KOLKATA - The Pakistan of today is a distant shadow of what its founder, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, wanted the country to be but there's still hope for it, says Imran Khan.

In an exclusive chat with the Times of India, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan saays that Pakistan's urban middle class and youth has got mobilised and is determined to break from the past to usher in change. Quite like how Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rode to power in Delhi on widespread disenchantment with mainstream political parties, says Imran.

The cricketing legend dreams of a borderless South Asia which can become an economic powerhouse. "While crossing the border at Wagah, I wondered why our sub-continent can't be like Europe. A unified economic bloc would dramatically alleviate poverty and open up limitless opportunities. There can be an energy corridor from Iran to China. Imagine the possibilities," he said.

But, he added, Kashmir is a stumbling block. Imran believes a resolution is only possible through talks. "I don't know what could be the exact solution in Kashmir, but we came very close to resolution twice. However, the leadership on both the sides were weak," said the PTI head.

Imran said he takes on "powerful and entrenched forces" in his country — like the corrupt political-military-landowner-industrialist complex or the USA for its drone attacks — because he has nothing to lose. "PTI's primary goal is to clean Pakistan of corruption. There will be no compromise with corruption," he said, pointing out that the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has sacked three ministers belonging to its Quami Watan Party ally on charges of corruption and fraud.

"The ruling alliance in that province now has a wafer-thin majority, but we never compromised. Unlike AAP, which has formed the government with Congress support, PTI rejected offers from both Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Sharif (PML-N) to form coalition governments. We will not compromise on corruption, come what may," he said.

According to Imran, Islam ought to make a state humane and just. "The Holy Prophet (PBUH) left a democratic state founded on the principles of equality and rule of law. It was the world's first democratic and welfare state. That's the ideal I want Pakistan to strive for," he said.

"I want all citizens of Pakistan to be equal before the law. The minorities must be equal citizens of Pakistan. It pains me whenever minorities are discriminated against or come under attack."

The US drone attacks anger Imran. "Far from eliminating militants, drone strikes spawn hatred towards USA and swell the ranks of militant outfits. There are many Taliban groups and the drone attacks are simply unifying them into one fighting force. The way out is to negotiate with them," said Imran, who is scathing in his condemnation of the US and successive governments in Pakistan that have allowed drone strikes for $1.5 billion aid.

"Can Pakistan conduct a drone strike on US soil to eliminate an enemy? How is it that there is one set of human rights laws for the West and another for us? Are we children of a lesser God?" he asked. When asked how negotiations with the Taliban, who propagate an extreme form of Islam, will help, Imran replies: "It has nothing to do with religion. It is only political. It makes eminent common sense to have this dialogue."

The US' 'war on terror' has proved totally counterproductive, he points out. "It is disastrous for US and more so for Pakistan. The US has left the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and some other countries in a miserable state. It's a travesty of justice and humanity," said Imran.

He says, "What Pakistan did in Bangladesh in 1971 was terrible. We have to apologize for those atrocities. General Yahya Khan's machinations to keep Sheikh Mujib from becoming the PM after he won the elections was one of the biggest mistakes Pakistan ever made".

PTI is the best bet for Pak-India peace, he said. And who does Imran see in India as the best bet for this? "Don't know really, but when BJP came to power, we all thought Pak-India relations would deteriorate. But dramatic advances were made under Vajpayee," he said. What about Narendra Modi? Imran, clad in a black suit, rises from the sofa to his full 6'1" frame and, with a warm smile, says: "All I know is that there's no stopping the PTI from coming to power in Pakistan. And that'll be good for India."