How did an international sportsman—a cricketer—end up in politics, and how did he become prime minister? This may interest you as a way of understanding what I intend to do with Pakistan. I grew up in Pakistan and am part of the first generation of Pakistanis from the 1960s when the country was considered the fastest-growing in Asia and a model for the developing world. I just met Sheikh Mohammed today, and he reminded me that Emirates Airline was helped by Pakistan Airlines in the 1970s. Pakistan was a country with optimism and hope. We grew rapidly, had an excellent governance system, and our bureaucracy was one of the best in Asia. That is the Pakistan I grew up in.
Then, I played international cricket. When I started, Pakistan was one of the weakest teams in the world, and we were emerging from colonialism. So, we took great pride as our team became stronger and competed. By the time I left cricket, Pakistan was the world champion. So I took pride, like my countrymen, as we competed internationally and grew in confidence. But unfortunately our country could not keep up that pace. The life of a country is in cycles, never in a straight line. Some go up, while others go down.
When I left cricket, I started building the first cancer hospital in Pakistan because my mother had died of cancer. I realized there was no cancer hospital in the whole country. I could go abroad, but what happened to the common man? Cancer is one of the most expensive treatments, so I started this movement. When I went out to the public to gather donations, I realized that our people are very generous and strong. The poorest of the poor supported me, and I did what no one ever thought could happen and built the hospital from that public collection. And it is a cancer hospital where 80% of patients get free treatment. They built it, and they run it.
I kept thinking: why is it that people are so generous, but do not pay taxes? Then, I discovered we were among the top five in charitable donations. But, at the same time, we are at the bottom in paying taxes because people do not trust the government. They thought their taxes were wasted by the government and spent on the lavish lifestyle of the ruling elite.
But there was a third reason why I ended up in politics. I used to play professional cricket in England, so half my year was spent in England and half in Pakistan. I saw how a developed country and its institutions worked, why they moved ahead, how governments were accountable, and that there was meritocracy. Above all there was human development—money spent on human beings. But then I also saw other countries develop, one of which was the UAE. I played cricket in the UAE from 1980 onward and saw that the UAE kept on developing. Later, we saw China develop. The common thread in all countries that have gone ahead is governance. This has two aspects. One is that a government has to be accountable. The more accountable and clean a government is, the more successful it is. Second is meritocracy. What is the point of having great talent if you do not have a system of meritocracy that helps it flourish?
My motivation for the Pakistan I wanted to see—and I am a student of history, especially Islamic history—was based on the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the state of Medina that he created, which laid the foundation of one of the greatest civilizations in the history of mankind. The principles that were the foundation of the state of Medina formed what was for the next 700 years the greatest civilization on earth. And what were those principles? Justice and humanity. It was the first time a welfare state was created, a state that took care of the weak, what China has done right now. The state of Medina was the first time a state took responsibility for its poor, weak, orphans, widows, and elderly, and the first time pensions were created. Second, there was justice and the rule of law. Third, the Prophet of Islam, peace be upon him, made seeking knowledge a sacred duty. His last sermon is a charter of human rights about how human beings are equal. It was a humane state created with the rule of law and an emphasis on education that led to the growth of Muslim civilization. This is the basis of the reform program being undertaken in Pakistan.
*From a speech given at the World Government Summit, Dubai, February 10, 2019