FOR Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan, the key to the Prime Minister House lies in understanding the country’s complex political realities.
In a conversation with Dawn during his election campaign in Karachi on Wednesday, Mr Khan said that although he cannot vouch for each of the near 700 national and provincial-level candidates his party has fielded to contest the upcoming elections, he is playing with what exists in Pakistan’s political class.
“You contest elections to win. You don’t contest elections to be a good boy. I want to win. I am fighting elections in Pakistan, not Europe. I can’t import European politicians,” Mr Khan said.
He talked about the importance of manpower and financial resources for a successful election campaign.
PTI chief says Nawaz Sharif tried his best (to mend relations with India). “I will give him the credit. Nawaz Sharif tried everything, even personal [gestures] calling him [Modi] over to his house.”
“After 1997, I came to the conclusion that unless we took people in the party who know the art of winning election, we will not be able to succeed.
“This is not Europe, where all you need to do is tell people what you stand for and they will go out and vote for you. In Pakistan, you need money and thousands of trained polling agents who can bring out people on the day of election. If you do not have those workers, you cannot contest the election.”
Even as his critics question why he has awarded tickets to political turncoats instead of workers who have had a long association with the party, Mr Khan said: “The political class here doesn’t change that much. You can introduce new actors but you can’t change the political class wholesale. This is why I give the example of Mahathir Mohamad, who changed Malaysia with the same political class by giving them clean leadership.”
He denies that he has compromised his ideals by awarding tickets to electables. “It would be a compromise if I did not stick to my objectives after coming into power, and if I did not run a clean government.”
Mr Khan said that the new faces would have to comply with PTI’s policies and discipline, and that those who didn’t would be kicked out.
When asked if his campaign slogan of ‘Naya Pakistan’ is only achievable with a ‘new PTI’, Mr Khan said there was no change in his strategy. “This is a joke going around that I have now gathered electables. I always sought out electables, but before this they were not willing to join us.
“Forget MPAs and MNAs, in the past we have even invited electables from union councils in other cities to join us. It is after the success of the 2011 rally at Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore that people changed their minds and started to join us.”
While there is very little that the PTI chief would give Nawaz Sharif credit for, when it comes to the former prime minister’s efforts to improve relations with India, Mr Khan concedes that Nawaz tried his best.
“Nawaz Sharif tried his best [to mend relations with India],” said Mr Khan. “I will give him the credit.”
“Nawaz Sharif tried everything, even personal [gestures] calling him [Modi] over to his house. No one got in his way. But I think it is the policy of the Narendra Modi government to try and isolate Pakistan. They have a very aggressive anti-Pakistan posture because Modi wants to blame Pakistan for all the barbarism they are doing in Kashmir. What can one do in the face of this attitude?”
Asked how he would tackle the delicate relationship between the civil and military leadership if his party came to power, Mr Khan said good governance would be his strength.
“When you have democratic governments that perform and deliver, that is their strength. We have had military influence on politics in Pakistan because we have had the worst political governments. I am not saying it is justified but where there is a vacuum something will fill it.”
He added: “Under crooked and corrupt governments, people welcome the military with open arms. In 1999 when Musharraf’s martial law was declared, people were celebrating in Lahore – Nawaz’s political centre! – because governance had failed.”
He recalled Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as the strongest prime minister to come through electoral process who was totally in charge of the country’s affairs.
“He [Bhutto] was the strongest prime minister. He dismissed many army officers. No one could say he was not in charge. When people talk about military interference, they should know that the military did not interfere in Bhutto’s government, because he was a powerful prime minister.”
When asked to comment on the military’s influence in setting Pakistan’s foreign policy, Mr Khan said: “The army will get involved where there are security situations. If you look at the US policy in Afghanistan, a lot of the US-Afghan policy was influenced by Pentagon. Even when Barack Obama didn’t want to continue the war in Afghanistan, he did it because he was convinced by Pentagon.”
Although he is confident about his chances of making federal government with a simple majority, when asked about an alternative plan, Mr Khan said: “A coalition depends on the partner in question. If the coalition partner allows us to implement our manifesto, it’s fine.”
He added that his party had trouble with former coalition partner Qaumi Watan Party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and that it had to kick out members who resisted their anti-corruption code. “If the head of a political party is corrupt, then it would be difficult to make a coalition with them.”
Although it is a position he has been criticised for, Mr Khan remains adamant on engaging militants in dialogue.
“There has to be a dual policy: one is dialogue and the other is military action. I have been labelled ‘Taliban Khan’ just because I did not agree with this one-dimensional policy that Pakistan implemented under American pressure.”
He said the war in Afghanistan was a classic example of how military solutions alone did not work. “The US has been there for 15 years with a military option but has failed. If there is consensus among the American and Afghan governments and allies that they want unconditional peace talks with Taliban, it means the military option has failed.”
“I am as confident as I’ve ever been and more prepared than before,” said Mr Khan.
Ahead of polls on July 25, surveys conducted by the Jang Media Group showed the PTI gaining ground.
A survey by Pulse Consultant showed the PTI ahead with the support of 30 per cent of respondents nationwide, compared to 27pc for the PML-N. The Pakistan Peoples Party was at 17pc.
A separate nationwide poll by Gallup Pakistan had the PML-N on top with 26pc, the PTI with 25pc and the PPP at 16pc.
According to Reuters, the new polls indicate a swing towards Mr Khan’s party compared to similar nationwide polls in 2017 that had put the PML-N 8-9 percentage points ahead of the PTI.
“I don’t know what will happen but I am more optimistic than I have been in my 22 years in politics,” Mr Khan said.