Monday Oct 11, 2021
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is speaking to various groups of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from a position of strength, said Prime Minister Imran Khan in an interview with Middle East Eye.
PM Imran Khan said Islamabad is trying to speak to elements within the TTP who can be reconciled "because it’s from a position of strength".
"I always believed all insurgencies eventually end up on the dialogue table, like the IRA [Irish Republican Army] for instance," he explained.
"We now have to talk to those we can reconcile with [and persuade] to give up their arms and live as normal citizens," he added.
He spoke about the sacrifices rendered by Pakistan in the War on Terror, saying that Pakistan had lost 80,000 citizens and its economy had been left devastated.
The prime minister said the Taliban had assured Islamabad that the TTP would not launch attacks into Pakistan. He accused India of instigating terrorism in Pakistan via Afghanistan, during the Ashraf Ghani-led government.
"Events in Afghanistan are still evolving, people like us still don't know where it will go," he said. "The US vacating the region will create a vacuum," he acknowledged.
The prime minister said Afghanistan is a trade corridor that connects Pakistan to the Central Asian countries. "And so, it is a very important country that way," he said.
"It should not be a 'US vs China' camp. Now, it should be about economic ties, economic connectivity. That's what we are looking for," he added.
PM Imran Khan said the Taliban had people among its leadership who had given a lot of sacrifices in blood. These people, he said, would now want to be a part of the government.
"And yet the government [in Afghanistan] is looking for international acceptability," he explained. "So it wants an inclusive government. It talks about human rights and not wanting its soil to be used for terrorism."
PM Imran Khan said it is a "critical point in Afghanistan" and called on the world to engage with the country.
The prime minister spoke about US President Joe Biden, saying that he is yet to speak to arguably the most powerful person in the world.
"Well, you know, it's up to him. It's [US] a superpower," he said.
When the interviewer told him he found that "absolutely astonishing" that the two heads of states had not yet spoken, PM Khan said:
"Well, our security chiefs have spoken. Our foreign minister has been in touch with the US foreign secretary. But no, we haven't spoken, but we are in touch," he added.
The premier spoke about his visit to the US back in 2008, adding that he had spoken to Biden, John Kerry and Harry Reid – then all senators - warning them that they were creating a problem for themselves in war-torn Afghanistan.
Khan said he had warned the three that there was no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, however, he added that they did not listen to him.
He said a couple of years later, then Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, delivered the same message to US President Barack Obama.
"But unfortunately, they were led by their generals. And do you know what generals always say: give us more troops and more time," he added.
When asked about the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the cricketer-turned-politician said Islamabad was "relieved" as it expected a bloodbath when the Taliban were about to take over the capital a couple of months ago.
"We have been so relieved because we expected a bloodbath but what happened was a peaceful transfer of power. But we also felt we were blamed for this," he noted.
The prime minister said the Afghanistan Army, numbering around 300,000 troops, had surrendered without a fight to the Taliban. "So clearly we did not tell them to surrender."
When asked whether the Taliban had formed an inclusive government in the country, Khan admitted it was not one. However, he said the current Afghan government, as per the Taliban itself, was a transitional one.
He said Pakistan was working with regional countries, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, who had more sizable ethnic populations, to ensure the Taliban agreed to a more diverse representation in its government.
A longtime critic of America's drone strikes in Pakistan and other countries, PM Imran Khan lashed out at Washington's strategy to counter terrorism through drone attacks.
"It is the most insane way of fighting terrorism. Doing a drone attack on a village mud hut and expecting there will not be casualties. And a lot of time the drones targeted the wrong people," he stressed.
When asked whether Pakistan will allow the US to launch strikes into Afghanistan, targeting Daesh, the prime minister said: "They don’t need a base here because we do not need to be part of a conflict again."
When the prime minister was asked to speak his mind on the England and Wales Cricket Board's (ECB) decision to pull out of the Pakistan tour against the British High Commission's advice, PM Imran Khan said "I think England let itself down".
The prime minister said that he had seen the evolution of Pakistan-England cricket ties over the years.
"I think that there is still this feeling in England that they do a great favour to play countries like Pakistan," he added. "One of the reasons is that, obviously, the money."
The prime minister said that the BCCI is the richest cricket board in the world, adding that no other country would dare to do to India what England had done to Pakistan.
"Money is a big player now," he said. "For the players, as well as for the cricket boards. The money lies in India, so basically India controls world cricket now. I mean, they do, whatever they say goes. No one would dare do that to India because they know that the sums involved, India can sort of produce much more money," he added.