"The people of Pakistan should be able to ask their democratically elected leader, ‘tell me where are you spending the tax money, only then will I vote for you’." – File photo by AFP
"The people of Pakistan should be able to ask their democratically elected leader, ‘tell me where are you spending the tax money, only then will I vote for you’." – File photo by AFP

In the early years of his political career, Imran Khan would speak off a rolled cluster of scribbled notes in his hands. At one rally, in 1998, the first line on the first page read: “Believe in Pakistan.”

His interviews, however, have significantly improved over recent months. He is more coherent in his responses; if he wants to insult another politician he starts with quoting them and makes his arguments based on statistics. His major Lahore rally (that many claimed was his debut as a democratic identity in Pakistan) seems to have given him the confidence that he had been claiming to have, for the past 15 years.

Realising that Khan would now finally find what he has been striving for the past 15 years, Jemima Khan, made him promise that he will never ask their son to join the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI). And Imran confirmed this would not happen, not just because the mother of his sons did not wish so, but also as “it is against my own principles of politics.” Imran says he does not believe in dynasties and has aggressively accented against them.

On November 1, a day after massive rally in Lahore, Pakistan Muslim League-N parliamentarian said “We don’t even consider him competition. He has no chance. Zero!” Since then, however, Khan has been insisting otherwise…

You talk about ‘nation building.’ How do you plan on achieving this, and don’t you think there other problems that need to be taken care of? Nation building can only be achieved if you have the people’s mandate and strong institutions in the country. Rule of law. People have a stake in your reforms. You carry the people with you. Inspire them. Giving the people a clear goal where you are going to take them and they must believe that your goals are going to help them improve their lives.

What are the goals? To make Pakistan a welfare state. Use the taxes for the people, not against them. The state is responsible and must provide the basic needs of the people. All policies must be made for the bottom half of the population.”

The basis of democracy is ehtehsaab – accountability. There must be no taxation without representation. The people of Pakistan should be able to ask their democratically elected leader, ‘tell me where are you spending the tax money, only then will I vote for you.’

But such policies are always made, never implemented… [Khan interrupts] Look! I am against the neo-liberal economics, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This trickle-down effect is a myth, it never works. I believe that policies must have compassion in them. They must look after the common man. At the moment in Pakistan, the poor subsidise the rich. Therefore, fix the taxation system. Anyone who has an income above a certain amount must be taxed. There should be no sacred cows, as there are in Pakistan right now.

The agenda is to, raise taxes, and inspire people to give taxes, by creating a tax culture and spending the taxes on the people.

If you look at the tax details of the political leadership in Pakistan you’d agree with what (late) Salmaan Taseer suggested with a pun, that politicians need to fill in the forms of Benazir Income Support Program. If someone joins the PTI, he has to go through a process of revealing his assets with our committee. If the committee finds anything guilty on his account he is discharged. Any corrupt politician will never be given space in this party.

You keep calling the current government corrupt, making aggressive statements regarding the government-judiciary rift. But this government got elected democratically. Isn’t that like saying you are against the people’s choice? If you read Condoleezza Rice’s books, she has exhaustively explained how the US worked with Benazir Bhutto and General [Pervez] Musharraf to form their own type of puppet government. Now this government is responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians and soldiers who have been killed in the war on terror.

With the extent of corruption that this government has been indulging in, it was inevitable that they had this clash with the Supreme Court. The day the Supreme Court had called the NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) government unconstitutional, it was decided right then that this government couldn’t have survived a good relation with the Supreme Court. Sadly, we have had no genuine opposition in this country. There might have been an opposition within parliamentary members who could have stood up and questioned the government, but that did not happen. The government did not resign, and everyone else was busy trying to save democracy – while, of course, the government were trying to save their corruption.

The Supreme Court of any state is the institution that should have the highest reliance and authority. Such an institution in a democratic state has no ground for military intervention and has the highest power to launch a control system for the corrupt actions, or a corrupt state. If and when any other democratic institution fails to perform, the Supreme Court can control them and make them accountable. No one can challenge the Supreme Court. Our government, on the other hand, is a corrupt government. I reject calling it a democratic state, it having laid its foundations on the basis of a corrupt engagement called the NRO.

You talk about Condoleezza Rice, writing about how they (US) wanted one puppet to go and another to come back. You talk against NRO. How do you justify that when you have so many ‘seasoned’ politicians joining your own party? Firstly, they are in a minority. Remember, you are talking about 850 candidates. These people you are talking about, how many are they? Maybe 10 or 15? If we are such a weak party that 10 to 15 people can hijack the whole ideology of this 15-year-old party which has gone through a baptism of fire to get here – no party has struggled like this for 15 years, and stayed in opposition and come back. So, to answer your question, anyone who joins us, joins us on our terms.

Many PTI critics, as you may have noticed, are thinking that one if not all of your 10 to 15 lot, may default. Would you dismiss them on the basis of your principals? What sort of accountability do you have in mind? It’s not a question of me dismissing anyone, it’s a question of having strong institutions and free institutions. The way the western societies also function, is when you create an environment which does not allow anyone to do something corrupt.

Your judiciary has to be independent, your NAB has to be strong and then your prosecution has to be strong.

In the current government we have seen that if the judiciary tries to hold the government accountable, they have all ways of stalling the judiciary. By having their own prosecution, their own NAB, their own investigation agencies. So, what you need are strong institutions in Pakistan. A strong prosecution system, independent NAB.

How would you cut down extravagance, when traditionally our politicians, many of whom you have taken on board, are in a habit of profligacy? The Prime Minister House and all governor houses are symbols of extravagance. These must be made into public good. VIP cars, and others, the whole VIP culture has to go. If the ruling elite will be collecting taxes, it has to show that they are going in the right places, that they are worried of what the poor are going through and where their tax money is spent. We will make sure that their tax money does not fund any extravagance, but it is going to be spent to benefit the people. At the moment we are the lowest tax GDP ratio at 8.3 per cent, we can easily take it to 20 per cent by inspiring people and then creating an equitable taxation system.

What role do you want to give to the army? How much intervention will you allow? In a democratic government, the power is held by the state head. Every policy is supposed to be made by the government and not the army. Foreign policy is the job of the democratic government and not the army. Why is the army controlling the war on terror? I will never understand.

I am against military takeover or any sort of military intervention, to any extent at all, in any capacity at all. Pakistan needs democracy and public political participation without any sort or form of authoritative control.

It is the responsibility of the civilian government to take control of state matters, especially those which have to do with state’s sovereignty. I don’t think I will be so lousy that the army would have to make my decision(s).

And how will your civil-military policy balance out? No aid, proper taxation, and proper division of resources are my major strategies to balance out the whole system. We can’t free the people until we give them what they want. We need to identify the needs of this country and focus on that. Why would the military intervene if the democratic government is operating in harmony and giving the people what they want? My goal is to bring that harmony. Everything else will fall into place on its own.

Do you think we even need a third party in Pakistan? In an entrenched two party system you create a third party. It hasn’t happened anywhere. In England it hasn’t happened, in US it hasn’t happened. The reason why it happened in Pakistan is that the core of people in Tehrik-i-Insaaf, were always very committed to what they believed in and they did not de-politicise. People have excelled in different field and came into politics, because PTI gave them that genuine platform. That’s the big advantage we have, as opposed to professional politicians in Pakistan, who make compromises on their politics. These are not career politicians. PTI has politicians who are ideologically motivated, who have a vision for Pakistan, who want to see a Pakistan which is prosperous. Therefore they will not allow the party to compromise on its ideology.

Will you allow people to make you accountable? Will you give the people that kind of freedom? Democracy does not exist if the people are not given the liberty. In a democracy, there must be no taxation without representation. The people should not just be able to ask questions from the government but should also be able to make it accountable. So, yes I will allow people to ask me questions, because for me, accountability is the basis of democracy. I will invite anyone to come and ask me whatever they want to.

What about PML-N. Will you form an alliance with them? Forming an alliance with PML-N is out of question. We could ally with anyone but never with PML-N.

How do you ensure civilian supremacy, when the military constantly by passes that under democratic Governments in Pakistan? It is only justice and rule of law, the lack of which has fuelled and facilitated this issue. If the state is operating fine without military intervention, why would the military intervene?

Do you have any concrete steps in mind? Yes, we will declare four emergencies:

  1. Revival of the education system – where our main aim will be to follow a single syllabus.
  2. Rule of law – something I have always emphasised on and was also the founding principal of PTI.
  3. Revenue collection will be made authentic and viable. We will work on the idea of e-governance.
  4. Control corruption by establishing a conflict-of-interest law – my first priority.
Then we will de-centralise the system, with an individual focus on Fata, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Kashmir, and Balochistan. We have to and will ensure that the grievances are attended and the demands met.

These, in the context of Pakistan, sound hunky dory, but Khan insists, “That’s what we call change.”

*This interview has been reproduced for Dawn.com, based on the author’s interviews with Imran Khan for Foreign Policy (AfPak Channel) and HardNews.

The author is an independent journalist, activist and academic based in Pakistan.