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Imran Khan says he's not anti-West

Published Jan 14, 2012 05:16am

Imran Khan waves to the crowd during a public meeting in Karachi. — Photo by AFP

WASHINGTON: Imran Khan, the cricket star turned politician who is gaining support in Pakistan, on Friday rebutted charges he is anti-West and said his vision for an Islamic society looked like Scandinavia.

Khan, who has drawn hundreds of thousands of followers in recent months after years in the political wilderness, reiterated his staunch criticism of the US campaign against religious extremists as he addressed a forum in Washington.

But he rejected perceptions that his views are anti-Western. Khan, an Oxford graduate who was formerly married to writer Jemima Khan, said he was one of the few Pakistani politicians to have spent substantial time in the West.

“To be anti-Western makes absolutely no sense at all. The West is geography. How can you be anti-geography?” Khan told the Atlantic Council, a think-tank, via Internet video provider Skype.

“And to be anti-American...how can you be anti-a whole country, where there are so many different views?” he said.

“I have always been anti-the American war on terror. I have always thought that this was an insane war,” Khan said.

A decade after Pakistan reluctantly supported the US-led campaign against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, Khan said that his country was far more radicalised and that billions of dollars had been wasted.

“I have never understood what they were trying to achieve. I still don't know what is victory in the war on terror,” Khan said.

Pakistani forces in 2009 launched an offensive in South Waziristan. The United States regularly carries out deadly drone strikes in areas bordering Afghanistan and has feared that Pakistan maintains ties to some militants.

“In my opinion, the only solution is to have dialogue, a political solution, the same as is the case across the border” in Afghanistan, Khan said.

But Khan — whom former military ruler Pervez Musharraf once called a “Taliban without the beard” — said that he had to “demystify” to Western audiences his idea of an Islamic society.

“If you ask me today what is closest to that ideal, I would say the Scandinavian countries,” Khan said, praising them for their “humane society, where there is rule of law, a society that looks after its weak, its handicapped”.

Such a society is the opposite of Pakistan “where literally the poor people are subsidising the rich, while all the jails are full of poor people.”

Khan, who for years enjoyed little support despite his sporting stardom, has recently drawn crowds of more than 100,000 people at rallies in which he promised a “good tsunami” against injustice and corruption.

Khan's popularity comes as Pakistan wades through a slew of problems including attacks, power and gas shortages, a feeble economy, flood damage, friction between civilian and military leaders and tensions with Washington.

Some allege that Khan is being quietly nurtured by Pakistan's military, which has long been the nation's chief arbiter of power and whose poor ties with the civilian leadership have recently spilled into the open.

Khan has denied such charges. In the Washington appearance, he insisted that his Movement for Justice Party enjoyed across-the-board support and would triumph in free elections.

Khan also harshly criticised Musharraf, who has vowed to return to Pakistan this month to launch a political comeback. Khan said Musharraf faced threats from forces stretching from restive Balochistan to the tribal belt.

“No longer being the president and having the protection which he has, I would not be the insurance company to give him life insurance,” Khan said.