Pakistani cricket star-turned-politician and head of the party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan delivers a speech during a political campaign rally ahead of the general election in Multan on July 20, 2018. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: “I am pretty confident this time I will be the next prime minister of Pakistan. The game is not over until the last ball is bowled,” Pakistan’s legendary cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan told Gulf News.

In an exclusive interview ahead of the July 25 general elections, Khan stressed that the people of Pakistan want change and that his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Justice Movement) is seen as the only viable option to stem the rot of corruption.

Khan, who launched his political party in 1996, could not win even a single seat in the 1997 elections. In 2002 elections he was the only winner from his party and in 2008 he boycotted the polls. Despite creating hype before 2013 elections, his party could win only 32 National Assembly seats out of total 342 but managed to form the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). He is confident of sweeping elections this time to realise his dream of becoming the prime minister of Pakistan.

Our foreign policy will be based on mutual respect, reciprocity and conflict resolution. And we will work towards substantive peace.”

 - Imran Khan | PTI chief

Khan, 65, who is nicknamed ‘Kaptaan’ (captain) by his supporters due to his cricketing achievements, categorically denied allegations that Pakistan’s powerful military is backing him and working behind the scenes to ensure his victory.

The PTI chairman spoke at length with Gulf News to explain why he should be in power. Excerpts from the interview:

Why do you think that you can form government at the national level in these elections?

This time, there is a wave of support for the PTI’s agenda for change and against corruption. We have finally succeeded in making the people understand the direct link between corruption and under-development. They now know that their poverty is directly related to the corruption of the rulers. People know that money laundering, concealing of assets, tax evasion and the list goes on — all the crimes former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family have been found guilty of — are all part of corruption. People are not prepared to elect the corrupt leaders anymore and they know both the Sharifs and Zardaris [former president and Pakistan People’s Party leader Asif Ali Zardari] have looted and plundered the resources of this country over and over again.

PTI is seen as the only viable option to stop the rot of corruption, hold the powerful people accountable and bring development and progress to the country and improve the lot of the masses.

Why should people vote for you? What are you promising?

People must vote for PTI because we stand committed to implementing our agenda. Our government’s record in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has shown that we are committed to improving the lives of our people and giving them justice. Our reforms in police, health and education sectors in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province have shown that we can deliver. Equally important is the fact that people know I am not corrupt and will not allow any level of corruption. I have no assets abroad. In fact, I earned abroad and brought all my money back to Pakistan.

In the 2013 elections, your party won 32 National Assembly seats. How many seats are you expecting to win this time?

We expect to win a clear majority in the National Assembly this time.

How would you win your main battle in Punjab against PML-N?

Our campaign against corruption and ‘Naya’ (new) Pakistan agenda which includes implementing police reforms, health and education programmes, will help us win hearts and votes of people. We would also create a South Punjab province on administrative lines.

Would you enter into coalition with any other political party if you don’t get simple majority?

We would not enter into a coalition with either PPP or the PML-N since we hold their leadership responsible for stealing the resources of the nation and stashing their ill-gotten wealth abroad. Our fight has been against corruption and for accountability of the powerful people.

What is your plan to bring Pakistan out of economic crisis and unemployment?

We have already evolved a viable economic policy, which we will begin implementing in the first 100 days of coming to power. This policy includes creation of jobs, building houses for low-income people, enunciating business-friendly policies including attracting FDI (foreign direct investment) especially from overseas Pakistanis. Our economic policies will focus on human development, and its details are available on our party’s website.

Your supporters are angry over distribution of tickets to ‘defectors’ whom you call ‘electables’. Don’t you think it has disappointed your diehard supporters?

Those who did not get tickets to contest the elections protested against it but our voters should realise that for implementing its agenda for ‘Naya (new) Pakistan’ it has to win elections. We have given tickets to people who we feel will help us win the elections. But we will not allow any charges of corruption to go uninvestigated against anyone including the PTI members.

Haven’t you contradicted yourself by allowing some ‘corrupt’ defectors to join your party and giving them tickets to contest elections?

No. if anyone is proven guilty of corruption they will find no place in PTI. I will reiterate we have given tickets on merit and to those we think and are able to contest the elections effectively.

There is a strong feeling that you are heavily banking on military support to win the elections? What do you say?

If I had to depend on the military’s support to win elections I would not have been struggling to build up my party for more than two decades. I have always only depended on people of Pakistan for support.

Some believe you have introduced politics of hatred and intolerance and that you are very stubborn in your beliefs?

Absolute nonsense. I have always preached tolerance because I believe in it. I am steadfast in my principles and beliefs and will not compromise on them simply to come to power.

After seeing your video footage of bowing down at the mausoleum of Sufi saint Baba Farid Ganj Shakar along with your wife, there is a perception that Imran who was known as ‘modern face’ of otherwise conservative Pakistan — has become superstitious?

I paid my respects to the great Sufi saint. It has nothing to do with superstition. Being “modern” does not mean being westernised.

What is your policy regarding Pakistan’s relations with India, Gulf Cooperation Council countries and the United States?

Our foreign policy will be based on mutual respect, reciprocity and conflict resolution. And we will work towards substantive peace in our region.