Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 9: Imran Khan)” (Russia Today, 19 June 2012)
For his next episode, Julian Assange springs a real surprise by interviewing famous former sports celebrity turned politician Imran Khan – yes, that Imran Khan the former Pakistani cricket team captain / all-rounder and former hand-bag to UK socialite Jemima Goldsmith. The interview takes place over a satellite link between Assange in home detention in the UK and Khan at home and it so happens that the acoustics in Khan’s lounge-room are too good so there is a lot of echo coming through in the film clip when he speaks. Fortunately a transcript can be downloaded here.
Assange starts with a brief survey of how Khan’s political began slowly and then suddenly took off after Wikileaks’ release of US embassy cables which revealed the extent of corruption within Pakistan’s government and among the country’s political elite and parties. The interesting thing about the cables is that they show Khan as clean compared to the rest of Pakistan’s political elite. Khan then lays out the territory for Assange, detailing the breadth and depth of criminality in Pakistan’s major institutions, principally the political structure and the military and the people at the top levels in those institutions, and explaining how the country’s huge accumulated debt keeps its people poor and entrenches the corruption.
The issue of Osama bin Laden’s death and the effect that his “assassination” might have had on Pakistan’s relationship with the US are brought up. (My personal view is that bin Laden died in Afghanistan in December 2001 which is why I used quotation marks around THAT word.) Khan expresses the view that the assassination humiliated Pakistan after all the country had done FOR the US in the so-called War on Terror, having lost about 40,000 dead and put in huge amounts of resources in fighting al Qa’ida and accommodating huge waves of refugees fleeing Afghanistan. He is fearful that the War on Terror will not only radicalise Afghanistan even more against the US but will completely devastate Pakistan financially and politically. The country’s political elite will benefit from the increased corruption while ordinary Pakistanis continue to pay for their leaders’ sins with their lives. Khan suggests that Pakistan’s relationship with the US must be realigned on the basis of mutual respect and dignity, and self-respect on Pakistan’s part.
It’s not all doom and gloom … Khan mentions Turkey and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan as role models for Pakistani economic and political development and views the country’s youth, its natural resources and the Pakistani diaspora around the world as assets the country could capitalise on. Hmm, doesn’t Khan know that having valuable natural resources wanted by everyone around the world isn’t necessarily a good thing and that some of the richest countries in the world – Japan, South Korea and Sweden come to mind – actually don’t have much in the way of valuable “natural resources” and their wealth derives from their human capital instead? And that countries rolling in energy and mineral wealth tend to squander the income derived from those?
Khan comes across as a persuasive and passionate speaker and for his age is still quite good-looking. Unfortunately Assange doesn’t press Khan on what political and economic reforms he’d undertake if he were PM so his views on politics and economics remain unknown. A squiz at Khan’s Wikipedia entry reveals that Khan ‘s political platform is a mish-mash of Islamic values, democracy, decreased bureaucracy, liberal (sort of) economics with an emphasis both on deregulation and maintaining a welfare state, an independent judiciary, reform in the army and police force and decentralising and returning political power to the people. In that list one can discern a revulsion against centralised government power and one hopes also that Khan can see that centralised power in private corporations is just as bad as it would be in government, especially if private power is linked to government power.
Overall this is an interesting if not really informative interview: Khan appears genuine enough but his political platform is idealistic and as the cliché goes, only time will tell if he can translate his ideals into reality. A great deal is riding on his shoulders as well.