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July 24, 2019

No aid needed: PM

Top Story

July 24, 2019

WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday expressed the desire to establish unconditional bilateral relations between Islamabad and Washington based on mutual trust and friendship.

“We would like to have a relationship based on mutual trust, as equals, as friends and not as before when Pakistan wanted aid and in return it was asked to perform certain tasks for the US,” said the prime minister, while speaking at the United States Institute of Peace on the last day of his three-day maiden visit to Washington.

“I am happy to leave the US now, as we have relationship based on mutual interest, which is peace in Afghanistan,” he added.

Prime Minister Imran said that he hated the idea of asking for funds not just from the US but from any other country. “Because, aid has been one of the biggest curses for my country… what it has done is, it has created the dependency syndrome,” he remarked.

“When I returned home from Saudi Arabia, everybody asked what have you got from there, as if I went there asking for money… and I think it’s

humiliating for a country. Countries rise because of self-respect and self-esteem and no country rise by begging for money.

He said he would like to have dignified relationship with the US, where never again should we have this humiliating phase.

“I can tell you as a Pakistani, never did I feel more humiliated when Osama bin Laden was taken out in Pakistan by the US troops. We want to have a relationship of friendship… and doesn’t really matter you know as one friend can be rich and the other can be not that rich, but so what… it’s all about dignified relationship. That’s what I hope to have from here,” he said.

The premier also reiterated the desire to have friendly relations with all immediate neighbours of the country including India. He said that his government reached out to all neighbouring countries to iron out differences and rebuild confidence to establish better trade ties after coming into power last year.

Commenting on the Afghan peace process, Imran Khan vowed that he would try to pursue the Taliban to come to the negotiation table after returning from Washington. He said that a Taliban delegation wanted to meet him a few months back but he did not because of opposition from the Afghan government. “Now I will meet the Taliban and I will try my best to get them to talk to the Afghan government,” he said, adding that he has gained their trust for professing right from the first day that the issue could only be resolved through dialogue.

The prime minister started off the address by narrating his life’s struggle from cricketing days to becoming a social worker and building a cancer hospital and how he formed his political party 23 years ago after realising that the country’s sufferings would not finish just by doing social work.

Prime Minister Imran said Pakistan was the fastest growing country in the region in the 1960s. But, like other colonial countries, corruption held it back after the mid-1980s. He said massive fiscal deficit and corruption remained two biggest challenges for his government after being elected to power in the last year’s polls. He blamed the last two governments of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) for the country’s crippling economy.

“Money which should have be used for public welfare, laundered to foreign countries by the corrupt rulers. In order to take the money out, these political elite destroyed state institutions,” he maintained.

“I felt that I was fighting with a mafia, which has been termed as ‘Sicilian mafia’ by the Supreme Court,” he said.

The prime minister gave credit to his election victory to the country’s youth, saying that over 60 percent of the country’s population is comprised youth, who became his biggest support. “Without social media we wouldn’t have beaten these political mafia parties,” he added.

Commenting on the rising inflation and rupee’s downslope against dollar, Imran Khan said his political opponents spread ‘fake news’ about the country’s economy and that the IMF wanted rupee at a certain value. “We nearly ran out of dollars. Now things are stabilising because of our hard work,” he maintained.

“We are also fixing taxation system. Without expanding tax net, no country can progress. It’s imperative that every Pakistani pays taxes,” he said.

Blaming Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari for increasing the country’s external debt in the last 10 years, he said Pakistan’s total debt in 60 years was Rs6 trillion after Pervez Musharraf’s government, and in the last 10 year they increased it to Rs30 trillion. “They burdened the country with Rs24 trillion through looting and plundering,” he added.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan, in an interview with Fox News said that he found the US President Donald Trump "refreshing and straightforward".

"I was very happy with the meeting. I found President Trump refreshing, no mixing, no juggling with words. He just came out straight with things. Not just me, my whole delegation loved the meeting," he said.

About Afghanistan, he said people in Afghanistan have suffered four decades of conflict. He said the last thing Afghanistan needs is more violence and it needs peace.

"The Taliban should become a part of the political process, so then you would have a government which will represent the people of Afghanistan," he said.

When asked if negotiations had been sufficiently productive, the premier said: "I think they have been the most productive so far. I mean up to date, they have gone the furthest in the two sides coming together."

The host asked the premier about Taliban initiating attacks, such as the one in Dera Ismail Khan on Sunday which was claimed by the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Khorasani group, while negotiations were underway.

"The danger is, of course for Afghanistan and Pakistan, that if we do not have some sort of a peace settlement in Afghanistan, the danger of ISIS is more of a danger not just to us, but to other countries too," replied the prime minister.

He said Pakistan hopes to give good news regarding freeing of some foreigners — including Americans and Australians — kidnapped and held in Afghanistan.

Asked about Dr Shakil Afridi, who has been in detention since 2011 after being taken into custody for helping American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in tracking down al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, Imran Khan said it was a "very emotive issue".

"Shakil Afridi in Pakistan is considered a spy. We in Pakistan always felt that we were an ally of the US and that we had been given the information about Osama bin Laden, we should have taken him out," he said.

The prime minister pointed out: "It was the ISI which gave the information which led to the location of Osama bin Laden. If you ask CIA, it was the ISI which gave the initial location through the phone connection."

“Pakistan was fighting the war for the US, Pakistan wasn't attacked at the time it hugely embarrassed Pakistan," the premier said. "Pakistanis were embarrassed. Here we were, an ally of the US and the US did not trust us, and they actually came in and bombed and killed a man in our territory," he said.

Imran Khan reminded that Pakistan lost 70,000 people in this fight. “We were fighting this war for the US and we lost all these people fighting this war. So there was obviously a lot of anger about the way this whole thing was done. But that's all in the past," he said.

About Dr Afridi, Imran Khan said there are some decisions in a democracy which even a prime minister finds difficult because “we do have an opposition”. “But this is something that can be negotiated. We also have someone in prison in the US, a frail woman called Aafia Siddiqui, so yes we could negotiate some sort of a swap," said the premier.

Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a neurologist, has been languishing in a United States jail on charges of trying to kill US agents and military officers in Afghanistan.

The premier said the prisoner swap was not discussed in the meeting with Trump and that so far no negotiations had started, but Pakistan would be open to it.

Asked if India said we would give up our nuclear weapons, would Pakistan? "Yes," replied the premier. "Because nuclear war is not an option. And between Pakistan and India, the idea of nuclear war is actually self-destruction, because we have two and a half thousand-mile border. Also, I think there's a realisation in the Sub-Continent and there was some incident that happened last February and we again had tension at the border. An Indian plane was shot down in Pakistan,” he said.

"So there's a realisation and that's why I asked President Trump if he could play his role. The US is the most powerful country in the world, the only country that could mediate between Pakistan and India, and the only issue is Kashmir. The only reason for 70 years, that we have not been able to live like civilised neighbours, is because of Kashmir," he said.

The interviewer mentioned India's response to Trump's comments on Narendra Modi asking the US president to mediate. "I really feel that India should come on the table," reiterated the prime minister. "The US could play a big part, President Trump certainly can play a big part. We're talking about 1.3 billion people on this Earth. Imagine the dividends of peace if somehow that issue could be resolved," he said.

When asked about Iran wanting a nuclear weapon, the premier replied, "I can't say but as a neighbour of Iran, we certainly hope that this does not become a full-blown conflict.

"We would love to help if we are asked because we are a neighbour of Iran. the last thing we want is a conflict in Iran, which will obviously affect us. Not just us, but it will affect oil prices, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia. We would do anything for a peaceful resolution," he said.

The premier said there was absolutely no need to worry about Pakistan's nuclear weapons because Pakistan has one of the most professional armies. “We have one of the most comprehensive command and control of our nuclear weapons. The United States knows about it because we share our intelligence with the US about the way we have the safety measures about our nuclear programme," he said.

Imran said the whole idea of his meeting with Trump was that both the countries should be on one page. “This mistrust which has dogged our relationship. Pakistan -- was it an ally or was it an enemy? We were bombed by drone attacks by an ally," said the prime minister.

"All this mistrust in the past, we wanted to reset our relationship based on understanding that we are on the same page. We want peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan will do everything to help the Taliban come on the dialogue table so that there is peace. We struck that understanding today. I came out feeling that we really now are allies. Both of us want peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan will do everything possible to ensure that this peace process goes forward," he said.

Imran Khan said the Pakistan military establishment was always mindful that there would be a two-front situation. “So there would be the eastern front, which is India, and if Afghanistan was also in the Indian sphere of influence then Pakistan would be sandwiched between the two."

He said owing to this worry the military always wanted what it called "strategic depth".

"But this has changed. Today there is no concept in Pakistan of strategic depth. Because we feel that by interfering in Afghanistan, in order to secure the strategic depth, we have actually done a lot of damage to our own country. And for no rhyme or reason we have become partisan in Afghanistan's internal affairs,” he said.

He said that in the past there was always this impression that Pakistan Army is an independent entity and governments have no control over it. "I can sit here and tell you that as I speak, the Pakistan Army is exactly behind the government's programme. Whatever policies from day one, whether it was peace with India, they were behind us," he said, pausing to mention that when he had decided to release the Indian pilot captured by the Army, they supported his decision.

"There is no difference between the policies of Pakistan's security forces or the policies of Pakistan's democratic government," he said.

"Prior to our government coming into power, past governments did not have the political will, we were the first government to start disarming militant groups. We have taken over their institutes, their seminaries, we have (placed) administrators there. For the first time we have decided there will be no armed militias inside our country," he said.

Imran Khan mentioned that in 2004, under pressure from the US, Pakistan Army went into the tribal areas to flush out al-Qaeda. “What happened was, after Tora Bora in Afghanistan, a few of the al-Qaeda moved down into our tribal areas which were semi-autonomous. When they sent the army in, you know armies are not meant to go into civilian areas. Whenever you send your army into civilian areas there will always be human rights abuses because there is no army there, there are just guerillas operating from villages. The collateral damage created what became the Pakistani Taliban. There was no Pakistani Taliban (group) before," he said.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan said the government will provide every possible support to the US investors in Pakistan.

He was talking to a delegation of Bower Group Asia led by its Senior US business executive, which called on him in Washington. The premier apprised the delegation about the investment opportunities in 'Naya Pakistan'. He said measures are being taken for ease of doing business in Pakistan. Investment opportunities in Pakistan also came under discussion during the meeting. The delegation apprised the prime minister of its business projects in Pakistan.

US-Pakistan Business Council delegation led by Myron Brilliant, Executive Vice President and Head of International Affairs of US Chamber of Commerce, also called on Prime Minister Imran Khan at Embassy of Pakistan in Washington DC.

Meanwhile, a delegation of Pakistani-American donors called on Imran Khan in Washington. The donors reiterated their commitment to continue cooperation with Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital.

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