In interview, Pakistan’s prime minister reiterates calls for global engagement with Taliban, claims Islamabad’s talks with TTP from ‘position of strength’
Defending his silence on the reported mistreatment of Uighur Muslims in China, Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that he considers as immoral “selective pronouncements” on human rights.
“Our relationship with China is such that we have an understanding between us,” he told the Middle East Eye in an interview broadcast on Monday. “We will talk to each other, but behind closed doors because that is their nature and culture,” he said, stressing that ties between Pakistan and China had stood the test of time and Beijing had helped protect Islamabad from bankruptcy.
Questioning why the West did not discuss Indian actions against Muslim minorities in India-held Kashmir as vocally as it did China’s treatment of Uighurs, Khan said his government had decided to focus solely on the Kashmir issue. “Let the world take notice of that first, then we will talk about other violations of human rights,” he said.
Reiterating his belief that the world needed to engage with the Taliban government in Afghanistan or risk a “vacuum” that could be exploited by militant groups, Khan said peace in Kabul was very important for Pakistan, as it would allow for the emergence of a trade corridor connecting Islamabad to Central Asian countries. “It should not be a ‘U.S. vs China’ camp. Now, it should be about economic ties, economic connectivity. That’s what we are looking for,” he said.
Khan said the Taliban’s government wanted international recognition so would attempt to form an inclusive government. “It [Taliban government] talks about human rights and not wanting its soil to be used for terrorism,” he said, while admitting that the current setup was not “inclusive” of all the groups that comprise Afghanistan.
However, he said, the Taliban had stressed that the current Afghan government was “transitional” and would be amended. He said Pakistan was working with regional countries such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to work with the Taliban to ensure more diverse representation in its government.
Responding to a question on the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, he said Islamabad had been “relieved” that it had been largely peaceful, as there were expectations of a bloody, drawn out civil war. “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 said, adding that the Afghanistan National Army, numbering around 300,000 troops, had surrendered without a fight. “So clearly we did not tell them to surrender,” he said.
Reiterating that abandoning Afghanistan at this stage was tantamount to allowing the country to regress 20 years, he said this would be a total waste of the U.S.’s efforts. “What will the U.S. have to show after 20 years? Therefore, a stable Afghanistan government, which can then take on ISIS, and the Taliban are the best bet to take on ISIS, that is the only option left,” he said.
On the issue of women rights, the prime minister said the Taliban should be incentivized to “”walk the talk” and claimed the group had already pledged to “allow” women to work and get educated “in line with Islam.”
To a question on Islamabad initiating dialogue with various groups of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)—as announced by Khan last month—the prime minister claimed it was from a “position of strength.” He said he believed “all insurgencies eventually end up on the dialogue table,” adding that the government hoped to convince the militants to surrender their arms and live as normal citizens.
Reiterating his claims of Pashtuns in Pakistan targeting the state over its decision to ally itself with the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, he said Islamabad had been as a “collaborator” of the U.S. “At one point there were 50 different groups calling themselves the Taliban [and] attacking us,” he said, adding that the U.S.’s exit from the region had ended this perception.
“We are no longer collaborators because we are not allying ourselves with anyone fighting the Pashtuns so the motivation has gone down. Now we are trying to talk to those who can be reconciled because it is from a position of strength,” he said, adding that the Taliban had assured Islamabad they would not allow the TTP to launch attacks into Pakistan. He alleged India had instigated terrorism in Pakistan via Afghanistan during the previous Ashraf Ghani-led government.
Ties with the U.S.
To another question, Khan said that while he had not yet spoken with U.S. President Joe Biden, Islamabad and Washington were in contact through their security chiefs and foreign ministers. He said that he had, in 2008, warned the U.S. that there was no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan but they had not listened to him. “Unfortunately, they were led by their generals. And you know what generals always say: give us more troops and more time,” he added.
The prime minister also lashed out at Washington’s strategy of using drone strikes as a counter-terrorism measure. “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 said, adding that Islamabad had no desire to become part of any future conflict and would not allow the U.S. to launch strikes into Afghanistan from its soil.
India and Pakistan
On whether India’s actions in Kashmir had been inspired by the treatment of Palestinians by Israel, Khan claimed both countries were very close. “Do we think he [Narendra Modi] got his instruction from there [Israel]? Because that is what Israel has done. They have built such a strong security apparatus and crush anything. They will send people in and kill [and] assassinate and they have total immunity,” he said, adding that Delhi enjoyed the same level of international immunity.
Denying that there was any pressure on Pakistan to recognize Israel, he said as a democratic countries, Pakistan did not take any unilateral decision without taking its people onboard.
Khan was also asked to weigh in on the England Cricket Board’s decision to cancel a tour to Pakistan scheduled for November as a former cricketer. “I think there is still this feeling in England that they do a great favor by playing for countries like Pakistan,” he said, claiming that no country would dare to do the same to India because of its financial muscle.
“I didn’t say anything, but I think England let themselves down because I expected a bit more from them,” he said, claiming the security threat cited by New Zealand to cancel its cricket tour had been motivated by “fake news.”