Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan on Tuesday stressed the need for cooperation with the Taliban-led Afghan administration and rebuked the coalition government's "irresponsible statements" against it.
Islamabad has recurrently criticised Kabul's failure to implement its promise of ensuring that Afghanistan isn't used for terrorism and has raised concerns over the presence of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants in the neighbouring state.
In November 2022, TTP ended its ceasefire with Pakistan — which has been in effect since June of the same year. The cessation of the ceasefire led to an immediate increase in terror activities across the country, which left several people dead and scores injured, despite the government's "zero-tolerance" policy towards terrorism.
Addressing a seminar via video link, Khan said that he has always suggested a political solution to matters related to Afghanistan rather than a military solution.
Recounting the events of the early 2000s, Khan said “throughout that time, I opposed Pakistan’s involvement in the war in countless forums and said that we should remain neutral in the American war. I opposed sending army to Waziristan, but no one paid attention.”
“Since the Afghan jihad was fought from tribal areas and the Mujahideen used to go to Afghanistan from there, the tribesmen ended up directly participating in the war. This allowed our enemies to exploit the situation and make the situation worse,” the former PM elaborated.
He said that if Pakistan had been neutral, and had not allowed the Taliban to come under the impression that we were "supporting" America, terrorism would not have taken place in the country.
“We suffered the most from suicide attacks,” Khan said, “and once the US realised that no weapon could counter suicide attacks, they backed out of Afghanistan.”
The PTI chief further added that the US retreat from Afghan soil was a “golden opportunity” for Pakistan to restore its neutral stance and find a peaceful solution to the issue of TTP after the establishment of a "pro-Pakistani government" in Afghanistan in August 2021.
“We tried our best to be friends with the Ghani government and decided not to interfere in Afghanistan,” he said.
Khan said that this effort to find a political solution between the Taliban and the Ghani government paid off and for the first time in Afghanistan, the "pro-Pakistan government of the Taliban" came into power.
“We even evacuated around 300,000 foreigners from Afghanistan due to our strong relations with the new government,” said Khan.
The PTI chief further added that the matter of the merger of Tribal Areas was of crucial importance for the development of these areas and thwarting terrorism in the country, but that the issue had been sidelined.
The former PM reiterated the provinces’ declaration to contribute 3% of their NFC awards towards uplifting the erstwhile FATA region.
“However, Only Punjab and KP gave money for the FATA region,” he said.
Khan added that these contributions would have drastically improved the lives of the people in the tribal areas and would have effectively silenced the groups in the regions who were opposed to the merger.
“After our government was toppled by the PML-N and foreign powers, Khan lamented, “no one realised the importance of providing the funds to the tribal areas, and the financing was stopped.”
However, the new government was focused on ending the corruption cases against itself, not the country’s economy, said the PTI chief.
Criticising the coalition government, Khan said that it had wrecked the country’s economy and had allowed terrorism to grow by ignoring it.
He said that border control was the responsibility of the federal government and that it was not possible to fight the "battle-hardened" terrorists with the weapons that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police had.
“I had already forewarned that the country’s economy would not be able to bear the brunt of the resurgence of terrorism,” Khan said, stressing the need to end terrorism in the country.
He said that the country’s two biggest threats were an unstable economy and terrorism and should the latter resurface, KP would be its biggest casualty, having suffered greatly from the presence of terrorist elements in the past as well.
The PTI chief said the coalition government was not focusing on talks with its Afghan counterpart and that Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari's first foreign trip should have been to the war-torn neighbouring country.
The former prime minister said military operations "never" bear fruit and can only be one part of peace agreements, as he reiterated that the government should engage with the Taliban to avoid terror activities on Pakistani soil.
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At her statement, audience erupted into cheers and laughter