Imran Khan has been many things — cricket world champion, international sex symbol, spokesman for Pepsi, and hard-charging member of Pakistan’s parliament.
But now he wants to add “prime minister” to his résumé.
As Pakistan’s May elections draw near, that dream is looking more and more realistic. The sports superstar-turned-politician is attracting millions of his countrymen to his camp with promises to radically reshape Pakistan’s relationship with the United States.
At the top of his list will be demanding an immediate end to American drone strikes in Pakistan.
“It is the most inhumane thing that has been done by any country,” he told Vocativ during an interview at his estate outside the capital Islamabad. “In my opinion, drone attacks are a shame on the American civilization.”
Thousands of Pakistanis have been killed by drones over the last decade in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan as the U.S. pursued Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives. But researchers at Stanford University found that since 2004, only 2 percent of those killed by the drones were so-called high value terrorist targets.
Khan is particularly upset by the large number of civilian deaths — estimated by Stanford at 25 percent of the total body count. ”Which law allows you to eliminate suspects, not convicted people — the suspects, their wives, their children, their neighbors, their guests?” Khan asked.
He argues that it’s not just bad for Pakistan — it also harms America’s interests. ”When you cause collateral damage, the people go and seek revenge by joining the terrorists…it’s counterproductive,” he said.
Pakistan’s leaders deserve a good share of the blame, he said, by “tacitly (giving) permission to the Americans.” It’s a firing offense, in his view. “If they cannot stop the drones they should resign.”
Khan’s candidacy poses a new challenge to the often prickly relationship between the two countries. The former cricketer talks openly about “disengaging from the Americans” and walking away from America’s lavish — more than $20 billion since 2001 — economic aid package.
“No aid, thank you very much. We will collect our own money here,” he said. “We’ll fix our country, reform our country and we will rely on the people of Pakistan to stand on our own feet.”