Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan has said better relations with India will benefit both nations, also admitting the new government in his “bankrupt” country will have to resolve “the worst economic crisis”. 

“If you have a good relationship with India, it opens up trade, and trade with a huge market. Both countries would benefit,” said the cricketer-turned-politician in an interview telecast on WION on Sunday. 

Imran is a strong contender for the Prime Minister’s job in Wednesday’s national election in Pakistan where the military has seized power several times since independence in 1947, and directly ruled for almost half the country’s history. 

“The problem with India right now is the issue of Kashmir. I give full marks to Pakistan for trying to get proper, better relations. But I believe we should have peace with India as the whole subcontinent is held hostage to the Kashmir issue,” Imran said.

There is a triangular contest among the governing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), and Imran’s PTI. PTI’s surge has caused anxious moments in India’s security circles as it has been a political and strategic puzzle.

Imran said economy is Pakistan’s biggest problem. “The biggest challenge Pakistan faces is: we are bankrupt. We do not have the capacity to pay the debts. We can’t pay for our expenses, so we have to borrow money,” he said.

“The new government has to strengthen institutions, raise revenues and stop corruption. We are in the worst economic crisis right now,” Imran said. 

How does he respond to allegations that he is supported by the Army and the security agencies? “Same allegations existed before the 2013 elections. But it turned out that in the 2013 elections, all players, including the establishment, were supporting Sharif’s party,” he said. 

He admitted Pakistan’s spy agency, ISI, would have a political role as much as it could have in any elections. “You know if you look around in the public, the only party that’s been growing is PTI. 

All opinion polls show that PTI has gone up. And so to blame our success on being backed by the military is nonsense,” he said. 

He said this is for the first time that PML-N has not been supported by the establishment. “PML-N was born, nurtured in the lap of a military dictator. Nawaz Sharif was the protégé of General Zia. He picked up a businessman and made him a politician. Then ISI backed him in 1990. He’s attacking the military and the Supreme Court, and saying that they’re against him,” he said. 

Ousted Prime Minister Sharif and his heir apparent, daughter Maryam, were convicted of corruption and jailed earlier this month. 

Asked if Imran, if elected PM, would exit the war on terror led by the US, he said, “Of course. We need stability and peace. We need to have good relations with everyone. We do not want a relationship with the US where Pakistan is considered a hired gun paid to fight their war.” 

On US President Donald Trump

“I don’t know whether he’ll want to meet me... But you see the important thing is the relationship between the two countries. My whole idea is that the next relationship with the US should not be this one-dimensional one-sided relationship, where Pakistan is supposed to act and then a few dollars are thrown its way,” he said. 

“It’s cost us a lot in the past 16 years. So I’d like to have a relationship that is mutually beneficial,” he said.