Democracy a must for Pakistan
IMRAN Khan, who is on the run from the military government of Pakistan, warned last night that the country was threatened with an Iran-style takeover by religious extremists.
Khan, the cricketing hero turned politician, has been in hiding since Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, declared a state of emergency on 3 November and began rounding up thousands of opposition leaders and human rights activists.
In a phone interview from a secret location, he called on the White House to cut its ties to the Musharraf regime. "The Bush administration has alienated 160 million people, just to protect one guy," he said. "It's self-defeating. Washington should not be surprised at the anti-Americanism. It's the same situation which happened in Iran, where they backed an unpopular dictator right to the end.
"The more oppression he [the Shah of Iran] did, he killed off all the moderate forces. The only organised forces left were the mosques and the religious militants. It's going to head the same way now [in Pakistan]."
He said the country was dangerously poised as Gen Musharraf had used the emergency to try to destroy his democratic opponents. "If he ... makes it impossible for us to function, I think it won't even be the religious mullahs [who take over]. It will go to a further extreme.
"The extremists that are rising in places like in Waziristan and Swat [in north-west Pakistan], they're not interested in the democratic process."
Today, Khan risks arrest as he plans to address students at Punjab University in Lahore in an attempt to inspire a grass-roots campaign to oust Gen Musharraf.
He was damning of the strategy of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, as she had negotiated with Gen Musharraf for months over a political deal that would see her become prime minister with his backing. Even after the emergency was announced, it is believed that behind-the-scenes talks continued between them.
But by yesterday, Ms Bhutto appeared to have finally cut her ties to the general, demanding that he resign and threatening to boycott the elections.
Khan said: "A one-point agenda is the only way to get rid of a dictator. If Benazir agrees, then it's all over; the elections are completely discredited.
"She's used the opposition to strengthen her bargaining position. That's really a worry, that's why the suspicion is there."