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By Mumtaz Alvi
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan says he wants to replicate the Chinese model in Pakistan that lifted 700 million people out of poverty within a short period of 40 years.
In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel on Friday, Imran said despite not having electoral politics, the Chinese were good at bringing the best people to the top.
“It’s a system based on meritocracy.”
Imran admired the Chinese model saying, “How the Communist Party sort of sifts through all the talent and brings it to the top.”
“Furthermore, in the past seven years, China has put 450 ministerial level officials in jail on corruption charges. Countries aren't poor because of a lack of resources. It's because of corruption among the leadership,” he continued.
“As we know from the Panama Papers, the same is true for Pakistani politicians. Millions of dollars went into properties in the most expensive areas in London, siphoned off from this country,” he continued.
Expressing concern over India’s antics in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K), he warned that the region was a hotspot that could “flare up anytime”, urging the United States to treat it in an “evenhanded” manner.
Imran said the US was under the impression that India could limit China’s influence in the region, but it was a completely flawed premise.
“India is a threat to its neighbours, to China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and to us. It has the most extremist racist government in the subcontinent. It is a fascist state inspired by the Nazis in the 1920s and ‘30s,” said the premier.
Imran said Islamabad expected an evenhanded treatment from the US with respect to India “especially with the dispute in Kashmir”.
“The region is a hotspot. It can flare up anytime. That’s why we expect the US, as the strongest country in the world, to be evenhanded, whoever becomes the president.”
Explaining the ruling Bharatya Janata Party’s (BJP) anti-Islam manifesto, the premier said: “Read the writings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the intellectual forerunner of PM Narendra Modi’s party. They openly admired Hitler. The Nazis wanted to get rid of the Jews. The RSS wanted to rid India of the Muslims.”
Responding to a question about the US elections, Imran noted that Joe Biden was in front in the opinion polls but “Donald Trump is very unpredictable because he’s not like normal politicians.”
“He plays by his own rules,” said the premier with a hint of admiration that did not go unnoticed by his interviewer.
The prime minister reminisced that “as a politician who started his own party and then built it up into the biggest party in Pakistan over 22 years, I also had to do a lot of out-of-the-box-thinking”.
“We were the first to rely on the social media and the first to attract the youth to our rallies. We had to be very unorthodox, and in some ways, Donald Trump does that too.”
Explaining Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace deal, Imran dismissed the perception of Islamabad’s close ties with the Taliban.
“With 2.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, we have a certain amount of leverage, which we used to the utmost,” he explained. “I am very pleased that we succeeded.”
The premier observed that Pakistan had nothing to do with the 9/11 terror attacks and reiterated that the country should not have gotten involved in the war in Afghanistan.
“I opposed it from day one. The US put pressure on us, and the military dictator Pervez Musharraf succumbed to that pressure.”
Imran reminded the interviewer that Osama bin Laden was a hero in the 1980s.
“He supported the Mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and he was backed by both the CIA and Pakistan.”
“It was Pakistan’s right to recognize the Taliban, but Pakistan had no control over them. When Pakistan asked the Taliban to hand over Osama Bin Laden to the Americans, they refused. No one can predict which way things will go in Afghanistan right now,” he said.
“What I can say is that after Afghanistan, the country that wants peace most is Pakistan. We have lost 70,000 people in this conflict, and our tribal areas adjacent to the Afghan border have been devastated in the last 15 years.”
“Half of the people in these areas have become internally displaced, about 1.5 million of them [have become] victims of the conflict between the Pakistan Taliban and the army.”
Imran said his government, from day one, had been fostering dialogue. He said he spoke to Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation lead Dr Abdullah Abdullah prior to meeting with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
“We have no favorites in Afghanistan. Our only interest is that the future government in Kabul does not allow India to operate from there against Pakistan,” he asserted, stressing that Hekmatyar not only accepts the constitution in Afghanistan, but also participated in the elections.
Regretting the “double game” image given to Islamabad, PM Imran said it started in the 1980s, after the Iranian revolution.
“Many in the West began looking at Muslim countries as if there was a divide between liberals and fundamentalists — a very artificial assessment,” he reflected.
“Muslim countries are no different from other communities. All communities are divided into moderates, which make up the majority, and the extremists.”
Stressing his push for peace, PM Imran said he offered mediation in the Yemen conflict as soon as he came into power. “Such a colossal human rights disaster is going on there.”
The premier said he spoke with Iran and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad bin Salman. “But you can´t force anybody to agree on peace talks if they don’t want to.”
Imran noted that a Saudi-Iran war “would be a disaster” and “devastating for countries all over the world, especially the poor, and the price of oil would shoot up”.
Discussing Middle East’s growing ties with Israel, Imran reiterated Pakistan’s position.
“Every country has its own foreign policy priorities. They have to think about their own people, and it’s their decision.”
“As for Pakistan, the founder of the nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a brilliant man, spoke in the 1940s about the Palestinian situation as a huge violation of human rights. Pakistan still takes this view,” he asserted. “Unless there’s a just settlement, we cannot recognize Israel.”
The premier said he was undeterred by the opposition uniting against him, terming the movement a blackmail to get rid of corruption cases.
“But there’s no way I will ever relent,” he stressed.
“Look, we are facing the biggest trade gap in our history. Pakistan’s imports are $60 billion, but exports are only $20 billion. The rupee is falling and there’s inflation because we import fuel. Everything is getting more and more expensive, even electricity,” he admitted.
“We have to raise our revenues, so we have to increase our tax base. We’re going through these painful reforms and all these guys from the opposition get together. They are worried that once we stabilize things, they will all end up in jail because of huge corruption cases.”
As leader of a country with one of the lowest COVID-19 tallies, Imran explained his government decided to impose smart lockdowns keeping in view that almost half of the population lived on daily and weekly wages.
“We only restricted areas if we found that there was an outbreak, and we did not stop our supply lines. We did not stop the agriculture sector and quickly reopened the construction sector, because that’s what employs the most people in the urban areas.”
“That saved us,” he reflected. “India instead restricted people to their homes in poor areas - a complete lockdown. They have a lot of poverty now; same in Iran.”
Imran said around 180,000 to 200,000 people are getting tested every week as the national coordination team looks at multiple statistics with a clear composite picture of the epidemic.
“From peak numbers in June, we saw a steady decline in cases, positivity and deaths across the country until late August. Now, we’re hoping to survive the second wave.”
“Only a fool doesn’t talk about everything with his wife,” said the premier.
“She has great wisdom. I discuss everything with her, also problems I face in government, dealing with complex situations. She is my soul mate. She is my companion. I would not have survived without her.”
When asked about the new law prohibiting the media to report on the military, the prime minister said there would be “another way of dealing with security forces — not through the media but through the government”.
“I will speak to the army chief if I think there’s something wrong. There are always human rights violations in military operations and sometimes we speak about it when it happens. But this should not be done in public.”
“When soldiers are risking their lives, you cannot demoralize them in public,” he explained.
The premier, once again, insisted that Pakistan enjoyed “more freedom of speech than almost any Western country”.
“And I use the word freedom very carefully, after having spent almost two decades of my life in England, where they have very strong laws on slander,” he stressed.
“There was a defamation case between me and an English cricket star that I won, because defamation laws are very strong there. But such slander laws don’t exist in Pakistan. I have been wrongly slandered as prime minister, here and gone to court, but even as prime minister, I haven’t been able to get justice.”
When the interviewer pointed out that the new law only protected the security apparatus, the premier insisted that “as long as criticism is based on truth and facts, it will be accepted.”
“Every day, our security forces lose people in battle. Every country protects its institutions, not when they do something wrong, but when they’re being attacked,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, addressing the conclusion session of the National Rehmatul Lil Aalameen Conference in Islamabad, Imran said the Muslims also believed in the freedom of expression but hurting sentiments of over 1.25 billion Muslims was no freedom of expression.
He emphasized that it was imperative for the heads of Islamic nations to convey to the West and the United Nations that the Muslims also believed in the freedom of expression but hurting sentiments of others was not such freedom.
“To make sketches under the garb of freedom of expression is not permissible. The West has no understanding of our religious sensitivities and what our bond is with Holy Prophet PBHU, it above everything,” he maintained.
He insisted, “I believe that anything that hurts any community, must not be done”.
He said Pakistan would take the lead in engaging with the leaders of the Muslim world to effectively counter the surge of Islamophobia in the Western world, sensitizing the European nations to how important it was to desist from hurting others’ sentiments.
He recalled to have spoken on these matters in the UN General Assembly and during his interaction with the OIC leaders.
He contended that it was the responsibility of the Muslim leaders to get them understood as to how much deep love we had for our Holy Prophet (PBHU) and would never like any of the prophets to be disrespected.
Imran Khan noted that he had already written letters to the heads of Muslim countries and he would personally contact them to evolve a common strategy against Islamophobia.
He said the Jewish community was very small in number but they were very organized adding that they were very powerful in the media and no media or politician could dare talk against the Holocaust.
“Rather, there are four countries, where if someone talks that two million and not six million Jews were killed, he is put in jail. None has the right to hurt others’ sentiments. The Jews with unity in their ranks launched a very effective campaign and today because of that no one can talk on this subject,” he emphasized.
While Muslims, he argued, were 1.25 billion in population across the globe but they couldn’t do that. I have to say it that unfortunately it was our leadership’s failure that we did not do that.
“I assure you that God willing, we will do our best and launch a campaign and contact others as well. If we can make them understand that lakhs of Muslims were killed in the last 30 years in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq and it did hurt us but when someone commits blasphemy of our beloved Holy Prophet (PBUH), the injury is unmatchable,” he noted.
Imran was sure that they would be able to convince the West on this matter.
“Because we are sitting and we don’t suffer. But those lakhs of Muslims, who live in the Western countries, when such incident happens, they suffer massively. Attacks are unleashed on the mosques, people are thrown out of jobs and women with veil are ridiculed on roads. And with this Islamophobia increases,” he explained.
He recalled when he first visited the Europe at the age of 18 as a cricketer, he found there funny movies on the life of Prophet Essa (PBUH), as they did not consider it bad for they did not love their prophets, and there was no as such reaction in the West. But on the contrary, he said, the Muslims had deep love and respect for all prophets, including Hazrat Essa (PBUH) and Prophet Musa (PBUH) and they never even think of disrespecting any of them, what to talk of Holy Prophet (Peace be Upon Him).
Imran said when Rushdie wrote a book 30 years back, which was against Islam, there was a valid outcry in the Muslim world and Rushdie also knew it for he was born in a Muslim family in India but the West could not understand it what had happened to the Islamic world.
He noted that majority of the people in the West had become atheist and a very small number of people followed religion. But the majority in the West, he pointed out, viewed the Muslims as narrow-minded and against democracy and their values.
Taking advantage of this, the prime minister noted, a small section of the society in the West ran a campaign against Islam and wanted it to be viewed as bad and for this it was doing a propaganda against Islam.
The Muslim leaders, he emphasized, should have raised this matter with the United Nations and the Europeans that hurting sentiments in the name of freedom of expression should not be allowed and a small section of their society should not be permitted to hurt them, which wanted to paint a bad picture of them and this campaign was very dangerous.
Imran Khan said Pakistan was carved out with the vision to build it on the principles of State of Madina.
He said, “We are confronting problems today because unfortunately we deviated from the ideology of our founding fathers. But things will improve gradually, as Pakistan will move towards its principles of being an Islamic welfare state”.
He announced a law would be passed making it compulsory for the students of class seven, eight and nine to study the life and teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBHU).
He said the Holy Prophet (PHBU) made unparalleled accomplishments, which no other person could achieve.
He emphasized that the study of Seerat-un-Nabi (PHBU) (blessed life) would help the students better understand the personality of the Holy Prophet (PBHU) as well as the teachings of Islam.