STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We've been glimpsing the latest chapter in the life of Imran Khan. He was an international sports star, a hero in countries that play cricket. Then, he founded a political party in his native Pakistan. Last year, he briefly became a political prisoner.
And this week, Imran Khan came to Washington as a kind of ambassador for Pakistan's opposition. In public speeches and private meetings, he is urging Americans to end their support for a major ally in the war on terror, President Pervez Musharraf.
Mr. IMRAN KHAN (Chairman and Founder, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-Movement for Justice): General Musharraf has done a brilliant PR job here, where he has convinced the people that he is one man holding these hordes of terrorists, the bastion against these extremists. And that…
INSKEEP: In an effort to change that image, Imran Khan met this week with congressional leaders from both political parties. He also packed the room, where he spoke at a Washington think tank, The Center for Strategic and International Studies.
(Soundbite of applause)
INSKEEP: And he agreed to let us follow along as he raced to yet another spot.
Unidentified Woman #1: Can I ask you to please stay in your seats so that our visitor can leave and make his next appointment?
INSKEEP: Everyone makes way as he heads for the door. Imran Khan is in his mid-50s now, still trim, in a dark blue suit. His black hair flies about a bit as he and an aide step into the elevator.
Mr. KHAN: You have a live CSPAN at the Press Club right now?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Woman #2: Don't stop.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man #1: (Unintelligible)
Unidentified Man #2: 10 minutes, five minutes.
INSKEEP: As he crosses the sidewalk to his car, he is stopped by a TV reporter.
Unidentified Man #3: Do we expect that you will accept some sort of sharing power with Musharraf?
Mr. KHAN: Absolutely not.
(Soundbite of car door closing)
INSKEEP: And then we're in a black SUV. We're creeping through the traffic, which, as this is Washington, might well include other foreign politicians seeking support from the only super power.
You said in there that you thought Musharraf had done a brilliant PR job. How can you counter that now?
Mr. KHAN: Well, this is basically trying to counter it. Well, first of all, the facts on the ground - everyone in Pakistan knows, across the spectrum from the right to the left, people want Musharraf to go. So that's one. Anyway, I mean, the U.S. administration must be getting this information, that in Pakistan, and according to all the polls, they are backing someone who is deeply unpopular in the country.
INSKEEP: Imran Khan says Musharraf is even less popular after the events of the past year. The president battled with, and in many cases removed, independent judges. Then, the best known opposition leader, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was killed. Next month, Pakistan holds parliamentary elections, but Imran Khan's small party will boycott. He says they can't be fair. Instead of seeking a place in Pakistan's capital, he is visiting what he considers a real source of power - the U.S. capital.
Do you think U.S. backing is significant enough that the United States government could cause a change in government or prevent a change in government, either way, in Pakistan?
Mr. KHAN: Well, at the moment, the only backer of General Musharraf is the U.S. government. The army is only backing him now because they think that the U.S. government backs Musharraf. So if the U.S. government - all we want them to say is to insist on the reinstatement of the constitutional judges of Pakistan. That's all we want. And once that happens, then, the constitution will take its course.
INSKEEP: You mentioned in a couple of your speeches this week, Pakistani Americans - the importance of Pakistani Americans to your political party and to the situation there. In what ways are you trying to mobilize them to lobby for your side?
Mr. KHAN: Well, I think Pakistani Americans have more awareness. They understand what a democracy is. They understand the concept of separation of power, and checks and balances, independent judiciary, rule of law - more so than people living in Pakistan because they have never experienced this.
INSKEEP: Is it disappointing to you that some of your strongest supporters are in the United States and not necessarily in Pakistan?
Mr. KHAN: Well, it is disappointing to have your best brains leave the country because you cannot provide them a system where they can fulfill their potential.
INSKEEP: I guess what I'm asking is - is that a sign of how far you are from political success or changing the system in Pakistan?
Mr. KHAN: Not from political success. The community here is supportive, you know? But we will become a force in Pakistani politics whenever we have free and fair election. These fraudulent elections, of course - we, along with our coalition partners, have boycotted, subject to the restoration, the reinstatement of the judges. And sooner or later, we will have to have free and fair elections. Any government coming out of these fraudulent elections is not going to last long.
INSKEEP: One of my colleagues is pointing out that you are about the same age as Benazir Bhutto was. How well did you know her?
Mr. KHAN: Well, we were in university together. Both of us read the same subject at Oxford. And we were friends. We knew each other even after university. We knew each other - we were in touch with each other until she became the prime minister. And after that, there was no contact.
Mr. KHAN: Well, I think - well, first, because she was the prime minister or she was in politics - I wasn't. Secondly, I didn't really agree with her politics, and especially, you know, the corruption cases that dogged her government.
INSKEEP: Now, that you've had a few weeks to absorb the news of her assassination, do you believe the situation in your country is fundamentally different than it was a month or two ago?
Mr. KHAN: Of course, I think such a, you know - it's a landmark event in our history; one of the most tragic events. I have never seen such show of emotion and pain throughout Pakistan as after assassination. And, of course, it's had an impact.
INSKEEP: It may also have increased American interests in Pakistan, which is reflected by Imran Khan's brutal schedule as he races across Washington, D.C. That black SUV deposits us on a sidewalk. It's right around the corner from the White House.
Mr. KHAN: What is this? This is the Press Club?
INSKEEP: This is the National Press Club.
This is where he's been told he has another speech. As he steps into the elevator, an aide says it will be carried on C-SPAN, which causes Imran Khan to ask, what's C-SPAN?
Mr. KHAN: It's a radio?
Unidentified Woman #2: It's a radio and TV channel…
Unidentified Man #3: Political TV station.
Unidentified Woman #2: …political TV station, which airs all kinds of news, opens….
Unidentified Man #3: It's just a political TV station.
Mr. KHAN: My team is, as you know, insisted that I should come here and inform the public here about events in Pakistan - or give the other picture.
Unidentified Man #3: It's a global world. It's a global village we're living in, everybody has an effect in everything as it was…
Unidentified Woman #2: And especially…
INSKEEP: Seconds later, Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan steps before a room full of cameras, hoping to make his case to America once again.
Unidentified Man #4: Now, I want to introduce Mr. Imran Khan.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.