Pakistan’s prime minister reiterates concerns with economic crisis in Afghanistan leading to resurgence of terrorism, humanitarian crisis
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday reiterated his belief that the international community needs to continue engaging with the Taliban in Afghanistan rather than breaking ties with the group, claiming this can be used to “push it” toward the right direction.
“[Aid] could be used to push the group toward the right direction and legitimacy,” he told CNN in an interview from his home in Islamabad. “No puppet government in Afghanistan is supported by the people,” he said, adding that a better approach was to incentivize the group to adhere to international norms. “Afghanistan, this current government, clearly feels that without international aid and help, they will not be able to stop this crisis. So we should push them in the right direction,” he added.
The prime minister described the situation in Afghanistan as a “historic crossroad,” reiterating his claims of the country being poised to achieve peace after 40 years of conflict. However, he said, this was only possible if the Taliban were able to form an inclusive government that included all local factions. “But if it goes wrong, which is what we are really worried about, it could go to chaos [and result in] the biggest humanitarian crisis, a huge refugee problem, and the reemergence of terrorism,” he said, adding this was why the Taliban regime wanted international aid to avoid disaster.
Khan claimed that if the Taliban had taken over Afghanistan through military force, the country would be in the midst of a civil war. He said Pakistan would suffer the most in that situation and wanted to avoid it. He said potential refugees from Afghanistan were the biggest concern of Pakistan, adding the country was already hosting three million and could not afford any more. The second greatest concern, he said, was terrorism. “We have three sets of terrorism. Terrorists in Afghanistan using the soil to attack us, ISIS, [and] Pakistani Taliban and the Baloch terrorists,” he said. He urged the global community to “give them [Taliban] time” to deliver on their promises and form a legitimate government.
To a question on the U.S.’s decision to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan, the prime minister said Washington should have attempted to negotiate a political settlement from a position of strength. He also reiterated his claims of Pakistan suffering thousands of casualties in terror attacks because it had decided to support the U.S.’ war on terror.
“Just because we sided with the U.S., we became an ally of the U.S. after 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan. The suffering this country went through … at one point there were 50 militant groups attacking our government … there were 480 drone attacks by the U.S. in Pakistan,” he added.
To another question on the recent visit by Pakistan’s spy chief to Afghanistan—before any civilian—Khan said intelligence agencies of all countries maintain contacts with different groups, including the CIA. “The U.S. does not know about the on the ground situation, which is why it does not trust Pakistan,” he claimed.
To another query on the U.S. accusing Pakistan of harboring terrorists, Khan claimed this was “ignorant” and demanded proof. “What are these safe havens? 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?” he said.
He also claimed that Pakistan was unable to check for Haqqani Network militants in its refugee camps, adding that the U.S. did not understand the group’s origins. “The Haqqani Network is a tribe,” he claimed. “It is a Pashtun tribe living in Afghanistan,” he said, adding that among the millions of refugees Pakistan was hosting, there were a “few Haqqanis and Haqqanis were the mujahideen fighting the Soviets.”
[Editor’s Note: The prime minister’s description of the Haqqanis as a “tribe” is factually incorrect. The Haqqani Network group is named after founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, who belongs to the Zadran tribe; there is no “Haqqani tribe.” It is believed the Haqqani name comes from Jalaluddin’s education at the Darul Uloom Haqqania madrassa in Pakistan.]
The prime minister said that Pakistan had not taken any military action against the Afghan Taliban because they had not attacked the country. “Pakistan had its own internal matters to look at, such as attacks from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan,” he said, adding that had he been in government in 2001, he would have pursued a different course of action. “I cannot destroy my country to fight someone else’s war,” he said. “My responsibility would have been to the people of my country,” he added.
To another question, he said he had not yet met or talked to U.S. President Joe Biden following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. “He did not call as he is a busy man,” he said.
When questioned on whether he supports the Taliban’s treatment of women, including their exclusion from sports, Khan said foreign countries could not impose women’s rights on Afghanistan. “I feel very strongly that it is a mistake to think that someone from the outside will give Afghan women their rights; Afghan women are strong. Give them time, and they will get their rights,” he said.