are we talking about in the tribal areas?

A: Everyman – since we have known the Pashton belt, which is even before Alexander the Great – has always been armed.

To be unarmed is to be undressed, and we are talking about a million armed men in that area.

Q: Do you regret not participating in the election?

A: The Chief Justice who stood up against a military dictator for the first time in our history is the biggest hope for our country. If Pakistan is to ever progress into a real democracy, the re-instatement of the Chief Justice holds the key to this.

This movement for the reinstatement of the judges and the independence of the judiciary is the most important since the movement of Pakistan.

12 years ago when we founded the PTI, our main idea was that justice and rule of law can only exist if you have independence of judiciary.

So, when Musharraf sacked the Chief Justice and 60 percent of the superior court judges, we were never going to fight in elections and no democratic party should have fought in them.

They should have stood with those judges and the lawyers because if it wasn’t for them, neither Benezir or Nawaz Sheriff would have been allowed back if it wasn’t for the lawyers struggle in the streets of Pakistan.

Q: What is your take on the upcoming US elections?

A: The hope lies in the Obama-Biden ticket, simply because the Republicans are talking about another Surge, which means more bled shed and more killing.

Obama also talks about being aggressive, but Biden is the real hope because he is really an expert, and if anyone understands this area from American politicians it is Joe Biden.

Q: What are your views of how Pakistan’s relationship should be with the following countries: India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, USA?

A: India: One thing for sure, we will always be neighbors so we should have good relations, Kashmir will always be a problem but I think we should listen to what the people in Kashmir say.

Saudi Arabia: It has been a long time supportive friend of Pakistan, as was China.

USA: No doubt a superpower, I would rather our relationship with them is on a friend’s basis and not on a master/slave basis.

Q: One last question and it is cricket related, do you miss playing and why is Pakistan not doing well at the moment?

A: No, I never look back. As for Pakistan’s cricket team, well there is an institutional failure in Pakistan, and sports are just following everything else.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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