Imran Khan: Man of the Hour

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Imran Khan: New Trouble Man for US in Pakistan The PTI leader criticized not only President Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif but also blasted US policies in the biggest-ever show of political power in Lahore in the past 25 years

By Hamid Mir

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Imran Khan gestures after arriving to lead the Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) rally in Lahore October 30, 2011.    

REUTERS/Raza

ISLAMABAD — Imran Khan is no more a cricketer turned politician. He has suddenly become an important regional player in the US endgame in Afghanistan.

A mind-blowing public rally of Imran Khan in Lahore on October 30 made it very difficult for the Zardari regime to give new commitments or accept any demands from the US to push its decade-long war against terror. Imran Khan has not only become a threat for traditional political parties inside Pakistan but is also going to become a big hurdle in the implementation of demands made by US during the recent visit of Hillary Clinton to Islamabad.

The PTI leader criticised not only President Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif but also blasted US policies in the biggest-ever show of political power in Lahore in the past 25 years. The last time Lahore saw this kind of political tsunami was on April 10, 1986 when late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returned after many years in exile. A big reception to the daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was a bombshell for the then military dictator. Benazir Bhutto addressed a big rally in Iqbal Park, adjacent to the historical Lahore Fort. That rally was the beginning of General Zia’s end.

The October 30 rally by Imran Khan in the same Iqbal Park also looked like an end of pro-US policies started by General Pervez Musharraf ten years ago. Imran addressed US Secretary of State as “Chachi Clinton”

(Aunty Clinton) and said a big no to any more army operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas. It will now be impossible for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and its coalition partners to start new operations in North Waziristan or even continue the old operations from South Waziristan to Khyber Agency. Elections are close and no political government can take the risk of going against public opinion.

Hillary Clinton is these days desperately looking for someone who can become a bridge between Afghan Taliban and the US. Imran Khan can make some serious efforts in this regard but is more focused on the situation inside Pakistan. He has offered his services for the engagement of Pakistani Taliban but wants assurances that there will be no more military operations.

Imran said all this just one day before the meeting of President Asif Ali Zardari with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Istanbul. The US has arranged this meeting through Turkish President Abdullah Gull for the success of the Istanbul conference. Army Chief General Kayani also left for Turkey on Monday. Afghan officials will discuss the US endgame with Pakistan, India, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, UAE, Turkey, US and UK in Istanbul Conference from November 1.

The US wants some commitments from Pakistan at this conference and that is why the Pakistani Army Chief is also invited to this conference.

However, Imran Khan’s massive anti-American rally has made it very difficult for Pakistani leaders to oblige their friends from Saudi Arabia and Turkey who have became part of the process on the US request.

Imran criticized the Army operations in the tribal areas in very strong words. He clearly said some tribal elders had given him assurances that if US drone attacks were stopped and the Pakistan Army halted operations in the tribal areas they would control all militants. Imran Khan also arranged meetings of these tribal elders (mostly from North Waziristan) with his ex-wife Jemima Khan who is making a documentary against drone attacks.

Jemima and Imran are separated but often meet because of their two sons. An American lawyer Clive Smith is also helping Jemima and they are planning a big campaign against drone attacks in the Western media.

Jemima writes for Vanity Fair magazine. She is helping not only Imran but also Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, and Assange may also speak at the inauguration of documentary against drone attacks. The documentary is expected to have a lot of “WikiLeaks”. Imran Khan has repeatedly said, “Pakistan has changed”. He threatened, “I will not spare anyone who gave Pakistani bases to US and sold my people for dollars.”

Without naming Pervez Musharraf he sent him a message not to come back to Pakistan. He also said: “We want friendly relations with every country but we cannot accept slavery of America”. Imran Khan came out openly in support of the Kashmiris and advised India to withdraw its troops from Kashmir.

He tried to satisfy the central Punjab voters who are not happy with the soft stance of Zardari and Nawaz Sharif on India. This hawkish stance will definitely bring him closer to the military establishment but he opposes military action in Balochistan. He also criticized the role of Pakistan Army in former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in his recently published book “Pakistan a Personal History.”

According to the sources in Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) more than a dozen ambassadors from different Western countries wanted to see Imran Khan this week but he left for China immediately after addressing the mammoth public rally in Lahore on Sunday night. He will be a guest of the Chinese government. His opponents often declared him “Taliban Khan” or the “modern face of Jamat-i-Islami” but hundreds of thousands of people enjoyed the songs of many popular singers in the Lahore rally.

For some critics it became a grand musical show but the fact is that the crowd enjoyed the music at a public place after a very long time.

Pakistan has many popular pop singers but they cannot sing at public places due to fear of suicide bombings that started in 2007. There was a suicide attack on the musical show of Sono Nagam sometime back in Karachi and after that many pop singers were threatened not to sing at public places. Many singers like Adnan Sami, Atif Aslam and Ali Zafar tried their luck in India in recent years but now they can come back.

Imran Khan is bringing back not only the political activities on the roads but also encouraging many pop singers like Shehzad Roy to sing publicly who made songs against drone attacks. Roy presented his famous song ‘uth bandh kamar kya darta hey phir dekh Khuda kya karta hey” in the Sunday rally. Thousands of youngsters were dancing on this song and Imran was clapping with them.

Imran Khan is becoming the voice of the common Pakistanis who are neither religious extremists nor secular fascists. He is becoming a ray of hope for those disgruntled youngsters who have started hating democracy due to bad governance and corruption. These youngsters can now bring about a change in Pakistan through their vote power. Youth is the real power of Imran Khan and this youth belongs to the lower middle, middle class. This is the most disillusioned class in Pakistan but now the youth of this class is becoming active, which is a positive sign.

Dozens of sitting parliamentarians are contacting Imran Khan for joining his PTI. Former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and many political big shots will make some shocking decisions soon but Imran is more interested in young blood and well-educated minds.

He warned the government on Sunday that all politicians must declare their assets inside and outside Pakistan within a few months failing which his party would launch a civil disobedience movement and block all major cities with public support. For many analysts he is emerging as the third option after Zardaris’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N.

Some say he will ruin Nawaz Sharif in the central Punjab and PPP would be the ultimate beneficiary. Imran does not agree with this analysis.

He always criticizes PPP and PML-N jointly because one is ruling at the center and the other is ruling Punjab, which is more than 60 percent of Pakistan. Imran has definitely proved that he enjoys more political support in Lahore than Nawaz Sharif but it does not mean that he is going to get clear majority in the coming elections. He needs some winning horses not only in the central Punjab but also in south Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan and Sindh.

He needs big rallies in Faisalabad, Multan, Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta and then he can make some bigger claims. He will definitely make dents not only in the vote bank of PML-N but will also damage the PPP badly. There are 25 seats of national assembly in Lahore division of which PML-N has 20, PPP has 3 and PML-Q has one. Imran may snatch at least half of the PML-N and all the seats won by PPP and PML-Q in Lahore. Out of 23 seats in Gujranwala division PML-N has 13, PPP 8 and PML-Q has 2. Imran will damage PPP and PML-Q more than PML-N in Gujranwala. There are 20 seats in Faisalabad division – PML-N has only 4 while PML-Q has 8 and PPP has 7 seats.

Many sitting members of the national assembly from Faisalabad are pleading to Imran to accept them in his party. Some PPP, PML-Q and ANP members from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are also in contact with Imran, which means that his popularity is not confined to Punjab.

His biggest stronghold in the north is the tribal area where he is expected to make a clean sweep and more than 10 seats are in his pocket. This is the same area where he will not allow government to start any new Army operations.

If there is no operation then what will be the future of Pakistan-US relations? Zardari regime is at the crossroads. There is US pressure from one side and the PTI pressure from the other.

Nawaz Sharif was trying to play safe by targeting only Zardari and not the US but Imran Khan has suddenly changed the political dynamics in Pakistan. He is the new trouble man for US and also for the pro-US political elite in Pakistan. All the popular parties have no option other than to follow his anti-Americanism.

Hillary Clinton needs to realize the wave of change in Pakistani politics. She cannot understand this change without engaging Imran Khan. October 30 was just a beginning. World will see more changes on the political map of Pakistan and Imran Khan will play a leading role.

The News (Pakistan)

13-46

Gas Pipeline to Reach Border Next Year: Iran

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Newspaper

TEHRAN: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday that Tehran was hopeful of completing its section of the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline by the end of next year.

“Construction of the pipeline to export Iranian gas to Pakistan is under way, and we hope it will reach the frontier by the end of 2012,” he said of the multi-billion-dollar project after a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari.

President Zardari, who arrived in Tehran on a day-long visit, held two rounds of talks with President Ahmadinejad — first delegation-level talks and then a one-on-one meeting.

The two leaders also reviewed progress on a proposal for the transmission of electricity from Iran to Balochistan.

They expressed confidence that joint efforts would prove helpful in countering terrorism, terming the menace a common enemy for the region and the world.

Mr Ahmadinejad said his country looked forward to a new era in relations with Pakistan.

“Iran is ready to reinforce its cooperation with Pakistan in every field,” the Iranian president said.

Mr Zardari said relations between the neighbours should be strengthened, and proposed that “trade between the two countries be conducted in local currency, and not the dollar, to curb smuggling”. He also proposed a bilateral free trade agreement.

The President said Pakistan was already in negotiations with Turkey, Sri Lanka and China for the currency swap arrangement.

He denounced “efforts by our enemies who seek to show that the Pakistan government is unstable by provoking trouble,” saying that those responsible would face justice.

President Zardari praised Iran’s constructive engagement in the trilateral process, recalling last month’s Pakistan-Iran-Afghanistan summit hosted by Tehran.

He urged the Iranian government to consider the creation of an integrated border management regime for tackling militancy and extremism. He said Pakistan and Iran had vital interests in stability and peace of the region.

Mr Zardari called for developing coordination between governments to curb narcotics and human trafficking in the region. He said Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan faced a common menace of drug trafficking and expressed the hope that a trilateral initiative would help counter the curse.

The President said Pakistan and Iran had the potential to undertake joint economic projects in Afghanistan to enhance connectivity, build infrastructure, rail and road links.

Mr Zardari said there was a need to raise bilateral trade to four billion dollars from one billion dollars. He called for working together to identify impediments to implementation of the Pakistan-Iran Preferential Trade Agreement, signed in 2006.

The Iranian president agreed to take full advantage of geo-strategic locations for “ushering in a new era of progress”.

About the Afghanistan issue, President Zardari said Pakistan supported the process initiated by President Hamid Karzai for reconciliation and peace. He said Pakistan supported a reconciliation process which must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, adding that Islamabad was ready to provide all possible assistance to Kabul in reconstruction efforts.

It was Mr Zardari’s second visit to Iran in less than a month. He visited Tehran last month to attend the counter-terrorism summit, on the sidelines of which the two countries and Afghanistan reached an agreement to augment cooperation in the fight against militancy.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Water and Power Minister Syed Naveed Qamar, Petroleum Minister Dr Asim Hussain and presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar accompanied Mr Zardari.

KHAMENEI LAMBASTS US: Later Mr Zardari called on Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Fars news agency quoted Ayatollah Khamenei as telling the President: “The principal enemy of the Pakistani people and the unity of the country is the West, headed by the United States.”

Iranian officials have been vocal in their criticism of the prolonged US troop deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which are now set to be drawn down.—Agencies

13-30

US Assured of Action Against ‘Sanctuaries’

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Baqir Sajjad Syed

ISLAMABAD: A flurry of activity of Monday provided hope that the Pak-US marriage of convenience was not over despite the recent bellowing and booming of the Pakistani leadership.

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U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) (L) meets with Pakistan’s PM Yusuf Raza Gilani at the prime minister’s residence in Islamabad May 16, 2011.

REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

By the end of Senator John Kerry’s day-long stay in Islamabad it appeared that the US had convinced Pakistan to undertake several steps for proving its commitment to the fight against terrorism. These included returning the wreckage of the helicopter which had malfunctioned during the May 2 raid in Abbotabad and eliminating terrorist sanctuaries in tribal areas.

In exchange Washington has committed itself to a process, which if successful, will lead to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Islamabad for reviving the strategic dialogue which has been stalled since the arrest of CIA operative Raymond Davis and subsequent events such as drone attacks and the unilateral US operation killing Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden.

John Kerry, who heads the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, extracted these promises from the Pakistani leadership; he warned them that “if the relationship is to fall apart …. US will always reserve the right to protect its national security”.

Senator Kerry’s tough love message was reinforced, Dawn has learnt, by the telephone calls Secretary Clinton made to President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Ms Clinton rang up Mr Gilani when he, the president and Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani were meeting Senator Kerry. The call is reported to have lasted about 20 minutes.

The secretary of state had called Mr Zardari on Sunday.

“I think we made serious progress. Pakistan has agreed to do a number of things immediately to demonstrate its further seriousness of purpose and we agreed to have several officials from the US to come here in the middle of the week or sometime soon to carry on this discussion and prepare the ground for Secretary Clinton,” a visibly fatigued Kerry told a selected group of journalists after his meetings with Pakistani civil and military leaders.

Having met the army chief on Sunday night, Mr Kerry spent most of Monday in meetings. As he noted: “We worked harder today to talk about ways in which we can be better partners, work cooperatively and open doors to joint cooperation to fight terrorism.”

Senator Kerry met President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and Army Chief Gen Kayani, individually and collectively, before a joint declaration was issued by the two sides expressing the willingness to carry on with their relationship.

“In furtherance of its existing commitment to fight terrorism, Pakistan has agreed to take several immediate steps to underscore its seriousness in renewing the full cooperative effort with the United States,” the joint communiqué said.

Senator Kerry avoided divulging details of the steps agreed upon, but vaguely described it as including cooperation on counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing and targeting terrorist sanctuaries. The latter is hardly surprising; having been high on the American wish list for a long time, action against the havens in tribal areas was one of the major demands Mr Kerry brought to Islamabad.

He said: “We need Pakistan’s cooperation, we need Pakistan’s help against sanctuaries in this country from where people are destabilising Afghanistan and frankly killing … all of (those who) are trying to provide for a stable Afghanistan.”

However, he stopped of claiming that Pakistani leaders had agreed to go after the Haqqani network, one of the core contentious issues in the rocky bilateral ties. He was only willing to say cryptically that both countries had agreed to target “some entity, which is engaged in terrorism … the entity that needs to be taken on one way or the other”.

He also said that other measures to be taken by Pakistan included returning the tail of the helicopter which was left behind by the Navy Seals during the Abbotabad raid.

After it malfunctioned, the Americans exploded the helicopter before they left; this was done, it was reported, to prevent the stealth technology from falling into Pakistani, and possibly other, hands.
However, distrust is still not a thing of the past. Despite Pakistan’s new commitments, which Mr Kerry himself described as “more detailed, more precise and clarified”, he made it clear that Washington was no longer going to be satisfied by mere promises.

“This road ahead will not be defined by words. It will be defined by actions,” he told journalists.

This is why Washington is going to follow a step-by-step approach before confirming that Secretary Clinton will be taking a flight to Islamabad.

Two US officials — Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman and CIA Deputy Director Mark Morrel — will visit Islamabad to follow up on Mr Kerry’s talks and discuss the agreed measures in details and possibly gauge progress on the commitments made to the senator.

Secretary Clinton’s visit remains contingent on the outcome of Grossman’s discussions. “First a meeting will take place to try to lay the groundwork for that (Clinton’s meeting) and coming out of that meeting the secretary would set the date,” Senator Kerry said. However, in the midst of all the tough talk and the conditions he set, Mr Kerry also made an effort to soothe ruffled feathers, “we are committed to working together with Pakistan — not unilaterally, but together in joint efforts” — contingent once again on Pakistani cooperation.

“But, if we are cooperating and working together there is no reason (for acting unilaterally),” he said.           

From The Newspaper

13-21

Bahrain or Bust?

April 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Pakistan should think twice before meddling in the Middle East.

By Miranda Husain

Less than three weeks after Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces, led by Saudi Arabia, entered Bahrain to aid the anti-democracy crackdown there, dignitaries from both oil-rich kingdoms did their separate rounds in Pakistan. The royal houses of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are nervous, and they need Pakistan’s mercenaries, and—if necessary—military muscle to shore them up.

This is a remarkable turn of events for Asif Ali Zardari, who had been trying since he was elected president in 2008 to secure Saudi oil on sweetheart terms. He had been unsuccessful in his efforts because the Sunni Saudis view his leadership with some degree of skepticism. It also doesn’t help that Zardari, a Shia, is big on improving relations with Shia Tehran. Riyadh now appears inclined to export oil on terms that better suit cash-strapped Islamabad. Manama, too, wants to play ball. It wants increased defense cooperation and has pledged to prioritize Pakistan’s hopes for a free-trade agreement with the GCC in return. But Zardari and his Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, should fight the urge to get mired in the Middle East.

Pakistan already has a presence in Bahrain: a battalion of the Azad Kashmir Regiment was deployed there over a year ago to train local troops, and retired officers from our Navy and Army are part of their security forces. Media estimates put the number of Pakistanis serving in Bahrain’s security establishment at about 10,000. Their removal has been a key demand of protesters in the kingdom. Last month in Islamabad, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani reportedly assured Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, that Pakistan would offer more retired manpower to help quell the uprising against Bahrain’s Sunni rulers by its Shia majority. Gilani’s spokesman was unable to confirm the pledge.
Islamabad’s support to the tottering regime in Manama is not ideal.

“It’s like our version of Blackwater,” says Talat Masood, a former Pakistan Army general, referring to Bahrain’s recruitment drive in Pakistan. “We’re doing [in Bahrain] exactly what we have been opposing here,” he says. Pakistan, he maintains, has no business in trying to suppress a democratic, people’s movement in another country. Short-term economic gains cannot be the only prism through which Pakistan views its national interests, he says.

Pakistan has a long history of military involvement and training in the Arab world. Its pilots flew warplanes in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, and volunteered for the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Involvement in Bahrain’s current strife would not be the first time that Pakistan has used its military might to thwart an Arab uprising against an Arab regime. In 1970, future military dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, then head of the Pakistani military training mission in Jordan, led his soldiers to intervene on the side of Amman to quash a Palestinian challenge to its rule.

Some Bahraini opposition groups have called on the U.S. to intervene to get the GCC troops out of their country, fearing it could become a battleground in a Saudi-Iranian battle for regional supremacy. They stress that they share no real affinity with the theocratic regime in Shia-majority Iran, while noting that a number of Bahraini Sunni Muslims have also come out in the streets to call for greater reforms.

Pakistani involvement, therefore, could result in it being embroiled in a proxy war, with serious implications for its own security interests.

The issue of Iran is important, but there’s a deeper issue, according to author Noam Chomsky. “By historical and geographical accident, the main concentration of global energy resources is in the northern Gulf region, which is predominantly Shia,” he told Newsweek Pakistan.

Bahrain, he points out, neighbors eastern Saudi Arabia, where most of the latter’s oil is. “Western planners have long been concerned that a tacit Shia alliance might take shape with enormous control over the world’s energy resources, and perhaps not be reliably obedient to the U.S.”

Bahrain, which like Pakistan was designated a major non-NATO ally by the George W. Bush presidency, is home to the Fifth Fleet. It is the primary U.S. base in the region and allows Washington to ensure the free flow of oil through the Gulf, while keeping checks on Iran.

Chomsky believes that Pakistani presence in Bahrain can be seen as part of a U.S.-backed alliance to safeguard Western access to the region’s oil.

“The U.S. has counted on Pakistan to help control the Arab world and safeguard Arab rulers from their own populations,” says Chomsky.

“Pakistan was one of the ‘cops on the beat’ that the Nixon administration had in mind when outlining their doctrine for controlling the Arab world,” he says. Pakistan has such “severe internal problems” that it may not be able to play this role even if asked to. But the real reason that Pakistan should avoid this role is so that it can stand on the right side of history, alongside those who are fighting for democracy.

Newsweek

13-16

Imran Khan–His Mission

March 25, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Liz Hoggard

imran khan I don’t have to do this, Imran Khan tells me earnestly. “I could have a very easy existence. I could go on TV and make so much money, live like a king.” Instead the retired international cricketer, and former husband of Jemima Khan, has dedicated his life to politics back home in Pakistan. Jemima, the daughter of the late financier, Sir James Goldsmith, may just have bought a £15 million stately pile in Oxfordshire, but Imran lives hand-to-mouth on a farm outside Islamabad. He grows his own vegetables and tends cows on his land in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Since he founded his party, Tehreek-e-Insaf (the Movement for Justice), in 1996 on an anti-corruption platform, he has campaigned against the elite hogging all the resources. He personally sold all his cricketing memorabilia to fund a cancer hospital in memory of his mother, who died of the disease, and he has opened a vocational college in a poverty-stricken area of Pakistan.

Imran, 57, took nothing from Jemima’s fortune when they divorced, so when he runs out of money he does a brief stint as a TV pundit. But he is completely unmaterialistic. “You achieve inner peace when you give away what you have,” he says.

This week he is in London to talk about the crisis in Pakistan, but he has never liked city life. His parents used to take him up in the hills each summer as a boy, and now he takes his sons Sulaiman, 13, and Kasim, 10, hiking and shooting partridge when they visit his farm. He has built them a mini-cricket ground. “They are quite good,” he laughs.

Gone is the handsome playboy who spent his nights in Annabel’s and squired gorgeous women, including Susannah Constantine and painter Emma Sergeant, around town. He still has those patrician looks but these days Imran would rather stay up all night talking politics than nightclubbing.

Last week I watched him give a talk to students in London. Mostly bright, politicised young Pakistani-Muslims, they treated him like a rock star. His sense of urgency was palpable, as is his fear that Pakistan might implode at any minute.

Already, it is routinely described as a “failed state”. From day one he opposed the War on Terror and “the American puppet politicians in Pakistan”. The decision to send the army into the tribal areas of the North West Frontier, to flush out al Qaeda terrorists, simply fuelled extremism. “It’s civil war in the making,” he says shaking his head. “They were like a bull in a china shop, fighting one or two guerrillas with aerial bombing of villages. That turned people against the army and a new phenomenon was created: the Pakistan Taliban.” It’s made him believe even more passionately in socio-economic justice. “You will have no problem with extremists in Pakistan if you have democracy with a welfare state,” he tells the audience.

By the end of the evening he looked shattered. Half his life is spent in transit and his close friend tells me he is wearing jeans instead of the usual suit because he forgot to pack a belt.

When I meet him two days later at Ormeley Lodge, near Richmond Park, he is still fielding calls about a wave of bombings in Pakistan, and trying to have high tea with his sons. The Georgian childhood home of his former wife is where Imran stays whenever he is in London, as a guest of her mother, Lady Annabel Goldsmith. The wing where we meet is modest: with a pool table and well-worn sofas.

He speaks cordially — if carefully —about his ex-wife. “It’s a very tricky thing, divorce, and toughest on the children. But as divorces go, ours has been the most amicable. The anger and bitterness comes when there is infidelity. But there was no infidelity,” he says firmly. “I realised her unhappiness in Pakistan and she, after trying her best, found she just couldn’t live there. So that’s why it ended, it was just a geographical problem, and we couldn’t sustain a marriage like that. If you care for someone you don’t want to see them unhappy. My connection with the Goldsmith household is just as it’s always been. They [Jemima’s siblings, Zac and Ben] are like my younger brothers. And Annabel is as close to me.”

His marriage suffered because of his political zeal — he didn’t stand in the 2007 election, arguing that there could be no democracy while the judges were still controlled by the ruling party. But now politics is a mission for him, not a career. “If someone offered me a political career, I would shoot myself. Having to get votes through making compromises, no thank you.

“The classic example in England is Tony Blair.

How did the people go wrong with him lying all the way? He sold the idea that there were weapons of mass destruction. If there had been conscientious politicians in your assembly who weren’t worried about their political careers, he would never have got away with it.”

Many people think his involvement in politics is a way to keep alight the adulation he craved as a cricketer, but after leaving Aitchison College in Lahore (the equivalent of Eton), he studied politics at Keble College, Oxford. Former cricketing colleagues — Imran played for Worcestershire and Sussex — recall an intense young man who hated pubs (as a Muslim he doesn’t drink) and public speaking. He returned to cricket once more at the World Cup in 1992, aged 39 when he captained Pakistan to victory.

But his spiritual awakening had come in his early thirties after witnessing his mother’s agonising death from cancer, without access to proper treatment and painkilling drugs. “She was in such agony that after she passed away I had to consciously discipline myself to shut out the memory of her pain.”

He consulted a mystic who “made me realise I had a responsibility to society because I was given so much. It created selflessness.” Imran approached Pakistan’s richest men — many had been schoolfriends — for help in raising £25 million to build a cancer hospital, but quickly learned that wealth and generosity don’t always go hand in hand. Instead, he took to an open jeep and toured 29 cities in six weeks, asking ordinary people for help. “In those six weeks I changed. I realised the generosity of tea boys, taxi drivers, the poorest people bringing 10 rupee notes and also their faith. I collected £14 million in those six weeks.” Today the hospital treats 70 per cent of patients for free.

Although the dictatorial president, Pervez Musharraf, resigned in 2008, Imran has no faith in the current “democratic” government, now headed by Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto. Imran talks passionately about how the rich in Pakistan travel by jet and have tax-evading bank accounts in Switzerland.

He may insist that support for his Movement for Justice party is growing, but the truth is he is still perceived as a maverick outsider. And his romantic past hasn’t helped. Conservative voters bring up the love child with Sita White (Imran has never publicly acknowledged Tyrian, now 17, as his daughter; but since her mother died in 2004, he has been involved in her upbringing). And of course there’s his marriage to Jemima, a half-Jewish, half Catholic heiress.

Despite converting to Islam and learning Urdu, Jemima — 20 years Imran’s junior and still at university when they met — was accused (falsely) of trying to smuggle antique tiles out of Pakistan. The final straw, says Imran, was in 2002 when she was accused of studying under “the blasphemer Salman Rushdie” because his book, The Satanic Verses, had appeared on her university reading list. Protesters torched posters of Jemima. “She was really shaken up by that and moved to England, so that was a big crisis for me.”

Two years later the marriage ended. Jemima has continued to impress as Unicef special representative — and a passionate advocate for democracy in Pakistan. “Frankly I never understood the media image of her as a socialite,” Imran tells me. “I never thought she would fit into that role because she’s very bright, she’s very political.”

But then Imran is a mass of contradictions himself. In the past, he has argued that the pressure on women to work has contributed to the breakdown of society in the West: “My mother was the biggest influence on my life, a proper mother.” Yet he believes that “a woman should be able to reach her full potential”, and he set up his university in a remote, conservative part of Pakistan precisely so local women could get an education for the first time in the region’s history. And he reminds me his three sisters are high-powered career women with children.

Pakistan is Imran’s passion and he feels little nostalgia for London — except as the place where his sons live: “Fatherhood has given me the greatest pleasure in my life. And hence it was very painful, the divorce, because that [being separated from them] was the main aspect. But I am basically a goal-orientated person, it’s never been about making money or a job. My passion is there so I only come to England to see my children.” Imran has a core group of friends he has known for 40 years here. Setting up this interview, I came across a devoted group of Londoners — from lecturers to hairdressers — who give up time and money to support his party. “They know I do not have to do this, that it’s a big personal sacrifice,” he says.

He finds it desperately sad that he has to defend being a Muslim. “The most important thing to understand is what’s happening in Pakistan, and this war on terror is not a religious issue, it’s a political issue.” No religion allows terrorism, Imran insists, but “people pushed into desperate situations will do desperate acts”.

It doesn’t make him popular. He’s been dubbed a Taliban supporter by the same enemies who once called him a Zionist sympathiser. Critics say his politics are idealistic and unworkable in a country bailed out of chaos periodically by military regimes, but Imran insists democracy can be a street movement: “Yes there’s a fear, will Pakistan survive? But in a way it’s very encouraging because you can see the politicisation of the youth. That’s how it starts, in the campuses. Sixty-five per cent of Pakistanis are below the age of 25.”

This probably explains why four days ago, with the help of Jemima, Imran set up his own Twitter page. Back home, he says current affairs programmes get higher ratings than Big Brother.

“Our Paxmans are the most watched in Pakistan today.” Is he handing over the baton? He smiles wearily. “Basically I want the young to come in and upset the whole equation.”

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Iranian President Visits Afghanistan

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Two Reports from Xinhua

2010-03-10T130705Z_585848497_GM1E63A1MOO01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN-IRAN

TEHRAN, March 9 (Xinhua) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will visit Afghanistan on Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday.

“It has been decided that the president will visit Afghanistan on Wednesday,” Mehmanparast told reporters in his weekly press conference.

The visit will mark Ahmadinejad’s first official visit to the country since the re-election of Hamid Karzai as Afghan president.

An unidentified Afghan official said Monday that Ahmadinejad has postponed visit to Afghanistan which is originally scheduled on Monday.

Afghan President to visit Pakistan for seeking help to hold talks with Taliban

ISLAMABAD, March 9 (Xinhua) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai will pay a two-day visit to Pakistan on Wednesday and is expected to officially ask Pakistan for its assistance in the talks with Taliban, political analysts here said.

They said that the president will also seek the extradition of the top Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar from Pakistan to Afghanistan for a court trial.

Sources from Pakistani Foreign Office said that President Karzai will meet his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and some other civil society members.

Anti-terrorism battle, U.S. army surge, repatriation of Afghan refugees and progress in the war-ravaged country will also be discussed during the meeting with Pakistani high-ups, they said.

Analysts believed that Pakistan will raise the issue of border infiltration of militants from Afghanistan and of its missing persons while Afghanistan will seek details for the recovery of the abducted Afghan diplomat Abdul Khaliq Faraakhi.

Afghan Interior Minister Hanif Atmar has asked for Baradar extradition when he held a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik in Islamabad last month. But circumstances changed when a Pakistani court ordered not to hand over Mullah Bardar to any country.

Saleem Safi, a leading journalist and expert on Afghan affairs, told Xinhua that President Karzai’s visit is very important because the situation has changed and American authorities have given a green signal for negotiations with Taliban, adding that Pakistan could play a crucial role in the negotiations with Taliban.

It is the first visit of Karzai to Pakistan after he won his second term as President in November 2009, Safi said.

“Approach in Pakistan’s policy towards President Karzai has changed too much but there is slight shift in policy towards Afghanistan,” said the expert.

Maryana Babar, an analyst on foreign affairs agreed that the visit is very important in the backdrop of the new U.S. policy for Afghanistan, in which Pakistan has asked for a role in the negotiations process.

Babar said that Pakistani Army Chief General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, in his recent trip to Kabul, told the Afghan government and U.S. authorities that Pakistan could provide training to Afghan troops.

She said that the Afghan president would bring a plan of action and will ask Pakistan’s assistance in the process of reconciliation and reintegration with Taliban as Karzai has openly asked Pakistan and the Saudi Arabia for assistance in bringing Afghan Taliban to talk table on the sidelines of London conference in January.

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US ‘Biggest’ Threat, Say Pakistanis

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Owen Fay, Al Jazeera

2009-08-09T151039Z_01_AAL113_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN

Men pray during rally in the northwest Pakistan city Peshawar August 9, 2009. Over 500 supporters of the Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami gathered in a park in Peshawar to protest against military operations in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. 

REUTERS/Ali Imam

A survey commissioned by Al Jazeera in Pakistan has revealed a widespread disenchantment with the United States for interfering with what most people consider internal Pakistani affairs.

The polling was conducted by Gallup Pakistan – a separate organisation affiliated with the US-based Gallup Inc – and more than 2,600 people took part.

Interviews were conducted across the political spectrum, and represented men and women of every economic and ethnic background.

The resentment was made clear when residents were asked if they support or oppose Pakistan’s own military offensive against Taliban targets.

Keeping with recent trends a growing number of people, now 41 per cent, support the campaign.

About 24 per cent of people remain opposed, but an additional 22 per cent of Pakistanis remain neutral on the question.

That number changes quite significantly when people were asked if they would support government-sanctioned dialogue with Taliban fighters if it were a viable option.

The same 41 per cent said they would still support the military offensive. But the number of those supporting dialogue leaps up to 43 per cent.

So clearly, Pakistanis are, right now, fairly evenly split on how to deal with the Taliban threat.

However, when asked if they support or oppose the US military’s drone attacks against what Washington claims are Taliban and al-Qaeda targets, only nine per cent of respondents reacted favorably.

A massive 67 per cent say they oppose US military operations on Pakistani soil.

“This is a fact that the hatred against the US is growing very quickly, mainly because of these drone attacks,” Makhdoom Babar, the editor-in-chief of Pakistan’s The Daily Mail newspaper, said.

“Maybe the intelligence channels, the military channels consider it productive, but for the general public it is controversial … the drone attacks are causing collateral damage,” he told Al Jazeera.

The consensus of opinion on US military involvement is notable given the fact that on a raft of internal issues there is a clear level of disagreement, which can be expected in a country of this size.

When asked for their opinions on Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, 42 per cent of respondents believe he is doing a bad job. Around 11 per cent approve of his leadership, and another 34 per cent have no strong opinion either way.

That pattern was reflected in a question about the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Forty-one per cent of Pakistanis say they support the offensive against the Taliban

Respondents were asked if they thought the PPP is good or bad for the country.

About 38 per cent said the PPP is bad for the country, 20 per cent believe it is good for the country and another 30 per cent said they have no strong opinion.

Respondents were even more fractured when asked for their views on how the country should be led.

By far, the largest percentage would opt for Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, as leader. At least 38 per cent back him to run Pakistan.

Zardari received only nine per cent support, while Reza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, has the backing of 13 per cent.

But from there, opinions vary greatly. Eight per cent of the population would support a military government, 11 per cent back a political coalition of the PPP and Sharif’s PML-N party.

Another six per cent throw their support behind religious parties and the remaining 15 per cent would either back smaller groups or simply do not have an opinion.

Babar told Al Jazeera that Zardari’s unpopularity was understandable given the challenges that the country had faced since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

“Any president in Pakistan would be having the same popularity that President Zardari is having, because under this situation the president of Pakistan has to take a lot of unpopular decisions,” he said.

“He is in no position to not take unpopular decisions that are actually in the wider interests of the country, but for common people these are very unpopular decisions.”

The level of diversity disappears when broader questions of security and military intervention are posed.

In the same way that most Pakistanis right now reject what they see as US military interference, they strongly oppose US policies as a whole.

The respondents were asked what they consider to be the biggest threat to the nation of Pakistan: 11 per cent of the population sees the Taliban as the largest threat, while 18 per cent believe it comes from India.

But by an overwhelming margin, 59 per cent of respondents said the greatest threat to Pakistan right now is, in fact, the US.

That is a number worth bearing in mind the next time the US claims its military campaign is succeeding.

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India Wants “Peace” with Pakistan

July 2, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Indo-Pak talks have been on hold since Mumbai-strikes in November last year. The two sides agreed to revive talks at first top-level contact last month in Russia on sidelines of a summit. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari (June 16). On his return, while briefing media on his Russia-visit, regarding his talks with Zardari, Singh said: “We discussed India-Pakistan relations, which remain under considerable stress. The primary cause of this, as everyone knows, is terrorist attacks against India from Pakistani territory. I conveyed to President Zardari the full extent of our expectation that the Government of Pakistan take strong and effective action to prevent use of Pakistan’s territory for terrorist attacks against India, act against perpetrators of past attacks and dismantle infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan. The President of Pakistan told me of Pakistan’s efforts to deal with this menace and the difficulties that they face.” “We agreed that our foreign secretaries will discuss what Pakistan is doing and can do to prevent terrorism from Pakistan against India and to bring those responsible for these attacks to justice including the horrendous crime of the attacks in Mumbai. They will report to us and we will take stock of the situation when we are at Sharm-el-Sheikh for the Non-aligned Summit in mid-July,” Singh said.

“I have spoken before of my vision of a cooperative subcontinent, and of the vital interest that India and the people of the subcontinent have in peace. For this we must try again to make peace with Pakistan. It also requires effective and strong action against the enemies of peace. If the leaders of Pakistan have the courage, determination and statesmanship to take the high road to peace, India will meet them more than half-way,” Singh said.

Undeniably, Singh’s comments suggest that India and Pakistan are making most of opportunities available to discuss terrorism and revival of their stalled talks. It was with this aim that Singh held talks with Zardari, without any “structured agenda.” During their talks, they also set the stage for subsequent meetings between them and at other levels. Not surprisingly, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna met his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi, on sidelines of G8 Outreach Af-Pak Summit in Italy’s Trieste city (June 26). It was the second high-level contact in a month. After his meeting with Qureshi, Krishna told media: “I am glad that this international conference has provided an opportunity for bilateral meeting with my counterpart from Pakistan.” The two ministers reviewed current status of Indo-Pak relations, which have remained under “considerable stress” because of terrorist attacks on India by elements based in Pakistan, Krishna said. They agreed on “vast potential that exist in India-Pakistan relations.” Krishna conveyed New Delhi’s stand, that India is “ready to meet Pakistan more than half way to utilize and harness that potential for our mutual benefit. At the same time, we have to address centrally why our relations come under stress recurrently.”

Efforts being made to bring Indo-Pak ties on track assume significance, as United States is also keen on improvement in their bilateral relations. In keeping with Af-Pak policy being pursued by President Barack Obama, United States National Security Adviser James Jones was here last week after stops in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Jones held separate talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his Indian counterpart M.K. Narayanan and other Indian leaders (June 26). Jones is first high-ranking US official to visit India following India and Pakistan’s agreement to revive stalled talks and discuss steps taken by Islamabad on tackling terrorism targeting India by militants based in Pakistan. Jones’ visit also assumes significance with it taking place ahead of proposed visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this month.

The key issues touched on during talks Jones held with Indian leaders were: “Pakistan and terrorism emanating from there against India.” Jones is also understood to have shared his assessment of situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where operations are continuing against Taliban militants. During his talks in Islamabad and New Delhi, Jones laid stress that attacks such as Mumbai-strikes must be prevented, according to sources. He also “vowed” United States’ move to help India and Pakistan improve their ties and combat militant threat.

In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert O. Blake told a panel of House of Representatives last week: “India and Pakistan face common challenges, and we will support continuing dialogue to find joint solutions to counter terrorism and to promote regional stability.” “The timing, scope, and content of any such dialogue are strictly matters for Pakistani and Indian leaders to decide,” he said.

Though India remains dissatisfied with Pakistan having not taken necessary steps against those responsible for Mumbai-strikes, there is no doubt that two countries have displayed serious interest in recent past to revive their talks. Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony told a group of senior military commanders last week: “We must be vigilant about happenings on our western border, while at the same time, try to make peace with our neighbor.” Asserting that India should not be viewed as a “threat” by Pakistan, Chief of Army Staff Deepak Kapoor said: “It’s their own perception of threat, but India has never been a threat to Pakistan despite having superior forces” (June 27). Speaking to newsmen at the Combined Graduation Parade of the Indian Air Force cadets at the Air Force Academy at Dindigul near Hyderabad, he said: “We on our side like to live as peaceful neighbors. We will be happy if Pakistan fights terror not only on its western borders but also on the eastern border.”

11-28

Iftikhar Chaudhry Welcomed in US

November 26, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Judge I Chaudhry NEW YORK, Nov 17: Deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry received a standing ovation from a huge crowd of Pakistani-Americans in Brooklyn (New York) on Sunday evening.

Justice Iftikhar who has come to the United States to receive awards from New York Bar Association and Harvard Law School did not address the crowd.

Former President of the Supreme Court Bar Association Aitzaz Ahsan said in his speech that in order to make Pakistan truly independent and honourable nation restoration of the deposed chief justice was a pre-requisite.

“He is a symbol of independent judiciary which all Pakistanis want,” he said.

The meeting was organised by Pakistani-American lawyers led by Ramzan Rana.

The organisers repeatedly appealed to the audience not to raise political slogans. However, slogans were raised against President Asif Zardari’s position on the restoration of judges.

At one stage, some people repeatedly called for Mr Ahsan’s resignation from the PPP.

After ignoring them for some time, Mr Ahsan shot back, “I will not resign from PPP. I’m the Pakistan People’s Party!”

He said Justice Iftikhar had maintained judicial restraint and never responded to criticism from some politicians or to opinions expressed in television talk shows.

He said Justice Iftikhar’s restoration was all the more important because if it was not done there would never be an independent judiciary in the country.

Mr Ahsan said Pakistan’s top political leaders, Asif Ali Zardari, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Asfandyar Wali and Maulana Fazlur Rehman, had made written and oral commitments with the nation to restore all deposed judges, but so far that promise had not been fulfilled.

Earlier Justice Chaudhry was received at JFK by a large crowd of Pakistani American Attorneys, Political activists and members of civil society.

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A Doomed Presidency

September 18, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

A doomed presidency: With the army poised for a coup and the Taliban winning hearts, Zardari doesn’t stand a chance

Courtesy Peter Preston, The Guardian

2008-09-09T133835Z_01_ISL506R_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-PRESIDENT
 

Forget labels. In reality, two giant parties struggle perennially for power in Pakistan. One is the politicians’ party, whose candidate, Asif Ali Zardari, has just been elected president. The other is the army party, which prefers bazookas to ballot boxes. Democracy in this pivotal country is a frail blossom. And Zardari is as frail as they come.

The crude apology for a party system in Pakistan is 60 years old and shows scant sign of changing. First, the politicians have an election and govern for a while. When they falter, the generals take over. Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia ul-Haq, Pervez Musharraf – they come and go, punctuated briefly by elected prime ministers (mostly called Bhutto). It’s a malign sort of game, growing perilously close to an endgame now. Indeed, President Zardari’s inevitably brief tenure may well be the end of it all as a third party – young, idealistic, fervent and brave – begins to tip the board over. You may not have heard the Taliban so described before, but that doesn’t mean that brute force isn’t with them.

In the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s murder by hands unknown last December, the Pakistan People’s party had a triumphant election. It possessed just enough numbers in the national and provincial parliaments to deliver the presidency, but you’d be hard pressed to invent a more hopeless, doomed prospectus.

This president isn’t a politician. He’s a businessmen who’s been haplessly entangled in too much monkey business over the years. Nine years in prison for corruption on trumped-up charges? Perhaps they have never been fully, fairly investigated, but to too many Pakistanis he is Mr Ten Per Cent. He vows to fight against the Taliban and defend US interests, even when they include US special forces staging bloody raids inside Pakistan’s borders. He promises to put right a broken, increasingly beleaguered economy, and to spend another $15bn of American aid wisely and well. But what comes next will be failure, unpopularity and a new tide of sleaze allegations.

A year or two down the line, the men in braid will sense a familiar opportunity and mount another coup. Washington, glad to have the military back at the top, will find another $15bn. The army will buy more guns, and feed more of its private bank accounts. The looting of Pakistan’s hope and Pakistan’s future will proceed on schedule.

The twin supposed champions of democracy – Zardari and Nawaz Sharif – couldn’t have made a lousier fist of the past eight months: any sense of national interest was lost immediately in an orgy of squabbling. The governing party couldn’t have chosen a worse candidate for commander in chief (retaining most of Musharraf’s powers). And Nato’s American leadership, insisting increasingly shrilly that feebleness in Islamabad will give Waziristan’s cross-border invaders free rein in Afghanistan, couldn’t be hastening the demise of democracy more idiotically.

Zardari announced his arrival – to the Washington Post – as a warrior from Sind bent on destroying the ‘Lahore-Islamabad oligarchy’. The oligarchs scheduled for destruction are Sharif and a military top brass trapped between a new leadership they despise and a religious insurrection that is beginning to dismember the nation.

Yet the Taliban, whom the generals must defeat to get America’s billions, are much more than a gang of terrorist thugs. They are also a madcap reform movement of young men disgusted by corruption and the godless wheeler-dealers they think have drained the purity out of Jinnah’s ‘pure state’, and the success they’re experiencing in the borderlands and beyond shows that many ordinary Pakistanis agree with them. It’s a battle for hearts and minds and, on his record, Asif Ali Zardari is the predestined loser of last resort.

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