Pakistan's Imran Khan to Leave Hiding for Protest Philanthropist, politician and former cricket superstar Imran Khan has been in hiding since Musharraf declared emergency rule. But Khan hopes to channel the political anger of thousands of students Wednesday when he emerges from hiding to lead a student rally at Punjab University.
NPR logo

Pakistan's Imran Khan to Leave Hiding for Protest

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/16227350/16227334" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Pakistan's Imran Khan to Leave Hiding for Protest

Pakistan's Imran Khan to Leave Hiding for Protest

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/16227350/16227334" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Among the opposition leaders who have vowed to boycott elections under emergency rule is one of the most famous men in Pakistan, Imran Khan. A former cricket superstar, Khan channeled his fame into a new career as both a philanthropist and politician. He's the founder and current chairman of the Movement for Justice Party. He narrowly avoided detention on the first night of Musharraf's emergency rule.

This Wednesday, Khan will risk both his popularity and his safety when he emerges from hiding to lead a student rally from the campus of Punjab University. Imran Khan spoke with us earlier on his cell phone from his car. He says he staked his hopes for political change on a new generation.

Mr. IMRAN KHAN (Chairman, Movement for Justice Party): The young people in this country have to decide where we are headed. Because of military dictatorship, because of clamping down on the freedom of expression, because of the way this whole war on terror is being fought, their society is getting radicalized. What you, in the West, hear of Talibanization is not, basically, some religious movement going on, it's also a political movement going on in the way General Musharraf is using the Pakistan army against his own people.

So what are the young people going to do? Are they gonna sit back and watch this country implode? Head the way of Algeria whether the whole army starts fighting its own people? Or do this fight for a genuine democracy where these matters are sorted out through dialogue, consensus, which is what a civilized society does.

NORRIS: Now, you've been on the run since police tried to place you under house arrest. How have you managed to elude authorities over the past week? And what happens if you lead this protest, if you show your face, take to the streets?

Mr. KHAN: Well, let me say it wasn't a house arrest they were after. They were going to ship me to this prison in a far away town. Basically, they did not -they wanted me out of circulation. And the reason why they want to do that is because they're very clear that if all the genuine opposition, political workers and the leaders are taken out of circulation, then General Musharraf will be able to clamp down on defense very quickly, just like the Burmese general have done in Burma. And then you can claim that, you know, he's really popular and there's no street movement against him.

The moment I realized that they were sort of not thinking of a house arrest, they were thinking of solitary confinement, that's when I was fortunately not too old to skilled, too old to get out of the house from their back. And then, since then, I have been shifting places. I don't stay in one place more than one night. I don't use, basically, cell phone until - unless I'm on the move. And that's how I have so far survived. But day after tomorrow, I think I sufficiently organized my party and the students to the extent that once I go out in the open, and I don't mind if I go into prison the day after tomorrow, it doesn't matter, because I've already got all the tiers organized for a movement to continue after me.

NORRIS: Now, Musharraf has set a date for elections next year. What are your political plans? Do you plan to run?

Mr. KHAN: Well, firstly, this is a total fraud. I mean, without restoring the supreme court judges, holding the election will be the biggest fraud imposed on this country. You see - remember, the whole point of the emergency was to get rid of the independent judiciary and instead, have his own pocket of judges who will endorse all unconstitutional, illegal ways. Like, for instance, today they passed an act, and you won't believe this, that we civilians can be court-martialed. I mean, we - civilians are there to be court-martialed and the judiciary has endorsed it, because, you know, it's his own judges.

Now, if he has his own judges, he's going to do clamp down on the press, the media, and he's going to rig the elections. Once that happens, you know, we will, again, have a puppet parliament, a puppet prime minister, and all power with Musharraf. Now, therefore, what they're trying to do is, I mean, my protest the day after tomorrow is for the independence of the judiciary and reinstatement of the judges that have been put under house arrest by Musharraf, judges of the supreme court. That is what my protest is.

But we will - I have already - we have formed an alliance among certain political parties. And what we hope is this will go as an opposition to Musharraf. Even if he's going to rig the elections, we are not going to leave the field open for him. But there, again, we will see the extent of oppression. I mean, what if he doesn't allow me outside jail? What if he doesn't even allow us to campaign? So then we might review the decision.

NORRIS: Now, I just wanted to - before I really go, I want to give you an opportunity to answer your critics, because some are saying that what you're really trying to do is raise your own profile, that you're more interested in your personal gain than in the country's political future. And some newspapers have actually asked the question, what does Imran want. What do you say to those critics?

Mr. KHAN: Well, Michele, for, if I was looking for my own gains - and then mine is one of the youngest parties, it's only 11-years-old - surely, I should be aligned with a military general. Anyone who has ever come to par in Pakistan has always joined the military establishment. So I should be aligned with them because I would have a small party. And that's how I would piggyback with them like our prime minister has consistently. So all - the way he has come into power is by joining a military dictator. And, you know, all our previous politicians were actually made by the military dictators or establishment. So clearly, the road I have taken is not the road to take if I was looking for my own personal interest.

Why would I want an independent judiciary and an independent election commission if I was looking out for myself? Because surely, with a new party, it would not be in my interest to have a free and fair election, because free and fair elections would surely suit parties which have much bigger voter base or much more organized of all the parties. I mean, if I was looking out for myself, I should be with Musharraf, who offered me and he's given - in his own interview, he said, that if Imran had stayed with me, he would have been my prime minister. So that would have been the easier route to take rather than asking for free and fair elections and independent judicial system.

NORRIS: Are you interested in national, political leadership in Pakistan?

Mr. KHAN: Well, if I - absolutely. But I would like to come only with the mandate of the people. If the people vote me in, yes, I would really like to implement my agenda, which is the first party that talked about an independent justice system and a genuine democracy and a welfare state. But I would not want to take any shortcuts. And remember, my party, in 11 years, in two elections, was offered shortcuts.

NORRIS: And just one last question before I let you go, sir. What role could or should the U.S. play in trying to quell this conflict?

Mr. KHAN: Well, I would love the U.S. to play the role which it professes to play in the world, which is to back democracy, rule of law. Unfortunately, George Bush's statement was extremely disheartening for all of us when he backed General Musharraf, despite him sending 14 supreme court judges, putting them under house arrest, destroying our constitution by imposing emergency.

Now, is he standing with one man as opposed to the interest of 160 million people? George Bush should be standing with 160 million people, which means that he should be standing with the democratic process, going for a free and fair election and telling Musharraf that you ruled this country for eight years, the country is in a mess, it's about to implode. It's time to give democracy a chance.

NORRIS: That was Imran Khan. A former cricket superstar, philanthropist and the founder and chairman of Pakistan's Movement for Justice Party.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.