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PM tells CNN there is a chance for peace after 40 years: ‘Taliban should be given time on HR issues’

During an interview with CNN show, Connect the World, Premier Imran spoke at length on the latest Afghan situation, Pak-US relations, terrorism and other issues.

By Our Correspondent
September 16, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has strongly advocated incentivising Taliban’s new government with a view to ending the current crisis and warned against trying to control Afghanistan from outside and insisted the country was on a historic crossroad.

During an interview with CNN show, Connect the World, Premier Imran spoke at length on the latest Afghan situation, Pak-US relations, terrorism and other issues. “Afghanistan is on a historic crossroad: one if it goes well and we pray this works in the direction of peace in that country after 40 years. Taliban hold all of Afghanistan and if they work towards an inclusive government, getting all the factions together, Afghans could have peace after 40 years”.

But, he cautioned that if it went wrong and which was Pakistan really worried about, it could go to chaos, the biggest humanitarian crisis, a huge refugee problem, unstable Afghanistan and the reason why the US came was to fight terrorism or international terrorism, so unstable Afghanistan means, refugees crisis and the possibility of again terrorism from Afghan soil.

On a question regarding Taliban’s legitimacy and women and children rights, PM Imran said that it was wrong to think someone from outside would give Afghan women their rights. Afghan women are strong. Give them time, they will get their rights. Women should have the ability to fulfill their potential in life.

He contended that where Afghanistan goes from here, none could predict. We can hope and pray that there is peace after 40 years and the Taliban would work for it. They have said that they would have an inclusive government, grant women rights in their own context and that they want human rights. They have already given amnesty. So, so far, what they have said clearly they want international acceptability.

Premier Imran pointed out that there was another fallacy that Afghanistan could be controlled. They have a history, no puppet government in Afghanistan is supported by Afghan people: it gets discredited among people. “So instead of sitting here and thinking that we can sort of control them, we should incentivise them because their current government clearly feels that without international aid and support, they would not be able to stop the crisis. So we should incentivise them, push them in the right direction,” he emphasized.

To a question, Prime Minister Imran said he had not spoken to US President Joe Biden since the collapse of the Afghan government. When asked to confirm that Biden had not called him since coming into office, Premier Imran replied, “He is a busy man”. When asked Pakistan is a major non-Nato ally and yet no call between you (Imran) and the US president, does he see this as punishment for supporting the Taliban while they were killing US troops, Prime Minister Imran replied that Biden should be asked why he is too busy to call. We want a normal relationship. “I would imagine he’s very busy, but our relationship with the US is not just dependent on a phone call, it needs to be a multidimensional relationship,” said Khan. Prime Minister Imran said he would now like to see the US-Pakistan relationship to be like the US has a relationship with India, and not a one-dimensional relationship where they are paying us to fight.

In the ‘80s, he said, Pakistan joined the US against the Soviets and trained the Mujahideen to do Jihad against foreign occupation in Afghanistan and then fast forward to 9/11, US needs us in Afghanistan. George Bush asked Pakistan to help and he famously said, “We will not abandon Pakistan again”. Pakistan joined the US war in Afghanistan. And if I was the Prime Minister, I would never have done that”.

He said after the US invasion of Afghanistan, the same Mujahideen’s acts were deemed terrorism and as a result of that they turned against Pakistan. Then Pashtun nationalism kicked in the entire tribal belt of Pashtuns on our side of the border. However, he emphasised that Pakistan suffered greatly after siding with the US in the war in Afghanistan after 9/11 and noted at one point, there were 50 militant groups attacking our government “So the Jihadis turned against us, the Pashtuns turned against us, and the more we tried military operations in civilian areas, the more collateral damage took place,” he noted and continued that on top of the militant groups’ violence, there were 480 drone attacks by the US in Pakistan — the only time a country had been attacked by its ally.

When asked about the reasons for the trust deficit on ground realities between the West and Pakistan, he remarked, “It is complete ignorance. The Americans did not understand what the Haqqani network was”. PM Imran called it a Pashtun tribe living in Afghanistan. He recalled at the time of the Afghan Jihad in the 1980s, Pakistan hosted five million Afghan refugees, which included some Haqqanis who were Mujahideen fighting the Soviets. They were born in a Pakistani refugee camp.

He said what they (Americans) were asking us was that we were supposed to check among three million Afghan refugees which ones were Taliban and which were not. Responding to allegations that Pakistan’s intelligence was funding and supporting the Taliban through the Haqqani network, he explained the total budget of Pakistan is $50 billion for 220 million people and then asked did we have the capacity to fund another war while we can barely meet our own expenses?. The US has repeatedly accused Pakistan of harboring terrorists and given them safe haven, a claim he denied. “What are these safe havens?” khan asked. “The area of Pakistan along the border of Afghanistan had the heaviest surveillance by the United States drones ... surely they would have known if there were any safe havens?” by not standing up to the us, previous Pakistani heads of state opened themselves up to accusations of collaboration, khan said.

He then explained that intelligence agencies’ job is to speak to everyone and have connections to everyone. PM Imran said, “the question is: was Pakistan in a position to take military action against the Afghan Taliban when it was already being attacked from inside by the Pakistani Taliban”.

Speaking on US-Pakistan relation, Prime Minister Imran said Islamabad’s relationship with Washington during the US occupation of Afghanistan was a terrible one and said the US paid Pakistan some $20 billion in civilian and military aid and we were like a hired gun,” Khan said. “We were supposed to make them (the US) win the war in Afghanistan, which we never could.” Khan said he repeatedly warned us officials that America could not achieve its objectives militarily, and would “be stuck there.” He said the US should have attempted a political settlement with the Taliban from a “position of strength,” at the height of its presence in Afghanistan, not as it was withdrawing. But the Pakistani people suffered due to bomb blasts and the country lost $150 billion to the economy.

He termed refugees as the biggest concern emanating out of Afghanistan and said Pakistan was already hosting three million and could not afford any more, whereas the second worry is terrorism. “We have three sets of terrorism. Terrorists in Afghanistan using the soil to attack us, ISIS, Pakistani Taliban and the Baloch terrorists: Pakistan is the country that would suffer the most if there was chaos in Afghanistan and stability is not achieved,” he warned.

On Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US would reassess its ties with Pakistan following the withdrawal. He told Congress during a House Foreign Affairs committee hearing that Pakistan has a “multiplicity of interests some that are in conflict with ours.”

“It is one that is involved hedging its bets constantly about the future of Afghanistan, it’s one that’s involved harbouring members of the Taliban. It is one that’s also involved in different points cooperation with us on counterterrorism,” Blinken said, Reuters reported.

Khan called such comments “ignorant,” telling CNN that “I have never heard such ignorance.” As a neighboring country with deep cultural ties, the fate of Pakistan is tethered to that of Afghanistan. Violence, political tumult and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan all inevitably spill across the border. For Khan, the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was disastrous for Pakistan.