The 65-year-old opposition leader, a glamorous part of the London upper crust in his younger days, also dismissed allegations that the powerful military was working behind the scenes to favour his campaign for the July 25 poll.
Oxford-educated Khan spoke in an interview on Friday as his arch foe, ousted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was due to return to the country and be arrested on a conviction that was handed down by an anti-graft court last week. Much of Lahore, the hometown of both Khan and Sharif, was on alert for protests by Sharif’s supporters.
Khan is campaigning hard on populist promises of a prosperous Pakistan that breaks away from its persistent legacy of corruption, even as he expands appeals to nationalist and religious sentiment in the nuclear-armed nation.
As prime minister, he says he will partially model his promised anti-corruption campaign and poverty reduction programs on China, Pakistan’s traditional ally that has financed billions of dollars of infrastructure projects.
“What Pakistan has to do is follow China’s example where they lift people out of poverty,” Khan said in the interview in a private jet after a long night of campaigning in Punjab province.
“And actually we have meetings with the Chinese on all the steps they took to reduce poverty.”
Whoever wins the election will also have to navigate Pakistan’s often-fraught relations with the United States over the US-backed government’s war against Taliban militants in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Washington accuses Pakistan of not doing enough to root out Taliban militants who shelter on the Pakistani side of the border, and the Trump administration has recently cut foreign aid and applied diplomatic and financial pressure on Islamabad to try to force change.
“I think the longer the US troops stay there, the less the chance of there being a political settlement,” Khan said. “I think the Afghans, you know, if the US even gives a timetable of withdrawal, and then gets the Afghans on the table, and then with the neighbours also chipping in, I think that is the best chance of peace.”
A victory for Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf would mark a new political direction for Pakistan, which has been dominated by two parties – Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party – when the military has not been in power.