Imran Khan calls for new ties with India, says he’s not anti-west either
Implicitly conceding that Pakistan erred in using terrorism to foment unrest in Jammu and Kashmir, Imran Khan, the country’s former cricket hero-turned-rising political star called for a ”completely new relationship” between the two countries in keeping with the times.
Khan, virtually unknown in the US despite his near mythic cricketing status in the subcontinent, used a skype conversation with Washington DC’s think-tank community on Friday to present himself as a moderate, progressive, idealist peacenik who has the silver bullet to Pakistan’s problem.
“Opposing the US war on terror does not mean I am anti-western,” Khan told several veteran Pakistan watchers who turned up at the Atlantic Council to hear the new political star from the beleaguered country, maintaining that he had lived in the west more than any other Pakistani leader and understood it better. ”I’m not anti-American; I’m anti American war-on-terror,” he clarified, countering the broad perception here that he has Taliban sympathies and a poor understanding of western concern about Pakistan’s radicalization.
Khan was vague about who the ”real terrorists,” as he termed them, are, variously referring to Al Qaeda and the Punjabi Taliban. But he was clear that Pakistan stood more radicalized after 9/11 and the U.S war on terror. The only way to normalize the situation was to win the hearts of the people from whose midst terrorists were emerging, he said, adding that the U.S strategy of ”fight and talk” would not work.
But it was his candid and implicit acknowledgement of Pakistan’s mistakes on the Kashmir front that pricked the ears of regional specialists, although it was marked by some caveats. Pakistan, he conceded, had encouraged militants, which (he said) it called ”assets,” following the ”rigged” state elections in 1989, in hopes of fomenting an uprising. The policy failed and Pakistan had to suffer the blowback. ”Whatever the reason, we should move on,” he said. ”The time has come to develop a completely new relationship with India. Pakistan should resolve all issues with India through political dialogue.”
This, Khan cautioned, does not mean putting the Kashmir issue on the backburner; if you do that there will be another Mumbai 26/11 kind of attack and things will be back to square one. He offered no specific solution or roadmap to resolve the issue other than constant dialogue.
Khan was blunt in criticizing Washington over its Pakistan policy, saying it did not involve the people of Pakistan. He wanted it to be like the U.S relationship with India, where no matter which political party came to power, U.S relationship with Indian democracy continued to thrive.
There were several other statements from Khan that reflected raw and pristine idealism that did not address the country’s fundamental malaise, including its domineering military and its toxic ideological DNA that has put religion at the center of nation-building. In fact, Khan deftly deflected suggestions that he was backed by the country’s powerful military saying like in the country, there was support for his party in the army too.
He also presented broad vision of his economic philosophy (still being formulated, he acknowledged) which he said was inspired by Scandinavian welfare states. “If you ask me today what is closest to that ideal, I would say the Scandinavian countries,” he said, praising them for their “humane society, where there is rule of law, a society that looks after its weak, its handicapped.”
While he was broadly critical of Pakistan’s current political dispensation, Khan was at his harshest when it came to former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who once called Khan ”Taliban without a beard.” Khan scoffed at Musharraf’s proposed return to Pakistan to enter the political arena, saying the former general faced a range of threats to his life, from Baloch freedom fighters, whose leader he allegedly murdered, to families of victims of the Lal Masjid military raid.
“He’s going to have a terrible time,” Khan sneered. ”No longer being the president and having the protection which he has, I would not be the insurance company to give him life insurance.”