Qurratulain Wahab: Saudi Arabia’s leading media and political analyst Khaled Almaeena has congratulated Pakistan’s incoming Prime Minister Imran Khan on his spectacular victory in the recent elections and advised him to follow a policy of peace and reconciliation toward his political adversaries.
Speaking to well-known radio journalist Behjat Gilani during her popular Jahan Rang radio program (23:45-29:27) on Voice of America’s Urdu Service on Friday, Almaeena said his prayers have always been with the successful cricketer-turned-politician.
Saudis and longtime expats in Jeddah are too well aware of Almaeena’s close and personal ties with Imran Khan. During his many visits to Saudi Arabia since the early 1990s, Almaeena has almost always hosted the star cricketer and took active part in promoting Imran Khan’s Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital philanthropic project among his large circle of Saudi friends and top government officials.
Almaeena received Pakistan’s prestigious “Sitara-e-Imtiaz” (Star of Excellence) award in 2009 for his contributions to promoting bilateral relations as well as for his advisory roles and the prolific writings of his that helped highlight a whole range of bilateral, regional and international issues vital for regional and global peace.
On his first reaction to the victory of Imran Khan, Almaeena said: “First of all I want to congratulate him on his victory. My prayers are with him as he undertakes the efforts to create what he calls a ‘New Pakistan’. We, in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, were closely watching all the developments in Pakistan. Pakistan is very close to our hearts. We take pride in calling ourselves ‘Mohibb-e-Pakistan’.”
Almaeena said: “When the euphoria of this election victory ends, Imran Khan will have to take some hard decisions regarding the economy and the security situation. I am aware of his excellent leadership qualities but more than that he should have good advisers from all walks of life.”
When asked to share his forecast about Pakistan’s relations with India under Imran Khan, Almaeena said: “Imran Khan has, in his first victory speech, talked about resolving the Kashmir dispute. My advice to him would be to focus on and promote economic and trade ties between the two countries, boost people-to-people ties through open borders and allow free flow of information. This would result in immense benefit for the two nations.”
Almaeena suggested that Imran Khan should take confidence-building measures to advance the cause of peace. “This would neutralize the negative campaign (in the Indian media) against him that he is a terror apologist and that he supports terrorists.”
Almaeena said: “As a friend of Pakistan, I have no hesitation in stating that there are many extremists in Pakistan who utter pure nonsense. I don’t want to name them but we all know who they are. There are hardcore extremists and terrorists in India as well. Both feed off each other. The two countries need to isolate these terrorists and extremists. I hope when Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan meets his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi there should be an open talk about how to resolve thorny issues by sitting across the table.”
During his victory speech Imran Khan spoke about playing the role of a peacemaker between the crisis-ridden nations of the Arab and Gulf world. How will Imran Khan be able to play this role and will he succeed, asked Behjat Gilani. In response, Almaeena said: “Pakistan can be an agent of change in the regional geopolitical situation. Unfortunately, we all know about the upheaval that we have witnessed in the aftermath of the developments following the Arab Spring (of 2011). There have been a lot of external influences on the region since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Pakistan, as a neutral country, can make efforts to bring all the nations together. That will be very good, and it will be very well received.”
As a very close and personal friend of Imran Khan, what would be Almaeena’s advice to Imran Khan?
“My first advice to him would be that he should follow the example of Nelson Mandela and let bygones be bygones. He should go for reconciliation (with his political adversaries). He should try to co-opt all those people that he has had a fight with before the elections because Pakistan belongs to all Pakistanis irrespective of their political differences.
“Imran Khan should follow the forget-and-forgive policy and go in for coalition. He should empower good, modern, God-fearing and competent Pakistanis. Most importantly, women should be included in all policy-making decisions. His ultimate goal should be to provide dignity and respect to the people of Pakistan. They deserve it.”