Whither Pakistan: Imran Khan at the Atlantic Council

The Atlantic Council hosted a video-teleconference with Imran Khan on January 13th. Celebrity turned politician Imran Khan is the founder of the Tehreek-e-Insaaf Party. In the political turmoil that is now Pakistan, Imran Khan’s party has successfully gained momentum and support with the objective to clean the current political system. With early general elections being forecasted for later this year, Imran Khan used this conference to express his views. The Bangladesh Chronicle attended this conference.

His opening remarks were made up of the following points.

  1. An urgent very forceful demand to hold fair and free elections thru a newly constituted and totally Independent Election Commission.
  2. A total revamping of the voters list to include genuine voters hitherto excluded, add new voters coming of age and delete bogus votes to the extent of 30% of the current list as also opined by the Supreme Court.
  3. Safeguarding the independence of the superior Judiciary at all cost.
  4. Only a change in the present govt can save democracy which is the need of the hour. No extra constitutional measures including a military intervention is not acceptable.
  5. The tribal belt did not have any Pakistani Taliban till the military was put into action from 2004 to 2006 to try and get a military solution. That is what gave birth to the Pakistani Taliban and their terror tactics.
  6. It is a simple tribal philosophy that if you kill any family member the rest of the family is obligated to take revenge come what may, at any and all costs and irrespective of how long it takes to get the desired result. This will pass on from generation to generation.
  7. His mother comes from the tribal belt of Waziristan so he went on a fact finding mission and understand their reasons for doing what they do, not a question of being morally right or wrong, but this is how the society operates in that region and has been that way since ages.
  8. The British understood this very well and as a policy they would drop leaflets in villages prior to bombing or attacking so as to avoid collateral damage and minimize civilian losses.
  9. It is difficult to define terrorist in the tribal belt. Each and every person carries a weapon as part of tradition and is ready to use it at the slightest aggravation or to safeguard honor.
  10. The army has 140K soldiers in that region, as a result almost 40K people have died and an equal number have been injured.  Each one of them is seeking revenge thru his family and clan.
  11. There are more then 1.0 million armed people in the tribal belt and only 40 laws of the Pakistan govt are applicable there, how can you then impose a military solution there. Only a political solution has any chance of survival.
  12. Regd relations with India, both countries must move on. Both have had interference in each others affairs. India blames Pakistan for the 1989 support of the uprising in Kashmir which Pakistan was hoping would become a full fledge movement for freedom. Similarly Pakistan blames India for Baluch insurgencies. However we must move on.
  13. Putting Kashmir on the back burner is not an option, talks for a road map must go on. At some point the probability of 2 strong Govt with enough popular support maybe able to negotiates and sell the bitter pill to its people.
  14. Without a roadmap derailment of the peace process becomes very easy. If there is none then  another Mumbai type incident might happen and this time India may not show restraint to satisfy the populist demand of revenge.
  15. Both ISI and RAW must agree to suspend all and any covert operations. Trust needs to be built between the people in general, the business community in particular and the political will must shun animosity.
  16. On Economy , corruption is at its peak and has never been so high.
  17. The corruption economy is almost the same as the Tax revenue of the state. Pakistan has one of the lowest taxes to GDP ratio of 8.2%, India is at 18%.
  18. We have 2 main investment sources, the overseas Pakistanis and China which is sitting over a huge surplus reserve and is a time tested friend of Pakistan. Both these sources are looking for an honest trustworthy govt to bring money in. China wanted to invest over a Billion dollars in coal mining and power generation but the security and corrupt practices forced them out.
  19. The country with the lowest tax base has a very large charity givers population. His personal experience in the cancer hospital and now the University has proved that if people trust you they will pay a lot of money be it taxes or charity. The key component is the trust deficit that needs to be taken care of.
  20. There is no infrastructure development or a road map for employment nor there is any long term strategy for enhancing education. A very large % the population is under 25 years and this without education and employment opportunities is a ticking time bomb, a pool for recruitment of future terrorist.


Followed by his opening statement was a question an answer session. Below is a paraphrased summary:

Q 1. Your party has attracted a large number of political stars, what made them change heart and would you have time to make them into a team given the possibility of snap elections?

The reason that many big names are joining PTI is because till now they were compromising on their principles and core values for the fear of losing their investments in their constituencies if they left their parties without any viable alternative. We now have a core team of non political people who have been given the tasks of making Economic, Agricultural, tax, Energy policies for the masses.  We are also making a “first 90 days action plan” to outline our priorities. There is also a team of politicians on a parallel track to handle the political side of this equation. Politics in Pakistan is a family mafia; parties in themselves are not democratic. People trust me, they have assessed me over the last 3 decades and we are ready to take over with the support of the people. We always had credibility but we have to break a threshold before the people would believe in PTI and that threshold we crossed in the Lahore rally.

Q 2. Based on your political philosophy and rhetoric you are perceived to be Anti-West, how do you then plan to improve relations with USA in particular that are at its lowest ebb?

I am not anti-West. It is a misnomer. West is a geographical reality, how can anybody be against it.  Out of all the politicians I have lived and experienced the western society the most. I understand it more then most politician there. I disagree with the philosophy of the war on terror. It has polarized the Pakistani society in a manner that is totally new but very divisive. I believe in making Pakistan an Islamic Welfare state, the country that our best ideological brain conceived of. I want to demystify this concept for people to understand. A close model to my mind is the Scandinavian system of social justice and opportunity where the rich subsidizes the poor not the other way around as is in Pakistan. There is no justice, honest poor are in jails and corrupt rich are in power. The education system is geared up to meet the needs of a very small % of rich people, the poor have to go to a Govt Urdu medium school that hardly gives any education. There has to be economic justice and education opportunites for a larger % of the people.

Q 3. Memo gate has received extraordinary coverage even though the evidence by Mansoor Ijaz is not too credible. What are your comments?

Memo gate scandal only became big because Mian Nawaz Sharif took it to the Supreme Court and the military top brass viewed it not only as an assault on their  integrity but also as evidence of the fact that the Commander in Chief & the President had absolutely no confidence in them. This was taken as a very serious threat to the national security as the loyalty of the armed forces was being questioned. Now the concerned parties are locked in a battle to prove other wrong and the court needs to decide what is right. Did the President actually ask the US govt to restrain the possible takeover of the army in return for favors that could even go against Pakistan, that question needs to be answered.

Q 4. You are challenging the status quo and that does not sit well with the Government. Further the ex President Pervez Musharraf is returning back to enter politics. How do you see the safety concerns for you and him?

I am a people’s person and I donot worry about my safety. However on Pervez Musharraf’s return to Pakistan politics and his safety, I have fears for him as the Baluch Bugti tribe holds Pervez personally responsible for killing their chief Nawab Akbar Bugti. Similarly the Pakistani Taliban blame him for not only approving drone strikes that has killed thousands but also to authorize the military operations into Waziristan. Both these groups have issued open statements against Musharraf and vowed to take revenge. The protections entitlements of a President or Army Chief no longer apply to him which makes his situation a very precarious one. What will happen is anybody’s guess.

Q 5. Tax revenues in Pakistan are a chronic problem due to structural failure, what can be done to improve that?

Tax revenue to GDP ratio is somewhere between Afghanistan and Ethiopia. There is no Federal structure to overcome tax evasions. The Rich pay no taxes.  61% of parliamentarians pay no tax and neither does the President and the PM. Pakistan has the lowest Human development index. The country with the lowest per capita tax has the highest per capita charity ratio.  People need to see leadership by example in this particular field. Unless they see their leaders sacrificing for the country they will not do so. I will be that example and will lead from the front.  Concealing wealth in Pakistan is easy thru legal means.

Q 6. Your economic vision in a nutshell.

Governance should not only be improved but should also seen to be improved and that too drastically. Overseas Pakistanis will open their wallets if they see trust in action. Merit will be rewarded to attract talent.  As an example 5 large Government-run corporations/organizations like PIA, Steel Mills, Railways lost Pak Rs 1 trillion last year which is 50% of Pakistan’s total tax collection. These need to be overhauled and a new approach taken to stop this bleeding. New Energy policy with the help of China will be a top priority. Pakistan has a lot of excellent human capital and PTI has been able to attract a very large group of them, we now have the best brains with us.

Q 7. How can you achieve stability in a post war Afghanistan?

Post war Afghanistan can only stabilize if a political settlement is achieved there. War never was and will never be a solution. Army cannot achieve that desired result as they are not trained to handle such scenarios in the long run. President Obama made the mistake of putting all his eggs in the army basket, but, I believe, he had no choice as there was a trust deficit with the politicians and there was no credible government to deal with. A totally corrupt govternment is not always a dependable ally.

Q 8. In the early 60’s, Pakistan had very strong regional alliances like the RCD with Iran and Turkey. Their unflinching support during the Indo-Pak war of 1965 is a proof of what it could have achieved. Keeping in view the regional political realities and Pakistan’s strategic interest, would you strengthen these alliances even in the face of opposition from the west?

Decisions on Regional cooperation and all such issues that benefit the country can only be taken by a credible government elected by popular will of the people thru free and fair elections. Such a govt. will not succumb to pressures and all decisions will be taken keeping in view Pakistan’s security and economic concerns. Good governance is part of the equation. We will not be dictated on what is good for us.

Q 9. What is your position on Pakistan’s nuclear assets and their safety?

The nuclear bomb is a deterrent due to which Pakistan and India have not gone to war for over 3 decades although they have come pretty close to it on several occasions. Before that, we had 3 conventional wars. Generally speaking, I am in favor of global de-nuclearization and nuclear free zones. Pakistan has all the necessary safeguards in place to secure these assets and I have no doubts to that effect. There is no danger, none at all, of these falling into the wrong hands.  India started the race, Pakistan had to respond.

Q 10. What is your biggest fear in the short term?

My biggest fear and threat is that this election will be rigged to rob PTI of a total landslide victory. The youth of the country is now with PTI, people who have never voted before due to having only bad choices will do so now as they believe that PTI is credible and the party of change.

Q 11. How will you restore the civil military balance?

The balance between the military and the civilian setup is only maintained when the institutions are strong, allowed to work independently within their own constitutional spheres and the political will is based on good governance. Total trust between them is essential. ISI has dossiers full of the wrong doings of all these politicians so how can they stop the military from meddling in their affairs.  Transparency is the key to good governance and good governance is the key to stop military adventurism.