Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday asked the international community to incentivise the people of war-torn Afghanistan on issues such as women’s rights and inclusive government to achieve peace and stability.
Speaking to CNN’s Becky Anderson from his private Bani Gala residence in Islamabad, the premier spoke about enduring what he perceived as a “terrible” relationship with the United States that has been disastrous for Pakistan and how he is now seeking a more pragmatic approach in dealing with Afghanistan’s new leaders.
It was the Prime Minister’s first interview with an international news organisation since the Taliban took control of neighboring Afghanistan last month, following the complete US withdrawal of troops.
He described the ongoing situation in Afghanistan as “worrying”.
As of now, Imran stressed, no one can predict the future of Afghanistan.
Prime minister Imran said that the current government in Afghanistan clearly felt that without international help, they would not be able to stop the looming crises.
“We should incentivise them and push them in the right direction,” the premier added.
“Afghanistan is on historic crossroads: If it goes well and we pray that it works in the direction of peace after 40 years. And if they [Taliban] can serve now and work for the inclusive government, get all the factions together Afghanistan could have peace after 40 years,” Imran said.
“But if it goes wrong and which is what we are really worried about it could go to chaos, the biggest humanitarian crisis, the huge refugee problem, unstable Afghanistan … and the possibility of again terrorism from Afghanistan soil,” he added.
The prime minister warned against the notion that Afghanistan could be controlled from outside. “There is a history. No puppet government in Afghanistan is supported by the people. It gets discredited amongst the people,” he added.
So rather than sitting here and sort of thinking that we can control them we should incentivise them,” he said.
About the Taliban, he said that “what they have said that they want an inclusive government, they want women rights in their own context, they want human rights, they have been given amnesty, so far they clearly want international acceptability”.
Responding to a question, the prime minister cautioned against the thinking that someone from outside would give rights to Afghan women.
“Afghan women are strong, give them time,” he said. “They will get their rights,” he maintained.
“You cannot impose women’s rights from abroad.”
When asked about the Haqqani group, Imran said that the Americans did not understand, who the Haqqanis were. Forty years ago, he continued, when the Afghan Jihad took place there were five million refugees in Pakistan and amongst them were the Haqqanis who were fighting the Soviets, he observed.
“The Haqqani leadership was born in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan,” he said. “We were supposed to check which were of the people living in refugee camps were Taliban or not,” he added, while responding to another question.
Imran said it was a job of the intelligence agencies to meet everyone. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) would be speaking to the Taliban as it was their job, he remarked.
He said the question was whether in the past Pakistan was in a position to take military action against the Taliban, adding that the Pakistani Taliban were attacking the state of Pakistan at one time.
“There were two suicide attacks on [former military ruler] Gen Pervez Musharraf as there were sympathies with the Taliban within Pakistan… Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by the Pakistani Taliban because she was considered a collaborator of the United States,” he said.
“Our heads of state in the past should have told the US what they could do and what they could not. We lost the argument when Pakistan had corrupt, weak heads of state and they did not stand up to the US.”
The prime minister said Pakistan’s relationship with the United States during the occupation of Afghanistan was terrible. “The US said we were paying Pakistan and they paid us $9 billion in civilian aid and $11 billion as military aid and we were like a hired gun,” he said.
“In Pakistan the people felt that after joining the US, we had bombs going [off] everywhere. Benazir Bhutto was killed because of that and our economy tanked. Our economy lost $150 billion,” the prime minister added.
“At present, we want a relationship with the United States like the relationship it has with India. We do not want one-dimensional relationship where they are paying us to fight. We want a normal relationship.”
Imran said that Pakistan’s biggest concern was the Afghan refugees, as “we already have three million refugees in Pakistan, [so] our country cannot afford more refugees”. He stressed that the country had come out of a very difficult economic situation and could not take more refugees.
“The second worry is terrorism. We have three sets of terrorists in Afghanistan: use of the soil to attack us; ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria], Pakistani Taliban and Baloch terrorists,” he continued.
If there was chaos in Afghanistan, he added: “There will be two major problems looming before us. We are the country that is going to suffer the most.”