Imran Khan, a cricketer turned politician, is one of the top contenders to become Pakistan's next leader.
He heads the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf, or Movement for Justice party, which draws its support primarily from Pakistan's young and impoverished. It's likely that he or his main political rival, Mian Nawaz Sharif, will become the next leader of Pakistan.
Khan sat down with ABC News this week in Mansehra, a small town outside of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. We asked Imran five questions, ranging from terrorism to how Pakistan's relationship with America will change if he is elected. These are his responses, edited only for brevity:
1. How will America's relationship with Pakistan change if you win the election?
It will change. Until now the U.S. has supported puppets. Now what has the U.S. learned? That puppets do not serve U.S. interests. In fact because of them there is more anti-Americanism in Pakistan than ever before. So the difference would be, God willing if we win, we would want to be friends of U.S., we would not want to be a client state of U.S. We don't want any U.S. aid. The war on terror, we want to fight our way, not how we're told, because by sending our army into the tribal areas on U.S. bidding, it has been a disaster for the U.S., (and) it's a bigger disaster for Pakistan.
2. Tell me about the war on terror. What will you do to defeat the Taliban?
We would first of all take the narrative of jihad away from the Taliban. Remember the narrative is that the Pakistani army is a mercenary army of the U.S. So because fighting for your freedom is jihad or a holy duty, you're fighting for god, and if you die you become a martyr, because they think the narrative is that Pakistan is fighting a U.S. war, therefore jihad is also fits against Pakistan army too.
So what we will do is disengage from the U.S. war, tell the U.S. we'll fight it our way. We don't want any aid, we don't want any drone attacks because drone attacks link us to the U.S. war. Drones are killing the same people the Pakistan army is fighting. And once we disengage, take away the narrative of jihad, we will then start a truth and reconciliation with our tribal people. So the idea would be to isolate those irreconcilable militants and wean away the bulk of the people who are our own tribal people, who are fighting because of collateral damage, unemployment, because they think the U.S. war is against Islam. So we'll wean them away and then we'll win the war. We'll win the war. Put it this way, the way to peace is through our tribal areas. There are about a million armed men in the tribal areas. There are only about 10,000 to 20,000 militants. If we win them over to our side, our tribal people will win the war.
3. So just to be perfectly clear, Pakistan has been a key U.S. ally in the war on terror for more than a decade. Are you saying it will no longer be an ally?
It will only be an ally in peace, it's not going to be an ally in war. Fifty thousand Pakistanis have died. This country has been radicalized. We are more insecure than ever before. There's something like $80 billion this country has lost in this war. The US aid is about twenty billion. The country is sinking into poverty, into chaos, the state is getting weaker. There is a consensus in Pakistan that there is no military solution. So therefore we'll look for a political solution. We want to be an ally in peace with the U.S., but no longer can this war continue. There is a consensus among all the political parties in Pakistan that there is no military solution, only a political solution, which is actually the conclusion that the U.S. has reached in Afghanistan too.
4. America for a long time has said drone strikes are vital towards targeting militants. You say you're going to stop them. Why?
If they were so accurate and vital, we should be winning the war. But the U.S. isn't winning in Afghanistan, we certainly aren't winning in Pakistan. So what have these drone strikes achieved? We would swallow the bitter pill that someone can be judge jury and executioner, violate our sovereignty, bomb an ally – we're an ally and it's never happened before that an ally bombs an ally – if this was effective we might have swallowed this bitter pill. It's totally counterproductive. It's caused more militancy. All it does is causes collateral damage, causes anti U.S. (sentiment), and guess who gains? The militants.
5. Some might interpret this as you being soft on the Taliban. What do you say to that?
If I'm soft on the Taliban, then all of the political parties that are pro war are soft on the Taliban as well. If being anti war means being soft on the Taliban, then people don't understand the dynamics of this war. And that's why we're stuck. The U.S. is stuck in Afghanistan. We're stuck in our tribal areas. People are ignorant of the history of this area. Never have they ever accepted a foreigner to come and occupy them, either in our tribal areas or in Afghanistan. And so this is going against history. Therefore it's time to give peace a chance. For both Pakistan and the U.S. We've had enough of fighting. We want peace. And if peace means that you're anti U.S., then people do not understand. Unfortunately some people in the U.S. feel that unless you do whatever the U.S. tells you to do, you're anti U.S. I believe that it's time for the U.S. to make Pakistan a friend rather than a client state, a hired gun which is paid money to do it's bidding. I think that time is over. Pakistan is past that stage, the country can no longer take this war anymore. And for the U.S. also, they should hope this election brings a partner in peace, and the US needs a peace partner to exit from Afghanistan.