Exclusive Interview: Imran Khan
13th October 2008
I'd like to thank PP's own Wazeeri, PTI UK's head Rabia Zia and of course the great Imran Khan himself for making this interview possible.
This interview was conducted during the UK leg of Imran's recent world tour to promote his political party Tehreek E Insaf.
PakPassion.Net: What's your response to the repeated calls for you to take up the PCB Chairman's job and to sort out Pakistan cricket? Do you think you can balance your political commitments with the job of the PCB Chairman?
Imran Khan: I'm in politics now and it's a full time job. There's no way that I can leave politics and go back into cricket.
PakPassion.Net: Given the current state of Pakistani cricket, what would be your solution to put us back on the map?
Imran Khan: Pakistani cricket needs to become truly professional, it needs to be made into an institution. These departments are a cancer within Pakistani cricket, we need to get rid of them and replace them with a maximum of 7 regional first class teams. These teams should be represented by regional associations with elected members and the chairman of the PCB should be someone who is elected by the same regional associations. We need to separate politics and sport, it's unacceptable for the head of state to appoint the PCB Chairman. This ad hoc system needs to stop, we need a full time salaried head of the PCB who is selected solely on merit and not because of his connections. I mean it's not rocket science, it's the same system in place elsewhere.
PakPassion.Net: You spent a lot of time preparing players like Waqar, Wasim and Aaqib to take over from you once you retired. Do you think that Wasim and Waqar made a genuine attempt to groom the next generation of pace bowlers?
Imran Khan: I think they tried their best but it shouldn't have to be their responsibility. You referred to me picking players based on potential and then grooming them, that's fine for the players that I did spot but what about all the players that I never saw play? If a talented player was lucky enough to be spotted by me, I took him under my wing. I gave him advice and in some cases I even used Test cricket to give him on the job training but that's very hit and miss. Lots of talented players will slip through the nets and never get discovered, that's why we need a proper streamlined domestic system in place so that the competition for places will mean that only the best will survive at first class level. So in conclusion it shouldn’t be Wasim, Waqar or any individual players’ responsibility to discover and develop the next generation of cricketers to replace them.
PakPassion.Net: I asked because we recently did an interview with Mohammad Akram who told us that Wasim and Waqar didn't do anything for youngsters because they were too scared of losing their own spots. Your views?
Imran Khan: I wasn't playing after 1992, I was just a distant observer who wasn't involved in Pakistani cricket. So I don't know the answer to your question but I believe that it shouldn't be Waqar or Wasim's responsibility to develop cricketers.
PakPassion.Net: Would you agree with those Pakistani cricketers who played under your captaincy that your leadership style was very dictatorial and that you were big on discipline?
Imran Khan: It's not a question of dictatorial, there are rules in place for everyone and those rules are there to be followed. When Symonds was disciplined recently, was that dictatorial? If you don't have discipline in the team then you would have the chaos that Pakistan cricket is going through right now. The reason Pakistan cricket has so many issues right now is because of their inconsistent discipline policy. If a player is performing well then he can get away with anything, he can break all of the rules without censure but if he's doing badly or on his way out then he gets punished. Shoaib Akhtar is a case in point. All I did when I was captain was to apply the rules equally to everyone, nobody was above the law. There's no place for a dictator in a cricket team because the other players are not employed by you, if they don't like your leadership style they can revolt against you and that has happened to some captains in the past. If you want your team to follow you then they have to respect you, you can't demand respect nor can you force anyone to respect you otherwise Shoaib Malik would be having a much easier time.
PakPassion.Net: Why have you been so supportive of Shoaib Akhtar who probably has the worst discipline record of any cricketer ever? Dont you think your public support encourages him to think he's not doing anything wrong?
Imran Khan: The only thing I objected to was the excessive 5 year ban that was placed on him because I thought it was disproportionate. Shoaib should have been punished when he broke the rules, you can't put him on probation because he's playing well and then punish him for that same crime at a later date when he's become unfit or when he's no longer needed. If you're going to ban him then you should do it when he breaks the rules and not at a later date because it's more convenient for you, that's not discipline. Look at the case of Symonds, even though it hurt the team and was inconvenient for Australian cricket Symonds was disciplined when he broke the rules and not later on. That's what I was complaining about when Shoaib got banned.
PakPassion.Net: What's your opinion on the Champions Trophy debacle? How would you have handled things differently?
Imran Khan: Actually to be fair this isn't something that you can blame the PCB for, I don't think there was anything else they could have done to change the decision that was made. The PCB are paying for the mess we made when we joined someone else's war and made it into our war. Because of that decision we now have a domestic situation that understandably makes other teams reluctant to tour Pakistan. I don't think we can blame the teams in isolation, they were just following the advice given to them by their foreign offices about Pakistan being a dangerous and unsafe place.
PakPassion.Net: Your revelation in your autobiography that you experimented during practise with roughing up a ball created an international furore but Trescothicks revelation that he and his team actually tampered with the ball during games is being brushed under the carpet. Rashid Latif was banned for 5 games for claiming a bump catch yet players like Bell, De Villiers, Ponting and Dhoni have done the same since then and not been punished. Why are there such double standards in cricket, especially against Pakistani players?
Imran Khan: It wasn't in an autobiography, I said it during an interview with someone who was writing a book on me. At the time Waqar and Wasim were being accused of cheating because the rest of the world didn't understand reverse swing, I was just trying to explain what reverse swing was but a big thing was made out of it. Clearly there have been double standards and Pakistan have suffered more than most, the whole world saw England win the Ashes with reverse swing but there was no comment on it because it has suddenly become legitimate. Whereas when Waqar and Wasim were reverse swinging the ball it could only have been achieved through illegal means. The court case against Botham was about ball tampering, I maintained that ball tampering or altering the condition of the ball has always been part of cricket. It only became cheating if you exceeded a certain limit but within that limit all bowlers tamper with the ball without cheating.
PakPassion.Net: Initially you supported Musharraf, what made you change your opinion of him?
Imran Khan: When Musharraf first came into power he said his main objective was to bring genuine democracy to Pakistan, we supported him because we believe that Pakistan has never had real democracy. We've never had a truly independent justice system and without that there can't be true democracy. What you're seeing now is a sham democracy, Asif Ali Zardari and co. have not brought in an independent justice system. Nothing has changed, Zardari wields the same power that Musharraf did. The faces may have changed but the system remains the same, Pakistan still has a sham democracy trying to pass itself of as legitimate. I supported Musharraf at first because I believed he would remain true to his word but when he reneged on his 7 point agenda and it became clear that it was a case of power grab we withdrew our support.
PakPassion.Net: I think that Musharraf's biggest mistake was his search for legitimacy. He was a dictator and should have accepted that fact. He limited himself by trying to pass himself off as a democratic dictator. How far do you agree with that?
Imran Khan: Musharraf isn't the only one guilty of that, every dictator in Pakistan's history has tried to prove his popularity and pass himself off as democratic. In the process of doing that they've destroyed all our institutions and inducted crooks to help them hold onto power for as long as possible. Musharraf's biggest mistake was that he didn't have a vision, he thought that Pakistan would prosper as long as he was in power but he didn't plan beyond that.
PakPassion.Net: I think perhaps he did have a vision but he enjoyed being in power too much and reached a stage where he couldn’t give it up.
Imran Khan: No, there was no vision. If he had a vision then he would've made compromises for his vision, all Musharraf's compromises were made to keep himself in power. That's why he supported his regime by bringing in crooks and criminals to prop up his government. One of the worst things he did was to absolve Zardari and all the other criminals of the corruption charges against them through an NRO brokered by the Americans. He did that just so that he could stay in power but even worse than that he sold his soul to the Americans. In exchange for American support he made his own army kill his own people, what could be worse than that? So no Musharraf didn't have a vision, all his compromises were made to keep himself in power.
PakPassion.Net: What do you think of Zardari as President of Pakistan.
Imran Khan: This is a man who was convicted of corruption in a Swiss court in a case which he's currently appealing. He has various other cases currently going through London High Courts where he has pleaded insanity as a defence, he claims to suffer from various diseases including dementia. So either we have a President with his hand on the nuclear button who isn't fully sane or we have a President in power who has committed perjury.
PakPassion.Net: Do you think Musharraf handled the Americans well?
Imran Khan: No because Musharraf made far too many compromises and gave in too easily. Colin Powell said that after 9/11 he approached Musharraf with regard to the 7 requirements hoping that he could get Musharraf to agree to at least half of them, much to his surprise Musharraf agreed to all 7. Musharraf compromised on everything up to and including the US brokered NRO absolving Zardari and making a criminal the President of Pakistan.
PakPassion.Net: Do you think that Musharraf should be tried in court, if so on what charges?
Imran Khan: He should be tried for subverting the constitution and an example should be made out of him. We need to make it clear that the law isn't just for poor people or for weak people, the law is there for everyone. We need to show people that just because you're a powerful individual it doesn't mean that you're above the law. At some stage we need to draw a line and say enough is enough and it's time to make an example of those people who destroy and disregard our laws. We can't continue like this anymore.
PakPassion.Net: You're an international sports icon, a well known philanthropist and now you're contesting the leadership of Pakistan. Would it be fair to say that perhaps you've spread yourself too thinly?
Imran Khan: There's no such thing as spreading yourself too thinly, you have goals and you pursue them. My goal is very clear, Pakistan needs a genuine democratic system and I want to help make it happen. It's people like myself who don't need to be in politics who should be striving to bring about political change. We can't leave our country in the hands of professional politicians who have sold their souls, all they want is power at any cost. You've seen what happens when we leave things with career politicians. A criminal like Zardari has been made the President of Pakistan with the support of almost the entire political class just because they all got a piece of the action. That's why Pakistani politics needs people who don't need to be in politics, people who can't be bought. We need people who are in politics to pursue their goals, their visions and who are idealistic. We need people who want to help bring genuine democracy to Pakistan.
PakPassion.Net: Why did you choose to start your own political party rather than joining one of the established parties, the majority of the world's democratic systems are two party affairs. To succeed in Pakistani politics you need to exploit the feudal based voting blocs where entire sections of the country vote based on their local leaders endorsements, you have neither the financial backing nor the political muscle to win over the feudal lords. In retrospect dont you agree that it would have been better for you to join one of the established parties?
Imran Khan: If there had been a party which I believed was working for genuine change in Pakistan then I would've joined it without hesitation but there wasn't one. What we have in Pakistan are dynastic parties not political parties. As for the financial backing, you dont need money to go into politics. What you need is a clear agenda and ideology, that's how Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto defeated the feudal leaders. He had a clear agenda and everyone believed in him, he completely destroyed the status quo and took a new party into power. So as you can see it has happened before and it can happen again.
PakPassion.Net: What are your realistic goals for Tehreek E Insaf, at best you can hope for a power sharing deal with one of the main parties. Would you be open to that?
Imran Khan: I don't have any reason to enter into a power sharing deal, the only reason I would want to come into power would be to implement my manifesto. I don't want to be in power for the sake of being in power, I wouldn't enter into a coalition if it meant compromising my manifesto and not being able to change the system.
PakPassion.Net: In retrospect do you think you should have accepted Musharraf's offer and become Prime Minister? Isn't it easier to carry out your vision from within the system rather than waiting to get into the system?
Imran Khan: No-one has ever joined the status quo and also brought about change because by definition it's a contradiction in terms. Status quo and change are complete opposites, they don't work well together. What Musharraf wanted me to do was to join the status quo, he didn't want me to bring about a change. If I had accepted his offer then Musharraf would have been my power base, I would be reliant on his whims and couldn't take any decisions without his backing. How could I implement my manifesto and help bring about genuine democracy when I would be at the mercy of a dictator?
PakPassion.Net: Apart from yourself it's very difficult to name or recognise any other leaders from your party, what do you see as the future of Tehreek E Insaf once you are no longer in charge of it? Do you think the party will continue to exist?
Imran Khan: Tehreek E Insaf will become the most formidable party in Pakistan, it will become an institution. We will be a party based on elections, every post within the party will be an elected post not an appointed one. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen in Pakistan which is why we've had political parties evolving into family parties.
PakPassion.Net: How would you deal with the militants in Bajaur and Swat? If your answer is 'negotiate', how far would you be willing to go to give in to their demands?
Imran Khan: I would hold dialogue with the tribes and get them on my side. I've visited these regions and spoken to the tribes, I understand them and their fears. I would mobilise the tribes themselves to marginalise the extremists, I would never use my own army against my own people. It would be a case of 90% negotiations and only 10% policing but I'd never use my own army to kill my own people.
PakPassion.Net: What about terrorism?
Imran Khan: Terrorism is an idea not an army, to beat any idea you have to win the hearts and the minds of the people from within whom the terrorists are operating. History shows us that if the general populace see the insurgents as freedom fighters and not terrorists then you've already lost the fight. Otherwise Israel with all it's military might would have overcome their problems in Palestine, blunt military force is not the way to end terrorism. We're using F16's and helicopter gunships on our own people in our own country, bombs don't differentiate between terrorists and innocents. This isn't a war on terror, this is a war of terror which is only succeeding in recruiting more terrorists. To beat terrorism we need to hold dialogue with the tribes and win back the hearts and minds of our own people not kill them with their own army.
PakPassion.Net: How would you deal with US incursions in NWFP and the Afghan war?
Imran Khan: I think the threat from the US is overestimated, I believe the US can be made to understand that what they're doing is a disaster for both the US and for Pakistan. They aren't achieving anything by bombing and killing so many innocent people, all they're succeeding in doing is acting as a recruitment agency for the terrorists. I would argue with them that the current strategy isn't the way forward because if it was working then we'd be seeing some results by now. There's no doubt that this is a tried and failed policy so they need to look at other ways to do this.
PakPassion.Net: What makes you think the Americans will listen? They aren't exactly famous for sitting down, listening and applying reason to their actions.
Imran Khan: If they don't listen then I won't go along with them, they'll be on their own. The problem in our dealings with the US is that we've never had any strong leadership, no-one has stood up to the US and fought Pakistan's corner. When Musharraf was in power he did everything the US asked of him because his government had no legitimacy. Pakistan was the best choice to deal with the situation because we know this area of the world, instead we are taking orders from the US who don't have a clue about what they're doing. Now we've got Zardari in power, I call him Musharraf Mark II. Both of them are compromised and neither are in a position where they can make demands of the US. Musharraf had no legitimacy or vision and Zardari is compromised because of the massive corruption cases against him. The US know all about his bank accounts and properties, they have him right where they want him and that's why they can control him. That's why Zardari can't take a stand against the US, you can see for yourselves that he's already being even more helpful to the US than Musharraf was.
PakPassion.Net: Would Obama or McCain be better for Pakistan?
Imran Khan: Based on what I've heard so far from both candidates, I prefer McCain's ideas over Obama's ones. Having said that, when it comes to understanding our part of the world Biden is the most clued up person that I've met from the world of American politics. I also feel that Obama has more integrity and is more amenable, with Biden to advise him I think he'd be more open to doing things differently than McCain would.
PakPassion.Net: The Kashmir issue has dragged on for a while now, what is the solution and what are your views on the Indian armies show of strength in the region recently?
Imran Khan: With hindsight the militancy in Kashmir was wrong, it was a political movement and should have remained a political movement. I believe we should let the people of Kashmir decide their own destiny, that is their right.
PakPassion.Net: You've aligned yourself to much maligned individuals like Fazl ur Rehman and Nawaz Sharif. One supported the Taliban and the other placed false smuggling cases against your wife. How do you justify this?
Imran Khan: Sometimes in politics you have to align yourself with people like that when you're working towards the bigger picture, that's always been the nature of politics. You don't always have to agree with them on other matters, for example the PPP which is supposed to be a liberal party has entered into a coalition with Fazl ur Rehman for the second time now. My party has always been independent, we haven't been part of any coalition except the APDM (All Parties Democratic Alliance) which is on a one point agenda, the restoration of the Chief Justice and putting the constitution back to the November 2 position.
PakPassion.Net: Thank you for your time.
Imran Khan: If you like what you've heard then please join our party.