Supporters of Imran Khan listen as he speaks at an anti-government protest on December 15, 2014. Credit: Getty
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How to defeat Pakistan’s corrupt elite and return wealth to the people

The Pakistani opposition leader, Imran Khan, outlines his vision for change.

My Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – or Pakistan Movement for Justice – was always envisaged as more than merely a traditional political party. It is a movement to fight for a just and equal society based on the system that our Prophet laid down in the Medina Charter, which was the foundation of the model Islamic state. This is an egalitarian society based on the rule of law and economic justice – the first welfare state in the history of mankind. Unfortunately, as the philosopher Ibn Khaldun predicted, when the Muslims’ commitment to justice declined, so did their civilisation.

It is these principles of justice and egalitarianism that Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, envisaged for the country: this vision served as my inspiration for naya (new) Pakistan. For PTI, it is not just “politics”: it is a commitment to building a welfare state where the rule of law, meritocracy and transparency are guaranteed to all of our citizens. Pakistan is a country with abundant natural resources and wealth that have been stolen by a corrupt and predatory elite. We are committed to bringing this stolen wealth back to be used for the welfare of our people.

In 2013, my party was able to form a government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. With a focus on revamping the provincial state machinery, PTI implemented police reforms based on meritocracy and professionalism without political interference. Today, the KP police force is a model for other provinces to emulate. We have put in place reforms in the civil justice system, including effective alternative dispute resolution mechanisms – allowing issues to be resolved without going to court.

While other provinces and the federal government chose to concentrate on mega-projects with mega-kickbacks, PTI’s vision for human development focused the KP government’s resources on health, education, female empowerment and the environment. To ensure that people take charge of their lives, we devolved power to the village level in the local government system.

My commitment to preserving and improving the environment became part of the KP government’s agenda: the success of the Billion Tree Tsunami, through which huge deforested areas have been reclaimed and new trees planted, is acknowledged globally. KP is the most active participant in the Bonn Challenge (the global effort to bring 350 million hectares of the world’s deforested land into restoration by 2030).

The multiplier effect of this great project has improved the lives of locals, including women, who have been given charge and paid salaries for maintaining the nurseries and overseeing plantation activity.

My commitment to quality education for all led me to establish Namal College in underdeveloped Mianwali, where the majority of students are educated for free and awarded degrees from the University of Bradford – proving they can excel equally with their peers in developed nations. The same commitment is embedded in KP’s education policy. KP is the only province that has consistently allocated more than 20 per cent of its budget to education, in line with Unesco’s recommendation.

I have seen how marginalised and dispossessed street children become victims of the sex trade, criminal gangs and drug peddlers. To rescue these children we established the Zamung Kor programme in KP, comprising school and housing, and enabling youngsters to realise their full potential in a supportive environment. We are also committed to integrating madrasa students into the provincial education system, upgrading these religious schools’ educational facilities and bringing them within the government’s oversight.

The provision of quality health care for all is a goal of mine that was first realised in the building of the world-class Shaukat Khanum cancer hospital in Lahore, where 70 per cent of patients get free care. In KP, it has been an arduous task breaking through the entrenched vested interests, but our persistence has enabled the structural reform of the public health system. Granting financial and administrative autonomy to specialised hospitals through a board of governors has been crucial. We have also introduced “health cards” so that those earning less than $2 a day can be treated for free.

In recognition of the central role of women in Pakistani society and their importance to our national development, we have provided mobile medical facilities, especially for female patients, in the outlying areas of KP. We built the first female cadet college in the country in Mardan, where the first batch of students graduated last month. And special helplines have been set up for women suffering abuse and violence.

The achievements in KP are merely a starting point for implementing our vision. Our priority is investment in human development through quality education and health care for all; poverty alleviation must be a goal linked to a progressive taxation regime.

I have always believed that women shape future generations and must be empowered economically and politically alongside men, including equality in jobs and pay. We are committed to ensuring that women can exercise their right to vote during elections; Islam gives women rights to inheritance, as does the law in Pakistan, but this is too often ignored or violated. We must ensure all citizens are informed of their rights under the constitution.

We are committed to extensive judicial reforms of the kind begun in KP – as I have seen how ordinary citizens tread an expensive and tortuous path as they seek justice.

The Pakistani state must be responsive to the people in an accountable and transparent manner, and the nation’s development must be on the basis of equality and inclusivity. Only then can Pakistan play a stabilising role in the region, resolving to seek peace with its neighbours through conflict resolution and co-operation. Our general election in July is critical for the future of my country. 

Imran Kahn leads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and serves as a member of the National Assembly.

This article first appeared in the 12 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Syria’s world war

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“He keeps asking me, is it sad to be an old woman?”: sparring with the French director Claire Denis

The provocative auteur talks to Ryan Gilbey about sex at 71, her obsession with Juliette Binoche and why his questions are “maybe a little bit pretentious.”

The 71-year-old French director Claire Denis is pocket-sized, but then so is a grenade. Welcoming me into her London hotel room, where a single lamp provides the only resistance against the fading light, she gets straight down to business. First there is the English-language title of her latest film, Let the Sunshine In. “I’m very unhappy with it.” She wanted A Bright Sun In. There is scarcely time to point out to her that this brisk, playful movie, about a middle-aged Parisian artist (Juliette Binoche) searching for love, is undamaged by the mistranslation. Denis has moved on, and is pondering the post-screening Q&A session she’ll take part in later. “I hate Q&As! You see a film, you don’t want to ask questions. All those stupid explanations.” She touches her throat, still tender from an operation three weeks ago. “The doctor removed a virus.” Really? You mean a cyst, or a tumour? “No!” she says crossly. “A virus.” Then she softens: “It was like coral from the ocean.” There is an odd glint in her eye, fearful but unmistakably titillated.

That look is there in her work, too. No other living director, not even Pedro Almodóvar or Catherine Breillat, has quite her knack for untangling the mysteries of sexual desire, or the role played in it by gender, race and class. It is the warmth, inquisitiveness and mischief in her films that make them so seductive. She is not above being shocking, as she was in the revenge thriller Bastards, set in a world of sexual exploitation where unspeakable acts are committed with a corncob, or Trouble Every Day, in which horny vampires nip out for a bite after sex. She is at her best, though, in a gentler or more thoughtful register.

Two fine films at either end of her career have dissected the tensions between white colonialists and black Africans. Her 1988 debut, Chocolat, set in colonial Cameroon, drew on her own childhood as the daughter of a civil servant; the family moved around French West Africa before Denis returned in her teens to Paris, her birthplace, to finish her education. She revisited the subject in her 2010 drama White Material, starring Isabelle Huppert as the owner of a coffee plantation in an unnamed turbulent African country. Unable to see that she is part of the problem, she continues making coffee while the nation burns.

Denis’s favourite among her films might be 35 Shots of Rum, an elliptical study of people of African descent living in a Parisian suburb. She retracts the remark. “I don’t have a favourite. Which is yours? Tell me.” That’s easy. Beau Travail (1999) which transposes Billy Budd (both the Melville novel and the Benjamin Britten opera) to a Foreign Legion post in Djibouti. Like much of her work, it has little dialogue. Why give an actor a monologue when character can be more elegantly expressed in shots of him fastidiously ironing his uniform or hurling his body around an empty dancefloor to “The Rhythm of the Night” by Corona?

Denis swoons. “Ah, Beau Travail. We had Benjamin Britten playing on these tiny loudspeakers. I was sleeping two hours a night. We were on the edge! It was great. I loved my 15 guys. And the real Foreign Legion wanted to stop us.” She mimes someone peering through binoculars. “They thought we were shooting a gay porno movie.”

You can understand the error. Much of the fascination of Beau Travail stems from its unusual gender dynamic: it’s an intensely homoerotic reverie in which many of the core personnel (not just Denis but her cinematographer and editor) happen to be female. As far back as the 1996 Nénette et Boni, about a young pizza-seller smitten with a female baker, Denis was complicating the audience’s point-of-view. We hear the oversexed fellow recounting his breathless fantasies, most of which revolve around the things he wants to do to the buxom baker with his “big French stick”. What we see, however, is an extended shot of his bare torso, the camera admiring the magnificent slopes of his shoulders and the play of light on his mahogany skin. The desirer has become the desired.

As her latest film demonstrates, Denis is an equal opportunities sensualist. Let the Sunshine In, wordier than we have come to expect from her, is an unabashed celebration of Binoche. “What brings everything together is Juliette’s frankness and strength. We were having lunch one day and I caught a glimpse of her cleavage. I said, ‘Juliette, I want to show what a sexy woman you are. Every shot in the film I am going to show your cleavage. Your legs, your feet, your hands, a short skirt, high heels, leather jacket.’ She is sexier than any young girl on the red carpet.”

Denis, too, is wearing a leather jacket. Her vanilla hair is full of kinks, her tiny buttonhole eyes darting and alert. She sniffs the air. “Am I dreaming or can I smell a joint?” She squints at the window, which looks out onto a dingy Soho back-street, and inhales deeply. “Such a nice smell…”

I steer her back to Binoche. The pair went straight from finishing Let the Sunshine In to their next collaboration, the intimate intergalactic story High Life, which is exactly the way Denis likes it. She can’t bear letting go of her actors. “In life I am maybe not possessive enough. But in film – so much.” Directing Huppert in White Material, she was forever touching the actor’s hair, petting her almost, telling her: “I want to take you home with me.” She hates it when someone she has worked with appears in another director’s movie. “I get jealous. You spend two months looking so closely at them that you can tell if a single eyelash is out of place. Then they are gone.”

 Sensual: Denis with leading lady Juliette Binoche. Credit: Francois G. Durand/Getty

High Life, Denis’s first movie in English as well as her first with special effects, throws her together with another cinematic phenomenon – the actor Robert Pattinson, currently doing a bang-up job of distancing himself from the Twilight series that made his name. Pattinson, a long-time Denis fan, has called High Life her “craziest” film and described the director as a “punk”. She looks aghast. “My craziest? No. His, maybe. Well, there is some craziness in it but I won’t tell you where. Yes, Robert said many times he was afraid because I was like a punk. I am a simple person. I just try to communicate simply.” High Life also brought her into the orbit of Zadie Smith and her husband Nick Laird. “They didn’t write anything,” she explains. “I met with them because I wanted more than just a translation of the French script. But they felt there was no space for their own vision.” (At the time of writing, Smith and Laird are still listed as its co-writers on IMDb and Wikipedia.) The movie will feature music by the British band Tindersticks, whose frontman, Stuart Staples, has been working with Denis on and off for years. My suggestion that their gorgeous scores are the glue between her movies prompts her angriest objection yet.

“Glue? No, it is not glue! Glue holds things together. Music is there to be like the soul.”

I say that I meant it in the same way that Nino Rota’s music connects Fellini’s films.

She sits back in her chair, eyeing me suspiciously. “Hmm. I will ask Stuart. But it is maybe a little bit pretentious.”

What we can agree on is that Let the Sunshine In explores a subject overlooked by most cinema: the role of love and sex in the lives of older women. While Denis was shooting the film, her mother died at the age of 94. “She was very clear-minded, still interested in sex and attraction.” One night, she fell out of bed and Denis had to enlist a strapping young Italian from a nearby pizza joint – it could be a scene from one of her films – to come to the rescue. He scooped the old woman up in his arms and slipped her back into bed as though sliding a pizza into the oven. “Once he was gone, my mother looked up and said, ‘He was so good-looking!’”

Is it harder for women to express their sexuality as they get older? Denis thinks not. “It is worse sometimes for men. They are so afraid to not get a hard-on.” We can always use Viagra, I suggest. She scoffs. “That’s no fun. Better that I use a piece of wood or buy a sex toy. I think it’s humiliating for a man to take Viagra. It’s so good to be together as a couple and both of you can feel the hard-on going and coming back and going again. The smell of sex coming in, coming out.”

She has been married once and is now divorced. The ring she wears was given to her by “the man I live with. The man I love.” They have no children. “I decided at 39 I didn’t want to be a mother. No regrets, no crying. Maybe because my own mother was not so happy to be one. She told me, ‘You don’t need to be a mother!’ She was so free.”

Only when she sees a photograph of herself does Denis realise she is ageing. “Inside, not at all.” I ask if she notices that she is treated any differently now she is 71. “Sometimes when I’m walking or riding my bicycle, I’ll hear a guy whistle and then he passes me and sees my face and says, ‘Oh, sorry!’” She laughs. “Maybe from the back I’m better.” And is she happy? “With getting older? It’s a disaster. It’s a wreck. To be able to stay up for three nights without sleep, to get so drunk you are in a coma – these things I miss the most. On the other hand, my body is able to move, I still have feelings and I’m making films.”

She has to prepare for the dreaded Q&A now. The PR assistant hovers nearby. “I overheard something about joints and Viagra,” he says. “Claire, were you incriminating yourself?”

She jabs a finger in my direction like a scolded child trying to shift the blame. “He kept asking me, ‘Is it sad to be an old woman?’”

I protest that this wasn’t quite how I phrased it. “You raised the question many times,” she says, sniggering naughtily.

“Well, you’re not so young either. And you will suffer, too.” She takes my hand in hers, which is warm and firm, and musters her sweetest smile. “So fuck you,” she says. 

Let The Sunshine In is released on 20 April

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge