An exclusive interview at home with Imran Khan
By Daphne Barak
Q. Yesterday the Olympic torch arrived to Islamabad. President Musharraf and PM Gilani were there, along with 1000 VIP. But oops… you – the most famous Pakistani overseas, a sportsman – were not invited…
A. It doesn’t matter if they forgot me… I would have hated to attend the ceremony with President Musharraf. Musharraf has no legitimacy. He was never elected… But forced himself on a parliament which doesn’t exist any more. There is a new parliament, which doesn’t recognise him! So…
Q. You chose not to run for elections!
A. Well, we fought for the restoration of the judges who were removed on 1999. You cannot stop abuse of power unless you restore the justice system. There is no way; my party was going to fight for elections while a military dictator sacked 60 per cent of the judge
Q. Because of your “friendship” with Musharraf, you were made to spend seven days in jail. In the West – they even said that you were facing a death sentence!
A. I was put in jail under the terrorism law.
Q. You did a hunger strike.
A. Yes, I did after six days I felt that since Musharraf announced elections, the attention was diverted from the real people of Pakistan. So I decided…
Q. I understand you went too far: not only fasting, but not drinking water!
A. Yeah, I didn’t know at the time… I have never done a hunger strike. I fast during Ramadan, which is without water as well until sunset. So I didn’t know… after 48 hours – I was so weak. I couldn’t walk.
Q. What was the most difficult moment in jail? You didn’t know you would be released so soon!
A. The boredom. I had lots of books. My party became leaderless. We were in a very good position to fight the elections! And then… So it was frustrating. I couldn’t get in touch with anyone. Suddenly – I was cut off from everything.
Q. Your ex-wife Jemima was so vocal about releasing you from jail! Are you more bonded now?
A. Well… we got a divorce. Our divorce was a very amicable one. It happened because we realized that she could never live in Pakistan, while I would not be able to live outside. OK, we are divorce. But if it happened to her – I would have done the same thing! Daphne, don’t forget she is the mother of my two children. Will always be!
Q. Did your children know what happened to you?
A. Well… One is 11, the other is nine years old. The younger one heard that I had gone underground! He though, I literally (!) went underground.
Q. Remember the moment that you were told, you can go free?
A. Well, they (Musharraf’s people) came to arrest me. I needed to organize my party. So – I went underground…
Q. Yes, but what did happen? Did Musharraf suddenly drop the “terrorism charges”?
A. I think, HE realised that me – being inside – is creating much more problem than me being outside…
Q. But did Jemima’s “big fight” for you, create a new bonding?
A. No… Our relationship was strong. You know Daphne, Jemima has become more political than before! I mean, she had been involved during my campaigns before. But – this time, she really got political!
Q. Imran are you saying that if she had got involved politically before there would be no divorce?
A. No. It is still very difficult to leave your country. Especially for Jemima – who is so close to her family, her friends. Look! I have gone to a British university. I have spent 18 summers in UK. Still if someone asked me to live outside Pakistan I would find it very difficult. To live in another country – it is not easy.
Q. Especially – Pakistan: for women like Jemima or I…
A. Yes, different culture, though not about religion…
Q. Especially – for women!
A. Yes… though… look at my sisters: one – is a top economist, working for the UN, one is a surgeon, the other one is a top exporter. In the West, Daphne people think that we don’t treat women well. But – it is a misperception.
Q. So… perhaps East cannot meet West after all…
A. Not necessarily… Men or women from here married and lived in the West. Or people from there managed to live here. In our (Jemima and my) case we couldn’t work it out.
Q. Your two kids are Muslim: how does it work? Were do they spend most of their time?
A. Well… Jemima and I have a good understanding. They go to school in England – while they are with their mother – and spend holidays with me here, in Pakistan.
Q. Are they still speaking Urdu?
A. Difficult. I mean the older one still understands. You know, Daphne, they don’t spend much time here…
Q. But they are raised as Muslims?
A. Yes, they are! They are bicultural. You know, they are… I hope they pick up something from each culture.
Q. It was funny that just before the elections, president Musharraf had invited your ex-wife Jemima for a print interview.What did you make of it?
A. Beats me. Because she was very critical of Musharraf.
Q. Big time!
A. Perhaps he thought he could charm her.Get her to write positively about him.
Q. How did you feel about it?
A. I was actually against it. I didn’t see any gain. If she wrote a positive piece – she would be praising a dictator, while my party was fighting for democracy! If she wrote a negative piece – she would be his guest. He would have done her a favour. He invited her as his guest. So I was against it…
Q. But – she did it!
A. She did it and created waves everywhere. She took two tape recorders and – just wrote what was there. But what surprised me was that 48 hours before the elections General Musharraf still hoped to win the elections! Throughout the country – especially after the murder of Benazir – there was such anger against Musharraf. Dictators are always removed from reality.
They are surrounded by police, psychopaths who tell them what they want to hear. It is like: “shoot the messenger!” So I was shocked that in this (Jemima) interview – 48 hours before the defeat – this cocoon still expected to win! Musharraf not only didn’t understand the people of Pakistan – his life was threatened so he didn’t get out. He was cut off from the people.
Q. The Diana inquest has just concluded, blaming Fayed’s driver. Everyone was called by Scotland Yard. But you were never called…
A. Well… I wasn’t that close to her. Yes, she visited me here just before, but I couldn’t contribute anything. All this conspiracy theory… I mean… Why would I have wanted to be brought into this soap opera?
Q. But you told me before, that while Diana was here, she asked you to talk to Hasnat (Khan) and to try to help their relationship. Do you regret you didn’t do it and perhaps “pushed” her to Dodi and his father?
A. How can I regret?All I said to her I would do my best. She wanted to marry Hasnat. He was not sure at that point. So I agreed to play an intermediary. But I didn’t, because shortly after I saw the photos with Dodi whom I knew as well. Do I regret it? I believe in God, and doing your best. I mean, I would have spoken with Hasnat. I intended to…
Q. Could Diana and Hasnat have “worked”?
A. Who knows? Two people with different backgrounds, two different cultures. And there is another thing: you never really know another human being until you get to know their worst aspects. Only then can a marriage work! Because you have to live with each other’s worst quality. Unfortunately you really don’t know what the worst quality is until you are married. It is really two people deciding to overcome everything and make the marriage work.
Q. What is your worst quality?
A. My worst quality?… I guess for Jemima it was that when I decide to do something, I put my time, passion into it. Once I have a dream – I go for it! The moment I stepped into politics it was difficult for Jemima. And there were times, she thought, I wouldn’t make it. That I wouldn’t succeed.
Q. You didn’t give her enough attention?
A. It is more trying to reconcile the marriage with my dream. I mean, I actually loved my married life. There is nothing more I liked. There was nothing better than I enjoyed being with my family. But I was trying to reconcile my marriage with building the hospital in Lahore, building a party…
Q. Do you like being single???
A. It is not a question of liking it. It happened to me. It was the most painful experience in my life since my mother’s death .
Q. “Painful” – because of publicity or …?
A. No, no, I don’t care about publicity. I am quite immune… But it did matter to me that my family split, and I didn’t spend that much time with my children. The children gave me so much pleasure.
Q. Is it still painful?
A. It was difficult for six months, a year…
Q. You see yourself remarried”
A. I have no idea. I am not rushing to make these big statements. Life takes you in its own direction.
Q. You did a successful charity show with Liz Hurley. The UK press played it as part of the reported “cat-fight” between Liz and Jemima.
A. Not at all. I knew Liz (Hurley) much before I met Jemima. She offered to help fund-raising for the hospital. We need to raise money constantly. Our hospital treats 75% of the cancer patients for free! You know Daphne, the thought of (teaming with Liz) to hurt Jemima? I would never hurt Jemima.
Q. Was Jemima hurt?
A. I think the newspapers made a big deal out of it. If I had known it would hurt her… You know, I actually asked Jemima before. So if Jemima objected – I would have not hurt her and invite Liz…
Q. Let’s play a game: If instead of me so and so was sitting here, what would you tell him / her?
Q. President Musharraf?
A. (Laughing) I would tell him not to be so shameless. How can he just stay there? A person must have dignity and self-respect!
Q. President Bush?
A. I would tell him: he is responsible for so many people dying in Iraq. This war… before it we never had suicide bombers in Pakistan. Now you have 16 suicide bombers. Bush’s war was not planned, misconceived… I don’t know how Bush sleeps at night…
Q. Peacefully, I guess.
A. I find it is so difficult to understand his mindset…
Q. Instead of me: Nawaz Sharif?
A. Well Nawaz Sharif has a great opportunity. He has taken a very good stand regarding reinstating the judges. If he goes through with it, we will have a democracy, fair elections…
Q. Asif Zardari?
A. He has been given a golden opportunity. Someone who has spent years in jail, for corruption cases, and there he is… given an opportunity because of the awful death of his wife. So far he has done the right things. Let’s see…
A. Bilawal should finish his education. He inherited a party… (Laughing) A democratic political party, being inherited – it is a contradiction in terms….
Q. It is very funny. You can inherit a house, jewellery… But how can you inherit other people’s wishes, dreams?
A. Well, Benazir inherited her father’s party! Benazir was very close to me. But this is something I don’t understand. How can she dictate other people’s free wills?
Exactly. It is mockery of democracy! But if Bilawal gets educated, and he is starting from below – like Rahul Gandhi in India – great! But if he sits there at the top, without experience like a king…. that’s why monarchy failed. Just because one man – because of his charisma – becomes a king it doesn’t mean that his son’s family has “it”.
Q. American elections?
A. From a Pakistani point of view: Democrats! Of-course!
Q. Hillary? OR – Barack?
A. Hillary has experience. Barack has charisma…
A. Usually, when a politician gets a momentum like Barack, it is very difficult to stop it. It will be incredible if someone from Barack’s background makes it – it will be wonderful for American democracy!
Q. What are you up to?
A. I will be organising my party. Our party is young! It is the youngest growing party in Pakistan.
Courtesy: The News