"Islam means Justice,
To cricket fans around the world, Imran Khan, 45, will perhaps always be the "Lion of Lahore." The legendary cricket captain played for 21 years, both in Pakistan and in the UK. A source of unending national pride for his country he abruptly stopped professional cricket after captaining Pakistan to its l992 World Cup victory and on his 40th birthday, the international playboy metamorphosed into a social and political reformer. These days he dresses in simple, traditional clothing and can usually be found in his small office in the cancer hospital he built in memory of his mother. Not only is this ultra modern facility reputedly the finest of its kind in Pakistan, 92 percent of its patients receive their cancer treatments for free. He credits his abrupt transformation in character to his renewed faith in Islam.
Nancho: Salman Taseer of the PPP (Pakistan People's Party) once gave this assessment of your political prospects: "He does not understand the realities of politics. Politics in Pakistan is a nasty, slow, dangerous grind. I have been to jail 14 times, he has never seen the back end of a jail." After your poor showing in the February 3rd elections last year, how would you assess his view of the nature of politics in Pakistan and your potential to succeed within it?
IK: People like Salman Taseer are professional politicians. They have no ideology; they have no vision. The only reason they are in politics is to get the perks and privileges and benefits of power. So for them, I guess I am naive because I am an idealist. I believe that Pakistan needs a revolution, precisely against people like Salman Taseer who have just sucked this country dry, who have destroyed this country and destroyed the potential in this country by engaging in meaningless politics - this politics of musical chairs.
Nancho: Why did you decide to stand in the elections when as you say the party is in fact very immature?
IK: It was a very calculated move. We knew we could not win the elections and my worry was more of winning the elections than losing it because we were not prepared. Although I'm sure we could have done a better job than what Nawaz Sharif is doing with his huge mandate, we were not prepared for the revolution we want to bring about. The idea of standing in the elections was not to come into power, but to do two things. One was to bring the main issues of corruption and accountability out into public view. Corruption has destroyed not only the institutional infrastructure in Pakistan, it is destroying the social fabric of the country now and has eaten into every institution. We were successful in that because both of the major political parties, which are both corrupt parties, also decided to say that they would fight against corruption.
Nancho: Having come yourself from a rather privileged class here in Pakistan, what credentials do you feel you have for leading the poor, the impoverished, the disenfranchised?
IK: The assumption that only an underprivileged person can understand how the underprivileged feel is not really true. Nawaz Sharif's family, for example, if you go back just one or two generations, were very underprivileged. It did not mean that once he came into power, he started looking after the underprivileged. No, he started looking after himself. Similarly, there are people who have been very privileged, but God creates compassion in them for the poor. So, the two are not necessarily connected. I have to confess that I never thought of the poor people. I was not born with compassion for poor people.
Nancho: Do you think that you could possibly be more effective as a social reformer than in the realm of politics?
IK: No social reformer has ever, ever changed a country. Even Gandhi was not a social reformer alone. He was a brilliant politician who mobilized the people and had an entire political party behind him. It's only through politics can you change a country. We have a very commendable social worker, Sabjul Kameedi, who has been working in Karachi for years and unfortunately the situation has gone from bad to worse and it's not improving. No social reformer can do anything. I can build a hospital and schools but if the country is sinking what are we going to do? If, for instance, the rupee is devalued through bad management which is being predicted by the way, how are we going to run the hospital? The hospital relies on imported medicine and medicine is one-third the cost of the hospital. Our equipment is all from abroad. We don't manufacture any equipment here. So how are we going to run it? My idea was always to stay in social work. I had thought to go into education after building the hospital but I realized that is not enough. No NGO can do anything. The only way we can change this country is to bring in the proper people at the helm of leadership; people who are conscientious, who want to change the society. Only they can change this country.
Nancho: What are the basic tenets of your soft revolution?
IK: A revolution means that the people who want to uphold the status quo are removed and new people are brought in their place. That is the revolution; that the Mafias that are controlling our wealth, who are controlling our assemblies, who are controlling politics and business in this country and who have benefited enormously from this state patronage, who are all part of this system, they all have to go and a new system has to come in its place.
Nancho: How do you realistically plan to go about affecting this revolution?
IK: The people's awareness of corruption is growing fast and so is the resentment at their suffering. The system is already collapsing. In a way it is divine intervention; the Almighty can allow oppression for so long but eventually that oppression grows to a point and then it destroys itself. The oppression is destroying itself and the system can no longer function - the state enterprises are collapsing; the political system stands completely exposed; the whole parliamentary form of democracy is now exposed. Here we have a prime minister who has completely hijacked all the powers using the mandate the people gave him to bring about reform. He has used that mandate to become a virtual dictator in the country. He has destroyed the Supreme Court because he could not tolerate an independent Supreme Court Justice. He has made the Parliament his slaves. He has taken away their power to debate anything.
Nancho: You have said that both a secular form of government as well as parliamentary democracy are both unworkable in a country like Pakistan. What form of government would you suggest?
IK: I think parliamentary democracy can fit in very easily in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. What I have said is that the Westminster type of parliamentary democracy has failed. I believe that systems must evolve from their own culture, own traditions of the people. I just do not think that an alien system imposed on a people ever works. The British Parliamentary Democracy took over 250 years of gradual evolvement to get to where it is today. Similarly the American presidential form of government took a long time. To expect that a country with different traditions, different problems, different languages, different provinces and a different psyche all together, it was wrong to expect that the same sort of system would work here. I think it is time that we started thinking of the experiences of our own country, looking at other systems all over the world and seeing how we can make it work in our own country. That's a long term view.
Nancho: Can you briefly outline your educational platform?
IK: One syllabus for the whole country. At the moment we have three syllabuses. We have the English medium for the privileged which is about three to four percent of the population. We have Urdu medium for the majority and for those who don't have access to good Urdu-medium schools we have deedri masalasams (sp??) which are religious schools. No country can have three parallel systems which do not communicate with each other at all. You are producing three types of people. The system is very unfair because the poor masses don't have access to higher education. So, we should have one, integrated syllabus for everyone.
Nancho: How feasible is it to implement these programs on a grassroots level?
IK: It can only happen with community participation. Unless and until we get the people involved, nothing can happen. We cannot have a centralized system like we have had. We need a decentralized system where the community and the government become one, but the community has control over its own affairs. Right now, we did a survey and out of 54 primary schools, only three were open, 51 were closed; and the teachers were getting their salaries from the national budget, but the teachers were doing other jobs. The villagers did not know who to address their grievances, they had no access to the government. If the villagers were paying the salaries of those teachers, this could never happen.
Nancho: Going back then, can you describe something of your own tribe, the Pathans, and how those values and ethics have permeated your present political philosophy?
IK: I think my ethics are strictly based on Islam. I believe that a proper interpretation of Islam is the cure for Pakistan because Islam is the psyche of the people. People understand the rudiments of Islam here, not the philosophy because unfortunately Islam is constantly exploited for getting votes or for getting political power. It is not used for providing us a civilized system in this country which it can give. The first tenet of Islam is lai, lai, lilla which is a charter for the freedom of man; above all Islam gives freedom to man. Islam insists on a very democratic system and yet that democracy we have never had. We have never had freedom of man here. Our human beings in this country have never had rights. We have had this feudal country where few people have always used the political process to hijack the rights of the people.
Nancho: What role would the minorities and women play in your government? How would it change from the present situation?
IK: As equal citizens. Minorities should have complete rights, and their places of worship should be protected. This was the promise of the only true leader we've ever had, Mohammad Jinnah and every Pakistani should uphold that pledge.
Nancho: You have also been condemned by even your fellow Pakistanis as being an Islamic fundamentalist.
IK: There are two things with which I have been attacked. One is that I am part of Jewish conspiracy and the other is that I'm a fundamentalist. Either I can be part of a Jewish conspiracy or I can be an Islamic fundamentalist. They have both been used politically really to damage me. The Islamic fundamentalist has been used abroad to scare away foreigners and the Jewish conspiracy has been used in Pakistan to tell the local people that I am not a Muslim at all. It's all politically motivated because I could not be attacked in terms of corruption.
Nancho: What does Islamic fundamentalism mean? Why has the West taken on this term to crusade against the Muslims?
IK: The West is totally ignorant about Islam. There are pockets in the West now which fortunately are beginning to understand. I have read one or two very important books by westerners on Islam recently but books like "Clash of Civilization" by Huntington don't help. He envisages these monolith Islamic civilizations and doesn't realize that in Islam there are so many different types of civilizations. To say that Islam here in Pakistan is the same as that in Chechnya or in Bosnia or in Saudi Arabia is just nonsense because they are very different civilizations. We believe in the same basic ideology, but that ideology encompasses all human beings.
Nancho: The understanding of other religions within Islamic Pakistan, too, has not been too well communicated it seems.
IK: In Pakistan the majority of the people are extremely moderate. They have lived with the Hindus for centuries. Most of their history here has been living with the Hindus. Just fifty years back in the Punjab they were living with the Sikhs. Sectarianism and religious intolerance is a relatively recent phenomena in our history and I believe that it is politically motivated. Most people have condemned sectarianism in the country. Who are these people? Who patronizes them? Who allows them to carry guns? Who allows them to get out of prison?
Nancho: What catalyzed your personal transformation from international playboy to devout Muslim?
IK: My generation grew up with a severe colonial hang up. Our older generation had been virtual slaves and had a huge inferiority complex of the British. The school I went to was similar to all elite schools in Pakistan. Despite becoming independent, they were, and still are, producing replicas of public school boys rather than Pakistanis. I read Shakespeare, which was fine, but no Alama Iqbal. Despite periodically shouting "Pakistan Zindabad" at school functions, I considered my own culture backward and Islam an outdated religion. Because of the power of the Western media, all our heroes were western movie or pop stars. When I went to Oxford already burdened with this hang-up from my school days, things didn't get any easier. In University not just Islam but all religions were considered an anachronism. Science had replaced religion and if something couldn't be logically proven, it did not exist. Philosophers like Darwin with his theory of evolution was supposed to have disproved the creation of men and hence religion.
Nancho: The jilghar system which is a council of the most respected elders of the community is the traditional way of solving disputes. Every decision must be followed and cannot be challenged. This is prominent in Pathan tribes where there is no court, no police, everything is decided by jilghar.
IK: I have faith that given a chance, all the diverse sects could sent their elders to a council in Islamabad and hammer out a law code acceptable to all. But the problem in Pakistan is the quality of people who end up in Parliament. If drug smugglers, people who have looted our banks, people who make money through corruption, are allowed in the Parliament, then the whole system is destroyed. How can these people who are presently in Parliament nominate the members of the Panchayat and the Jilghar? They will corrupt the whole system.
Nancho: Decentralization is a major cornerstone of your platform. How then do you feel about the big multinationals, like the tobacco companies, wanting to come into Pakistan and use it as a base for distribution around Central Asia?
IK: Any multinational can come into Pakistan and sell whatever product they want, no matter how harmful to the people because they have huge amounts of money and here everyone is for sale. It can only change if you have a proper government which worries about the people, not about their own bank balances in Swiss bank accounts. By investing in certain areas, however, I think the multinationals could be of some help in a country like ours.
Nancho: Well, what is your personal vision for Pakistan in the 21st century, especially considering that you now have a young son who is going to inherit this culture?
IK: My vision is a huge vision. But in a nutshell, I want Pakistan to be a model Islamic state which relies on the freedom of man. I believe that God has given us enormous potential, all human beings. That potential can only be developed in a free environment. Freedom from illiteracy, freedom from all forms of state oppression, equal opportunities, justice, a proper system of law and order and having a small bureaucracy. I believe in an efficient state which does not impinge on people's individual rights but allows for the natural genius of people to evolve and to develop. Only then can we create a civilized country.
Nancho: How does India fit into this vision?
IK: India is a neighbor and we should have friendly relations with all our neighbors and all human beings. You know, for instance, in this hospital you needn't be a Muslim to be allowed in here. Anyone can walk in here with dignity.
Nancho: That is a very political response. What can you actually do to help defuse the present antagonistic situation that exists between India and Pakistan where a large percentage of their national budgets is going toward increased defense spending?
IK: You say that it's a political statement, but it's not really. There are two separate things: the defense of a country and what can be hoped for in a relationship. The reason we do not have a relationship with them is because of Kashmir. When one sees the kind of oppression that is going on in Kashmir, I think it is our moral duty, and not only ours, it should be the world's, the international community's moral responsibility, to help these people to decide their own destiny. The 1948 UN Resolution clearly stated that these people should be allowed to hold a plebiscite to decide their own fate. The international community clearly seems to have forgotten them but Pakistan should never abandon the Kashmiris.
Nancho: You have always displayed a fierce single-mindedness with a marksman's ability to focus on the ball amid the roar of 70,000 spectators. Can you describe that experience during intense moments of concentration and how this will help you in your political career?
IK: Anyone who achieves anything in professional sport and probably anything in life, has to be single-minded. You have to have the concentration, the self-denial, the determination and the ability to rise from a defeat. You can ever become a champion unless you can constantly lift yourself back up after falling down. You cannot become a champion. You can be a most talented player but only fighting back makes a champion. More than my concentration was my ability to lift myself again and again which I always did in my cricketing career..
Nancho rep: Kathy Sokol-Kubiak