Pakistan shall always support Saudi Arabia: Imran Khan


Islamabad — Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has a Herculean task to fulfill his dreams to have “New Pakistan” (Naya Pakistan) which is actually Pakistan of the vision of founding fathers.

He has three-pronged strategy to realize this dream: to fight poverty and corruption, to invest in human resources and to build strong institutions.

Explaining the reason why he chose to visit Saudi Arabia for the first foreign tour as prime minister, Khan said that Saudi Arabia has a special place in the hearts of all Muslims. So it is but natural for a Muslim leader to visit Makkah and Madinah, he said.

Excerpts from an exclusive interview:

Q: Thank you very much Mr. Prime Minister for giving us the opportunity for the first exclusive international media interaction with you.

I would like to start by asking: Who is Imran Khan? Is he the famous cricketer or is he the philanthropist behind one of the world’s finest cancer hospitals or he is a leader who struggled for 22 years to give Pakistan a new vision?

PM: Well, Imran Khan is an ordinary man who had big dreams, thought big and then struggled to achieve his dreams. Each time there was a setback in my life I learnt from my bad time because failure is the best teacher.

Imran Khan is a man who started off with big dreams in cricket, learnt how to struggle in cricket, how to win and how not to get demoralized from defeat.

Seeing my mother’s pain in cancer, I decide to build a cancer hospital. Then I decided that I wanted to see Pakistan of my dream when I was growing up. Pakistan was not heading in that direction. So then the next struggle came to change Pakistan. The word New Pakistan (Naya Pakistan) is actually Pakistan of the vision of our founding fathers.

My role model was Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He was the greatest leader not only for Pakistan, but the greatest leader of the 20th century. Then we had ideological leaders like Iqbal, the philosopher poet. The model of Pakistan they wanted is not Pakistan which became a country heading toward wrong direction. Hence I joined politics. And 22 years of struggle in politics and here I have an opportunity now to fulfill my dream. So power is only meant for a purpose and so the power I have is now to achieve my last dream to see Pakistan as a state which is a justice state and an Islamic welfare state where meritocracy is upheld.

Q: Do you think you can solve old and multiple crises facing Pakistan during the five years tenure?

PM: Look, as a Muslim, when we pray five times a day, we only ask one thing from Allah. We ask Allah to show us the way of those He has blessed, not the ones who went astray. So I seek the way of the blessed.

And you know success is not in our hands, its in Allah’s hands. All He expects us to do is to struggle in that way which he has commanded us. I am trying to change the direction of Pakistan and put it on the right course which it was meant to take. I repeat that it meant to be just and humane society.

We will change the way Pakistan has been governed. We will change the mindset of the people of Pakistan. We will do it in two ways: One we will lift up bottom 50 percent of the population, rather than rich grow richer, bring people out of poverty, very much what china has done. China’s greatness is that it has taken out of poverty 700 million people in past 30 years. And it has become a world power.

So we fundamentally differ from the way Pakistan has been governed, that’s number one.

Number two, we want to make Pakistan to be a country where we invest in human resources, we spend money on human beings rather than on infrastructure. Once you develop human resources they themselves invest in infrastructure. So the key is health, education, clean drinking water, justice.

The priority number three is to build strong institutions. Countries are built on institutions. The reason the West is ahead of Muslims is that it has strong institutions. The state institutions should be strong and individuals should not be above institutions.

Unfortunately in our country we have weak institutions where individuals are strong. In countries like Switzerland and Scandinavian countries, you don’t even know who their prime minister is because institutions are strong and people come and go but the countries stay on top.

Q: How will your proactive forging policy impact the geopolitical scenario

PM: Let me say first that Pakistan has suffered for the last 15 years because of the war on terror. Pakistan opted to join the war on terror which had nothing to do with it. The people who were responsible for 911 were not in Pakistan, no Pakistani was involved and Al-Qaeda was in Afghanistan. For no reason Pakistan got involved in this war and we suffered, resulting the death of 88,000 Pakistanis. The loss to the economy has been over $100 billion. Our tribal areas along the Afghanistan border have been devastated. So what we now want is peace, stability. To get stability we need peace with all our neighbors. We already have very good relationship with China; we need good relationship with Afghanistan and India. We have made overtures to both. We want to develop our relations with both Afghanistan and India, a relationship based on mutual trust. Unfortunately this is what has been missing. Pakistan has one point of view, but India and Afghanistan have another point of view. What is lacking is the lack of trust. So we want to build our relationships based on mutual trust.

Iran is a neighbor. Of course, you want good relationship with all neighbors.

Saudi Arabia is one country for which the people of Pakistan have special love. Every Muslim has a special bond with Saudi Arabia because of Makkah and Madinah.

The government of Saudi Arabia has always been very generous to Pakistan in times of our need. Saudi Arabia always has been of great help for us. There is a special bond with Saudi Arabia. All Pakistanis want Saudi Arabia to be secure and prosperous. We all pray for Saudi Arabia.

Q: Mr. Prime Minister why have you chosen Saudi Arabia to be your first destination in the foreign trip?

PM: You know I didn’t have to go outside of Pakistan for first three months because of diverse crises. First of all I wanted to put my house in order before traveling out of the country. I actually don’t believe in traveling out of the country so much because I think most important thing for a head of a country is to look after various problems his people face. But I am visiting Saudi Arabia because I was kindly invited by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and as a Muslim I should visit Makkah and Madinah. And, of course, historically whenever a leader wins an election in Pakistan, the first visit is always to Saudi Arabia.

Q: How do you see the future relations between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? How Pakistan could position itself in the Middle East and Islamic arena? How could Saudi Arabia and Pakistan work together to combat terrorism and restore peace internationally?

PM: First of all Pakistanis want to assure people of Saudi Arabia that we will stand with Saudi Arabia, because Saudi Arabia has stood with us in bad times. We will always stand by Saudi Arabia whenever it faces difficult time.

Secondly, I would like to ensure peace in the Middle East because it is very distressing for Muslims to see conflict among Muslim nations. If you look at the Muslim world… in Libya, in Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan too. But Pakistan has controlled terrorism. In the Middle East, we would like our role as reconciliator to bring Muslim world together. This would be our main effort.

In Yemen is also, if we are required, we will play positive role there also to end the conflict.

Q: How do you see Saudi Arabia and Pakistan working together to build strategic investment alliance? In which areas you feel that the relationship should be further strengthened? What are the areas do you feel need to be explored?

PM: Pakistan has tremendous opportunities of investments. It has more potential probably than other countries in this region. The reason that Pakistan has a second youngest population, it’s a country of population of 200 million people, it’s a country that is very diverse. One of the things no one knows about Pakistan is that it has 12 climates, 12 climate zones, because Pakistan from the highest levels to the sea has the steepest gradients which means different climates every step.

Q: Mr. Prime Minister do you think there is any scope of Saudi Arabia investing in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)?

PM: CPEC is one of the greatest opportunities which allows people to invest in Pakistan. CPEC connects Pakistan from sea right up to China and all along the way there will be industrial zones which will be great opportunity for the people to invest. In future inshAllah once peace comes in Afghanistan then the same road will connect Pakistan to Central Asia because CPEC can go through Afghanistan to Central Asia. So this whole area is where the future is, I mean huge markets and inshaAllah when relationship is improved with India, then you have huge market in Indian side, Chinese market, Central Asian markets.

The geostrategic position of Pakistan is such that as I said if we can fix our governance system this is one of the best places to invest in.

Q: In the case of the Middle East, how do you see Saudi Arabia and Pakistan walking together to enhance peace and to move towards a better free zone, free of violence, free of sectarian strife, free of wars?

PM: Saudi Arabia is pivotal country in the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia has oil reserves and financial strength, but equally because of Makkah and Madinah.

So Saudi Arabia can play a big part and we would like to become a player also in ending these conflicts and getting people together.

Q: The Houthi militias have been regularly firing missiles toward Saudi Arabia. They even tried to attack the Haram. How will your government respond if there is an attack on Saudi Arabia which has the Two Holy Mosques?

PM: This is a stated position of all our governments that we will not allow anyone to attack Saudi Arabia. We will stand by Saudi Arabia. But I can just say one thing that you know all conflicts can be resolved through dialogue. Look at Afghanistan, the conflict in Afghanistan has dragged on for 16 years. We were branded as pro-Taliban and Taliban Khan, but now everyone realizes that there is only one solution in Afghanistan and that is political solution. I feel that every conflict has a political solution. I am not a believer in a military solution.

Q: Pakistan is the founder member of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism which is based in Riyadh. This initiative was adopted by His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. How do you see the role of Pakistan in this context?

PM: No country in the world than Pakistan can give expert advice on countering terrorism. There was time when we were having on a daily basis massive suicide attacks. In 2013 it was terrorism was on peak, yet our intelligence agencies along with Pakistan’s security forces achieved what very few countries could have achieved. So Pakistan has this unique experience. It can probably advice countries how to tackle terrorism. But at the same time there should be a second track in the form of political dialogue.

Q: How do you see the drastic reforms undertaken by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman under the Vision 2030? Do you feel that there is a similarity in New Pakistan vision and Vision 2030?

PM: Obviously we praised anti corruption drive in Saudi Arabia. Corruption is the main reason why countries remain poor. I keep repeating that countries don’t remain poor because of lack of resources, they become poor because of corruption.

So this anti-corruption drive in Saudi Arabia is something we feel to be doing exactly the same. I would love to do what have been done in Saudi Arabia. We are also conducting a big anti-corruption drive.

Q: Education and culture are the basic factors in the development of a country. Your NML University project is highly commendable. We are also having prestigious universities in Saudi Arabia. Do I see any scope of investing in education in both countries?

PM: I am going to speak to His Highness Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. We will work out areas which could mutually benefit each other. Education is certainly one of the biggest areas. We set up NML University in a rural area in my constituency Mianwali.

Q: Now as a PM how will you expand this education diplomacy which you have started with NML University. I mean you want this level of education all over Pakistan?

PM: Yes obviously the most important thing is to cooperate with each other.

Q: Mr. Prime Minister your government’s stand and support for Saudi Arabia on the Canadian issue has been very much appreciated. This stand reflects your views on non-interference policy.

PM: The Muslim world has been under colonial rule. In the first half of the 20th century, when we came out of colonialism, we tried to evolved finding a new forms of government. Every Muslim country is going through different stages of evolution. But what started happening is that we have a new colonialism. We are told how to behave in the name of human rights and other issues, about the state of women in the Muslim world. Somehow Western countries tried to dictate Msulim countries how they should conduct themselves, what culture should they have, what was right what was wrong, and this was new colonialism.

In fact it was cultural imperialism. Countries don’t evolve when another culture is super-imposed.

Countries organically grow from roots embedded in their societies.

When you superimpose another culture it causes cultural chaos.

So I am a strong believer that a society must evolve from within their culture, history and religion.

Q: How could both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan work together to project the true image of Islam in the West?

PM: First of all, Islam is the religion of moderation.

Q: What’s your message to more than 2 million Pakistani expats in Saudi Arabia?

PM: Some time I feel bad for Pakistani working abroad because we cannot find employment for them in their own country. It is very difficult for the people to go abroad leaving their families behind.

I pray that one day, a day will come when people from outside will come to Pakistan for work. We will create conditions that people will not have to go abroad.

Pakistanis are hard working people. They support their families and they send money into Pakistan which actually helps us in our bad times. I’ve nothing but admiration for them. I assure that we will look after them. I’ve already instructed our embassies to look after these hardworking Pakistanis abroad.

Final questions: Mr. Prime Minster do you have time for your family?

PM: Since elections, I did not have much time for my family. Since our government came in power, I’ve not taken a day off because we are copping with various issues Pakistan is facing.

But I think, first 3 to 4 moths will be tough. Pakistan is a country where people are very strong.

I keep repeating one thing that we need to fix our governance and then it will be easier for me too to spend more time with my family.

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