‘It’s Just The Beginning’

Imran Khan, 55, the Pakistani cricket legend and opposition politician, hardly looked like a hunted man. It had been 11 days since police burst into his home, the day after President Pervez Musharraf declared emergency rule. He had eluded capture by moving daily and avoiding his cell phone. He spent that time meeting quietly with members of his small Movement for Justice Party until just after an exclusive interview with NEWSWEEK's Ron Moreau, when he was arrested at Lahore's Punjab University following an encounter with Islamist students.

NEWSWEEK: How did you escape the police?
KHAN: At 1:30 in the morning these cops suddenly burst in my house … I went out the back, jumped over two back walls and made it to a cousin's house. Since then I've been moving every day. Obviously he [Musharraf] had learned a lesson from the Burmese generals of severe repression: beat up and put everyone in jail, and then a few days later say everyone's with me because no one's in the streets.

What's your plan of action underground?
I've had a few narrow escapes. Lahore is such a big city I have so many places to go, because basically everyone is anti-Musharraf here. I'm organizing my own party and trying to launch a students' movement to fight for democracy. I'm tying up with Qazi Hussain Ahmed [the leader of the Islamist Jamaat-i-Islami Party] and [exiled former prime minister] Nawaz Sharif. We have decided to go into an electoral alliance, trying to get everyone to boycott the elections [which Musharraf has announced will be held under emergency rule before Jan. 9].

Can you bring Benazir Bhutto to your alliance now that she says her party will likely boycott the polls?
If Benazir joins us in boycotting the elections, then the polls have no credibility. But there's a lot of suspicion here. What we don't want is for her to use us as a bargaining chip and then cut another separate deal for herself with Musharraf.

But can the opposition get together in the face of Musharraf's emergency?
Qazi, Nawaz and I have been saying that without a street movement this guy is not going to go. Everything he [Musharraf] has promised he has reneged on. He is clearly not going to leave power voluntarily, so we need a street movement. That's the only thing that dictators in the past have been affected by and what the Army looks to. When the Army realizes that he has become a liability, it will get rid of him. But he took us by surprise and put everyone in jail. There's no leadership left.

What can students do?
I have to come out into the open to mobilize the students, which I'll do at Punjab University. I have a way of sneaking in. I'll try to get out [afterward] if possible. I have one or two exit routes. I'll be with my running shoes. But if I don't [escape] it doesn't matter. We've had successful student movements in the past, in 1968 and 1977, that have brought governments down. I think the students are ready. Even faculty is starting to protest. It's just the beginning.

Why should Pakistanis take you seriously when your party is small and you are its only member of Parliament?
The reason people supported [the deposed Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry] is because he defied the dictator. People looked upon him as genuine opposition to Musharraf. Similarly, my vote bank is increasing simply because people perceive me as someone who is not going to compromise. For 11 years I've been saying there can be no democracy or prosperity without an independent justice system. My Movement for Justice is based on an independent judiciary. Suddenly all the lawyers [who were] supporting Chaudhry adopted me.

Are you frustrated by the Bush administration's continued support for Musharraf?
George Bush is creating anti-Americanism in Pakistan. How else can Pakistanis feel when Bush is backing one man who has destroyed our Supreme Court, every institution in the country, is sitting with the biggest crooks and criminals in the country, and presiding over our most corrupt government, according to Transparency International? Militancy and radicalization in Pakistan are increasing at such a phenomenal rate now that we actually think that our future is at stake. All thanks to Musharraf. And for this one man, Bush, is going to sacrifice 160 million Pakistanis as if they were sheep? He is worse than the Shah of Iran.