Islamabad: Pakistani opposition leader and Tehreek-e-Insaaf chief Imran Khan said that that terror groups will have no place in Pakistan if his party comes to power. Speaking exclusively to Karan Thapar on Devil's advocate, Imran added that for Indo-Pak ties to improve, the Kashmir issue should be put on the back burner for a while.
Here's the transcript from the interview:
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to the second part of this special interview with Imran Khan, who many believe could be the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. What sort of relationship does he want with India? That’s the key issue I shall tackle today.
Imran Khan, if you do become the next Prime Minister of Pakistan, in what way you’re your India policy be different to the policy of the present government?
Imran Khan: Well firstly it would be based on trust, mutual trust. At the moment Pakistan doesn’t trust India, India doesn’t trust Pakistan. Here there’s a big perception that our water is being stolen; in Balochistan the Indian secret service is active with the BLA (Balochistan Liberation Organisation). In India the perception is any terrorist act is financed by Pakistan’s ISI. You can never ever have a relationship based on mistrust. I think the time has come to have a new relationship. And, I believe that you know if you can eliminate the roles of intelligence agencies, where two civilian governments can sit together and say we’ll resolve all our issues through dialogue – I think it’s a way forward because the benefits of peace are enormous.
Karan Thapar: The Indian government will look for action on one front in particular. They believe that India is the subject of terror attacks launched from Pakistani soils. They haven’t been fully satisfied by the handling of that issue by the present government. Can you assure them that you will tackle terror more effectively and you will be more re-assuring about India’s concerns?
Imran Khan: Well, as a policy, if Tehreek-e-Insaaf government comes to power we will insist on there being no militant groups operating within Pakistan because the world has changed. So, the groups that were created during the Afghan jihad, now this is now an outdated concept of having them as assets. The time has come to not only remove all militant groups, disarm them but also a de-weaponisation in Pakistan because it causing massive problems within the country. So, therefore, once that issue disappears, once there are no militant groups within Pakistan, I think that issue will disappear.
Karan Thapar: Let me press this like this, the LeT was supposedly declared a militant group and prescribed way back in 2002. But it simply re-morphed and re-appeared as Jamat ud Dawa and Falat-e-Insaniyat and it operates freely as you know. Hafiz Saeed, its leader, regularly makes anti-India hate speeches. Will you put a stop to that?
Imran Khan: Well, I again repeat, that if there are no militant groups operating from within Pakistan, which should be our statement policy, and as things stand today, Pakistan has no choice but to go this route.
Karan Thapar: But when you say no militant groups does that specifically include not just LeT, but also Jamat ud Dawa, Falat-e-Insaniyat, Jaish e Mohammad, in other words those groups that target India?
Imran Khan: Well not just India. There are groups that are targetting people within Pakistan. We have a number of militant groups.
Karan Thapar: But you are not answering my question. The Indians will think you are evading it.
Imran Khan: No. When I say no militant groups, it means no militant groups.
Karan Thapar: Including Jamat ud Dawa?
Imran Khan: Exactly. There would not be any militant groups operating within Pakistan. How can I be more specific than that?
Karan Thapar: Would you name Jamat ud Dawa, Falat-e-Insaniyat and Hafez Saeed and say that you will put a check to these three people? Will you name them?
Imran Khan: Look, I am living in Pakistan. Pakistan at the moment is the most polarised country in the world. A governor gets shot, his assassin becomes a hero. There’s no point in becoming a hero right now in this country where there’s no rule of law. Life is very cheap here. So, just let me put it as a policy statement. Don’t just go into details. As a policy statement, it should answer your question. No militant groups operating from within Pakistan.
Karan Thapar: Let me raise a second concern that India had. They believe, and the Americans agree, and similarly believe that the ISI has been involved in carrying out terror attacks against India, whether its through the Haqqani group targetting the Indian embassy in Kabul or whether its through the LeT targetting Mumbai in 2008. Will you reign in the ISI?
Imran Khan: Well, in your last interview I said as the Prime Minister of a country where the responsibility lies on me, so should the authority be on me. Its not going to happen that here’s me holding responsibility and some group is operating independently, whether its ISI or any other group. So the answer is ISI and the Army would be under a civilian governmental control. And if I can’t do it, I would much rather resign. But if I take responsibility it would mean that whatever policies made by our Cabinet will have to be enforced at every section, with every institution. Now when you come to Afghanistan, I just have one tiny comment to make. To blame Pakistan where 140, 000 troops of the United States and NATO have failed, the greatest military machinery ever has failed and to blame a few thousand Haqqani group from Pakistan, not allowing them to win in Afghanistan, not only is this completely not plausible but its defying history. Afghans have never accepted foreign invaders.
Karan Thapar: I take the point you’re making about Afghanistan but that’s a bit of a side issue in the subject of India-Pakistan relations. The point I want to underline by repeating, is that Imran Khan as Prime Minister will be the boss not just to the Army but specifically of the ISI and the ISI will, thereafter, not be involved in targetting India in terms of terror?
Imran Khan: But ISI and Army are the same thing.
Karan Thapar: So you will stop it completely?
Imran Khan: I am saying that if I, as the Prime Minister, elected Prime Minister who has the mandate of the people, if every institution is not under the civilian government, I would much rather resign. Remember I am not these other people, don’t confuse me with them, who do not come to power to govern. They are all making money and they allow different groups to operate.
Karan Thapar: The Indian people are hearing you as you as you speak tonight. They’ve known you as a cricketer, they’ve admired you and some have even loved you. Is this a promise you’re making them?
Imran Khan: I am not only making a promise to the Indian people, I think I am making a promise to anyone. The biggest problem the United States faces, you know they worry about terrorism from Pakistani soil. Its not just India who is worried. If I cannot stop terrorism from Pakistani soil, I would rather not be the Prime Minister.
Karan Thapar: And that is a promise you’re making the Indian people tonight, here and now?
Imran Khan: To every people, not just Indian people. At the moment the Afghans are complaining, the Europeans, the Americans, everyone, any terrorism is blamed on Pakistan.
Karan Thapar: But tonight you’re talking to an Indian audience and the promise you’re making the Indian people is that if you become Prime Minister there will be no terror attacks on India launched from Pakistani soil?
Imran Khan: Yes and I would like to think that the Indians would also guarantee us that we should have no problems, either in Balochistan or the areas where Indian agencies are blamed. So we should base our relationship on trust and when I guarantee them, I will stand by it.
Karan Thapar: Alright, lets then come to the second tricky issue that be-devils India-Pakistan relations – Kashmir. Is it core issue for Imran Khan?
Imran Khan: It’s a core issue because without Kashmir, you will always have a possibility of going back to square one. No matter how much confidence building measures you have, if something happens in Kashmir or because of Kashmir, we don’t know, maybe some sort of terror attacks happens from within Kashmir on India, I’m scared, like Mumbai; whatever happens comes back to square one.
Karan Thapar: But on Kashmir, therefore, you are very similar to the people, who would by then, have become your predecessors. You’re similar to Zardari, Gilani; you’re similar to Musharraf. They all see it as a core issue, so do you.
Imran Khan:It’s the only issue. What else is stopping us?
Karan Thapar: In which case, let me ask you, you must have thought about if you hope to become Prime Minister in 15 months time, do you have a solution to the Kashmir problem?
Imran Khan: Well, whatever the issue is, first of all, it should not be enforced through militancy. So whatever policy we have it should be political dialogue. And I also believe that we should have other confidence building measures on the way. We should have trade; we should have more linkages, people-to-people contact. I thought at one point we were getting really close. When the Indian team came here, I think 2005 or 2006, I have never seen two countries as close as that. So, its very sad that Mumbai happened and we were back to square one. So, therefore, I would like to think that we will deal with the Kashmir issue in a more civilised way. I would like to think that India will start, if it has confidence that no militancy is coming from Pakistan, withdrawing its Army from Kashmir.
Karan Thapar: I’m very interested in what you’re saying about building trust, building confidence. It reminds me of something President Zardari said to this very programme, Devil’s Advocate, three years ago. He said India and Pakistan should try and resolve the Kashmir issue as India and China are seeking to resolve their border dispute. He said ‘put it aside on the back-burner for a later, wiser generation to sort out and in the meantime build confidence and trust in each other by boosting trade, by boosting confidence measures like playing cricket. Then 10 years later the new atmosphere will help solve Kashmir’. Do you share that line of thinking?
Imran Khan: I certainly agree with that line of thinking. I think that the more confidence we build with each other, the more trade we have, the more trust we develop and the moment militancy or intelligence agency roles disappear and the more we solve our issues on the dialogue table that’s the only way forward.
Karan Thapar: This should be hugely re-assuring to Indian ears. But something that they will pick out is one of your closest advisors is Sheeren Mazaari, who is famous for being hostile to India. To what extent will she determine or influence your attitude to India?
Imran Khan: Well, look, in a political party you have all sorts of people, all sorts of views come in, but basically a party has sort of Right and Left thinkers, all sorts of hawks and doves, but the policy of the party will be based on dialogue. The objection, you know lot of people in Pakistan have is about the six-seven hundred thousand Indian troops in the valley. And what that does is, my party as a whole objects to military anywhere. Solving issues through military has failed everywhere, Pakistan is an experience. We failed in East Pakistan, our operations were counter-productive. Operations in Balochistan, counter productive, in Fatta – counter productive. Americans have failed in Afghanistan. If India thinks its going to solve this issue for twenty years by having so many soldiers there, its counter productive.
Karan Thapar: You’re referring to something you said in your rally in Lahore on the 30th of October, where you spoke not just about the presence of Indian soldiers in Kashmir but you also called upon India to withdraw them. To many in India that came across as a in-congress remark, some were disheartened by it, some disliked it. How would you explain it to them?
Imran Khan: But I say the same thing about Pakistani soldiers, withdraw them from tribal areas. This is not the answer. The solution does not lie in military operation. What I would say to Indians is if I was an Indian I would be telling my government that this is not the solution. I would initiate, I would solve our problems through political dialogue and if there’s worry about militancy from Pakistan, yes as a Pakistani, we would guarantee there’s no militancy from that side. Because whenever there’s Army in civilian areas you would have massive civil right violations and this is counter productive.
Karan Thapar: I take your explanation, many in India will hear it and note it. But the one thing I want to go back to is Pakistan’s India policy, when and if you become Prime Minister, will be decided by Imran Khan, not by advisors like Sheeren Mazaari or other people who’s views may differ from yours. You will decide it just as you will decide relations with the Pakistan Army which you told me about earlier?
Imran Khan: Look, Sheeren Mazaari is a nationalist. You will always have, like in India, your cabinet, you will have different types of views. But always, whenever a view is discussed and debated it always comes out much better. This is the beauty of democracy.
Karan Thapar: But at the end of the day will the policy be Imran Khan’s policy or would it be Sheeren Mazaari’s?
Imran Khan: Imran Khan has never been anyone’s puppet ever.
Karan Thapar: So you will be the man who calls the shots in India relations?
Imran Khan:The only captain who resigned twice because he was not being allowed to have his own policy.
Karan Thapar: And you will be the captain of state in the fullest sense of the term when you become Prime Minister?
Imran Khan: I don’t need to be the Prime Minister otherwise.
Karan Thapar: Now something else that was picked on when you did that speech in Lahore and were remarked upon by The Hindu newspaper is that when you spoke about Kashmir, you didn’t use the prefix ‘Indian Occupied’. The Hindu also said that you didn’t talk about liberating Kashmir. Was that deliberate and significant or was it accidental and a mistake?
Imran Khan: My whole thinking is about human beings. I think that any country, any area that is under Army rule, where there is an Army operating is always going to be in a mess. And so, I am really anti-military operations. And I have from day one opposed all military operations, which is why I was called pro-Taliban. And, in Kashmir, I know what is happening to the people of Kashmir, you cannot have hundreds of thousands of troops in an area and think that there will be no violations of human rights. Remember Army’s job is never successful in civilian areas.
Karan Thapar: But you’ve side-stepped the question I asked. I pointed out that The Hindu remarked on the fact that you didn’t use the prefix ‘Indian Occupied’ when you spoke about Kashmir. Was that deliberate or was it a mistake?
Imran Khan: Because I think it’s about the rights of Kashmiri people. Its not about liberating or anything.
Karan Thapar: So it was deliberate…
Imran Khan: Its about whatever the people of Kashmir decide. That should be it now. I do not, any longer, consider it to be some sort of a territorial dispute. I think its more of a human rights issue now.
Karan Thapar: So you see it in human rights term and not as a territorial dispute?
Karan Thapar: That’s why you didn’t use the prefix ‘Indian Occupied’?
Imran Khan: Yes.
Karan Thapar: Imran Khan let’s take a break at that point but when we come back I want to talk to you about your relationship with America and how you view Afghanistan. That’s in a moment’s time. See you after the break
Karan Thapar: Welcome back to Devil’s Advocate. And the last part of this special two part interview with Imran Khan. Let’s come to the relationship you had with America. America has been historically single most important ally. You are widely perceived to be anti-America. What sort of relationship you have with America?
Imran Khan: As I said in my speech, we want to be friends with US. But we don’t want to be slaves. At the movement we are being treated as a hired gun. It’s deeply offensive to me as a Pakistani. Not just me, everyone. People crave for dignity and self-respect. Imagine ahat you Indians would respond to if your government is perceived as a puppet of any other country. So, therefore, friends, yes. But not what is happening right now. Not paying you money and go and bomb your people. And apart from anything else, it’s totally counter-productive.
Karan Thapar: After America leaves, how do you view India’s relationship with Afghanistan and do you see as a threat to Pakistan or you are happy for India to be a close friend and near neighbour of Afghanistan?
Imran Khan: Well, all depends how India and Pakistan relationship evolves. If it is on a friendly basis on mutual trust, it won’t matter then. But if it is perceived as it is right now by our military establishment which is basically controlling the policy, if it is perceived to be hostile, they will always be scare being squeezed from two fronts.
Karan Thapar: Do you look upon Afghanistan a strategic turf for Pakistan?
Imran Khan: I don’t think so. I think this policy is wrong, specifically because they don’t understand the Afghan mindset. Afghans have never been controlled by anyone. They are the most independent minded people. Which is why they fought every foreign occupation. Anyone who tries to control them will fail.
Karan Thapar: so if India has good political good trade relation, that will not worry Imran Khan as prime minister.
Imran Khan: Absolutely not. It would not worry me if we have good relations with India. Trade is benefiacal to everyone.
Karan Thapar: Would you go so far to give India trade access by land to Afghanistan across Pakistan, something which has been denied, which costs the Afghan people not just the Indian traders?
Imran Khan: But I think all these things have to be dealt with holistically. We have to sit down, the two countries and deal with all the problems and issues.
Karan Thapar: But you have an open mind on this?
Imran Khan: Obviously. If India and Pakistan can develop a good relation as friendly neighbours, it will be beneficial to both the countries, to sub-continent. So, therefore all these issues will fall into place.
Karan Thapar: So much what you are saying about the relationship you want with India seems to hinge upon your ability as Imran Khan to reach out to Indian people and confess them a sincerity and to be able to carry Pakistan behind you as you will do it. Once again, do you believe in your self-sufficiency to be carrying off something that for 60 years hasn’t happened?
Imran Khan: Well, I can give me best shot. I can fight to the last ball. We can only try. Human beings can only try. Success sometimes I think is not in our hands, it is in the hands of the almighty. So, I can say that I will give my best shot.
Karan Thapar: Most people in India say that if there is a prime minister who will come to power in Pakistan, who understand Indians have a lot of respect for them, it has to be Imran Khan. Once again, do you think you might be the man who can change India-Pakistan relation in a way no other predecessors had?
Imran Khan: Well I pray to the almighty that’s a case. Because I am the one who has received so much love in India. I grew up hating India because I grew up in Lahore and so there were so much massacres of 1947 and so much bloodshed and anger. But as I started touring India, I got such love and friendship there. All this disappeared. And then my closest friend who you also know, Vikram was Indian. So we became very close. So, as time passed I realised that we’ve so much similar history, culture compared to the western countries. We have so much in common. There is so much the people of two countries can benefit if we have civilised relationship.
Karan Thapar: This will be the vision that will guide your policy to India?
Imran Khan: Absolutely. I have no prejudice against any country and most specifically India.
Karan Thapar: Imran Khan, a pleasure talking to you.
Imran Khan: Thank you.