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Published in the 1-15 December 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Imran on Indo-Pak issues

The glorious cricketer turned glamorous politician Imran Khan believes that since the last Indo-Pak cricket series, the relations of the two countries have gone through a sea change for the better. He gives credit for that to the peace initiative of Atal Behari Vajpayee. He believes that Indian democracy is on a fast track. In a frank interview with Firoz Bakht Ahmed, he discusses both, politics his present passion and cricket his past craze. 

How do you view the present phase of Indo-Pak relations?

I am amazed to find a sea change since last year. India and Pakistan have never come so close as friends as after the cricket series in Pakistan. I still believe in people-to-people contact and soft borders to the extent of doing away with visas as the trump card to better ties in the sub-continent.

How do you view Indian democracy?

Itís on a fast track. I think that democracy in India has not only flourished but is going great guns. You produce more engineers annually than China and Japan put together. Your electoral system is firmly cemented in democratic norms. Professional work ethic has permeated in the minds of all the youngsters in India. Indiaís health care system, judiciary, media info-system etc are second to none in the world.

Whatís your impression of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir? 

Kashmir is the core issue. Dispute in J&K is a reality. Neither India nor Pakistan can deny it. We look at the Kashmir perspective from our angle to prove us correct as we have the UN resolution with us besides the Simla Agreement terms. You must be having your own views justifying your stand. Somewhere in between we can sort it out amicably. We want that there should be no war and terrorism. That way the economy of the Kashmiris will improve. Kashmiris will shun terrorism and both the countries too will benefit as the defence expenditure will get slashed and diverted to better and more deserving avenues. In fact a judicial study of discernible reality can pave way for lasting solution.

Pakistani government wants third party negotiation on the Kashmir impasse but you have been emphasizing a bilateral solution. Why?

Even after the failures of so many talks and wars to sort out the Kashmir imbroglio, I am of the view that there is no need of a third party to intervene as it is a matter between India and Pakistan and a country like the US will cater to its own vested interests if it intervenes. Such an intervention will create more problems. The Agra Summit failed owing to the lack of will to sacrifice but I have faith in the Simla Agreement. Need of the hour is to respect the publicís sentiments.

Would you join hands with Benazir and Nawaz Sharif if they come back?

I believe that they must come back and fight elections. As far as the question of joining them or even Musharraf is concerned, let me tell you that I have my own agenda and I do not want to be used by anyone. In fact president Musharraf nominated me as his prime ministerial candidate if I joined hands with him. But on principle, I refused. On the other hand, in Pakistani politics, anyone can be a friend and an enemy given the situation one is facing. No one is untouchable in politics! I have seen strange bedfellows making up political conjugation!

Why have you not been able to transform peopleís sensational craze for you while on the cricket field to the political scenario off the field to a mandate?

You see no one can become a one-night star. Even in cricket, it took me almost nine years to reach the pinnacle of glory. I have got credibility amongst people as I am honest. I hope that in the next election weíll do better.

But in spite of your honesty and credibility during the last election all the 50 members of your Tehreek-e-Insaaf party lost except you. Why?
I believe politics is a game of patience. One has to wait and watch and persevere. Itís not easy to win peopleís confidence. They have to be convinced of their leaderís motivation. You see even the BJP rose from 2 seats to almost 200. One has to be given time to assert oneself. Moreover, I am not afraid of being vanquished. Truth will prevail. 

Who is your favourite Indian politician?

I have great regard for Vajpayee Sahab for his peace initiative. In my view, even today, he remains the most esteemed Indian politician in Pakistan. In fact right from 1977, Vajpayee Sahab was on his track of peace between the two nations. I respect Sonia Sahiba for her historic and exemplary sacrifice to leave the prime ministerial throne that has no precedent. 

Why has Pakistan cricket declined after your exit?

You see no team must be a one-man show. Basically I tried to build a team that could lift the World Cup. Why the teamís performance has declined, is basically owing to the absence of a stable structure in domestic cricket. Keeping a foreign coach will not help any country. Unless the country has a sound domestic cricket organized in an almost scientific manner, no team can be successful. Australia has the edifice on which their teams are built. West Indies and South Africa used to have it but now itís not there.

Any plans about remarrying? 

Of course if I get the right person. Previously, Jemima and I tried our level best to carry on with our matrimonial ties, but somehow she couldnít settle in an Oriental ambience. We have chalked out a system that our two sons live with their mother in London when they go to school and with me when they are on vacation. 
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