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Imran Khan interview transcript

Published: 1:16PM Sunday September 25, 2011 Source: Q+A

  • Imran Khan talks to Q+A (Source: Q+A)
    Imran Khan talks to Q+A - Source: Q+A

GUYON ESPINER Well, thank you for joining us. I guess many people in New Zealand will remember you from your cricketing days, and you write in your book that there was an element, when playing England, of trying to right the colonial wrongs and assert the country's independence. Was that a motivating factor for you when you were playing England?

IMRAN KHAN - Pakistan politician

Always, and not just me. I know my contemporaries - one of my friends and rivals, Viv Richards, and Sunil Gavaskar - I remember when we used to meet or socialise, it always was an element, because remember the effects of colonialism were still strong when we came into international cricket in the beginning of the '70s. And so whenever you played England, it was as if you were trying to win back your self-esteem - something that colonialism destroys in a people.

GUYON And you also talk about the fact that, far from shaking off colonialism, the ruling elite in Pakistan simply slipped into its shoes. Reading your book, it almost seems as though the country, which has only existed in this form since 1947, has always been ruled either by the elite or by the military and never for the people. Is that fair?

MR KHAN You see, unfortunately, when countries come out of colonialism, unless they have some exceptional leadership, it is very easy for the colonial structures - they lend themselves to dictators. So whether an army takes over, and if you look at countries coming out of colonialism, how many of them were taken over by generals or by autocrats. So in the case of Pakistan, even when we did not have a general running the country, even the so-called Democrats, they behaved like dictators too.

GUYON And you write about the new aspect of colonialism, which I guess you see as the United States, and the puppets, as you describe them, in Pakistan's government, who, in exchange for money, allow their own people to be bombed by America's drone aircraft. Is that how you see it?

MR KHAN Even worse, it's probably the only instance in history where a country has bombed its own people by taking money from some other country. I don't think there's any precedence for this. So really the ruling elite has made our army a mercenary army to fight its own people, which is what's basically happened - 140,000 Pakistani soldiers along tribal areas which border Afghanistan, and essentially fighting our own tribesmen. You might call them Taliban, but actually this was a reaction. The moment the Pakistan army went into the tribal areas, there was going to be an uprising. Because in 1948, our first only great leader - he pulled the army out of the tribal areas. We never had any trouble. Tribal areas are semi-autonomous. Only 40 laws of Pakistan apply there. They joined Pakistan through treaty. So Musharraf in 2004 sent the army in, and it took two years of collateral damage, because basically Pakistan army and the drones, they were bombing villages through artillery, the helicopter gunships, F16s - villages - caused massive collateral damage, and that collateral damage created the Pakistani Taliban. We did not have any militant Taliban until 2006.

GUYON When you say that that this is in exchange for money, I guess you're talking about the billions of dollars, are you, in American aid, which flows into Pakistan and, I guess, supports its military?

MR KHAN Well, put it this way - every month, the Americans give the Pakistani army money, which is called something like imbursement or disimbursement for the action or activities that they've done in a month. So we get monthly payment from the Americans, and basically our army is fighting our own people in the tribal areas. And this insanity has caused radicalisation in our society. Every year, violence has grown in Pakistan.

GUYON Despite that attempt to, I guess, ingratiate themselves with the United States, the relationship is sour, as you say, and indeed when Osama bin Laden was found in Pakistan, the chief of the CIA, Leon Panetta, said that the Pakistan government was either complicit or incompetent in that. What is your reaction to that?

MR KHAN Extremely humiliating. A country loses 35,000 people dead, $70 billion lost to the economy - total aid has only been $20 billion since 9/11 - 3.5 million people internally displaced, and then your ally tells you it doesn't trust you, comes in, violates your sovereignty to take someone out, and then says you're either complicit or you're incompetent. I mean, if there was a self-respecting leadership in Pakistan, firstly, it would never had got in to this war. But if after giving these sacrifices... A war we had nothing to do with. No Pakistani was involved in 9/11, Al Qaeda was in Afghanistan, no militant Taliban in Pakistan, so how did we get in to this stage where we have 35,000 people dead? And then when you hear this, you know, there was humiliation, anger at our own government. Also, we wanted to know what happened. We don't know what happened. Was Pakistan really complicit or was it incompetence? We don't know.

GUYON What do you think? Imran Khan, do you think that there must have been some complicitness for him to stay there so long? And so close - wasn't it a mile from a Pakistan military academy?

MR KHAN Well, firstly, I mean, the Pakistan army's taken a real battering from terrorists. The GHQ has been attacked; the naval headquarters attacked; commando centre, 50 commandoes killed. About 5000, 6000 soldiers have died. Now, would they be harbouring the same guy, you know, who's the mastermind - or supposedly the mastermind? But I can understand one thing - remember, until about 20 years ago, Osama bin Laden was very much a friend of the Americans. Al Qaeda had very close links with the ISI. So they were very closely knit together, because they were fighting the jihad. Remember these people were heroes at one point. The Mujahidin - ones who do jihad against the Soviets - were heroes. So suddenly when Pakistan does a somersault some 11 years later after 9/11, it is possible that within the agencies that certain links would have stayed with the Taliban or Al Qaeda. I don't know. There's a commission which is trying to investigate what happened.

GUYON OK. They're trying to find some answers.

MR KHAN As I speak, this commission is...

GUYON OK, New Zealand has been, in its own small way, involved in this war in Afghanistan for a decade or so itself. When our prime minster talks about why New Zealand is there, John Key says that it's to stop Afghanistan again being a home for terrorism. What do you say to New Zealand's prime minister, John Key, in response to that?

MR KHAN The New Zealand prime minister does not understand Afghanistan. If only he had read the history of Afghanistan, even the British - three wars in Afghanistan. The Russians killed a million Afghans - a million out of a population then of 15 million. A million died, and they were fighting more at the end than the beginning. Everyone was fighting. The women were fighting. They do not understand Afghanistan. This is a quagmire. From day one, I've opposed it, this insane war, and I can give you in writing that for another 10 years, there will be fighting there, and they will make no headway at all. In fact, they radicalise the people much more.

GUYON So your advice to New Zealand in terms of its involvement in Afghanistan?

MR KHAN That there is no military solution. There's going to be a political solution. And the longer they keep killing people, and this military, these night raids - remember, most of the people being killed are innocent civilians. They are not fighting an army. They are fighting militants which are being supported by the population. That's why they're going to lose the war - because it's not a question of Taliban; it's a resistance movement now. And the history tells you, in Afghanistan, whenever an invader comes, they get together and they will resist. They have never accepted outsiders.

GUYON Can we turn to domestic politics in Pakistan? You talk about the corruption, the history of dictators, the poverty. You've got an intelligence service which is pretty much answering to no one and nuclear weapons. It will sound to many in the West that that's a pretty dangerous combination. Should we be worried about that?

MR KHAN Well, the least thing that the West needs to worry about are the nuclear weapons. And the intelligence agencies are basically the army. The army has intelligence agencies. It's not out of control. It's very much controlled by the army chief. The impression given is that it's out of control. The fact is that the Pakistan army actually is fairly disciplined. How long this stays is another question, because how long can you make your army fight your own people? And therefore there's been a little bit of unrest within the army - the naval headquarters, the army headquarters were attacked, the commando base was attacked. They were inside jobs, so clearly... And Musharraf was attacked twice - attempts on his life again within the army. So if we keep assisting with this war, there is a chance that there could be something within the army, but at the moment, it is a disciplined organisation. Our main problem in Pakistan is a corrupt leadership, and this corrupt leadership...

GUYON Well, you talk about that corruption. How would you turn this around? Because you are aiming, as I understand it, to be prime minister after next year's elections. What have you got that makes you different that could turn around this history of corruption?

MR KHAN It is not rocket science. If you are clean yourself, you're willing to hold yourself accountable, you will be willing to hold others accountable. But crooks cannot hold other crooks accountable. So the problem we have had is that both leaders of both political parties have made massive billions of dollars out of corruption, and so they deal with each other, but they cannot fight corruption, because one calls the other one crook, and he says, "You're crooked too," and they do nothing. So what you need in Pakistan is a clean government.

GUYON Can there be a fair election, Imran Khan?

MR KHAN Well, what is positive at the moment in Pakistan is that we have an independent supreme court. This is not by an accident. People of Pakistan rallied behind a chief justice twice when he was kicked out to get him back in, and so we have an genuinely independent supreme court, number one. That will then protect the election commission. Already it has started making electoral reforms. And secondly we have a very vibrant media, which has led to the public being more politically aware now than ever in our history. So these are the two positives. What we need is free and fair elections, and Pakistan will suddenly... from this darkness, suddenly you'll see Pakistan rise, because all the ingredients for genuine democracy are there. Whenever we have next elections, the change will take place.

GUYON Can I ask you, finally - I mean, we've talked about the history of corruption and obviously of assassinations in your country. You haven't really minced your words in this interview and I know in many others. Do you fear for your life when you return to Pakistan?

MR KHAN Well, I've just done a book, you know, explaining Pakistan to the West, as well as giving direction to our youth, which is my biggest following there. And in that I say when I joined politics... Before I went into politics, I only went when I lost complete fear of death or overcame the fear of death. Because if you are scared of dying, you don't go into Pakistani politics.

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