NEW YORK: Amid deteriorating Afghan security situation, Prime Minister Imran Khan emphasized Tuesday that the best choice was a negotiated political settlement to the long-running conflict in Afghanistan, saying Pakistan would remain helpful in the peace process.
“So, the Taliban sit down with the other side and they form an inclusive government — This is the best outcome; there is no other outcome because the military solution has failed,” he said in an interview with Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) ‘Newshour’, a primetime television programme.
At the outset, the programme’s anchor, Judy Woodruff, asked the Pakistani leader about his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan as US completes the withdrawal of its troops from the war-torn country.
“Well, Judy, I think the US has really messed it up in Afghanistan,” Imran Khan responded.
The US for two decades was trying to force a military solution, he said, adding that “the reason why we are in this position now is because the military solution failed.”
“Now, what choices have we got? The best choice is that somehow we have a political settlement in Afghanistan where it is, as I repeat, an inclusive government.”
After suffering huge human and material losses while participating in the US war against terrorism, the prime minister made it clear that “We want to be partners in peace, but not in conflict.”
Responding to questions, Imran Khan said that in the initial years, when he was raising his voice against a military solution, he was dubbed as anti-American and even called “Taliban Khan”.
“So, when they finally decided that there is no military solution, unfortunately, the bargaining power of the Americans or the NATO forces had gone,” he said, adding, “When there were 150,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, that was the time to go for a political solution.
“But once they had reduced the troops to barely 10,000, and then, when they gave an exit date, the Taliban thought they had won. And so, therefore, it was very difficult for now to get them to compromise. It’s very difficult to force them into a political solution, because they think that they (have) won.”
The only good outcome for Afghanistan, the prime minister said, was a political settlement which is inclusive, so they form some sort of a government that includes all sorts of different factions there.
“The worst situation in Afghanistan would be if there’s a civil war and a protracted civil war.
And from Pakistan’s point of view, that is the worst-case scenario, because we then we face two scenarios, one, a refugee problem.”
With three million Afghan refugees already in Pakistan, he said a protracted civil war would bring in more refugees. “Our economic situation is not such that we can have another influx.”
Secondly, he said, the worry is that the civil war will flow into Pakistan, because the Taliban are basically ethnic Pashtuns and those on “our side will be drawn into it — and that also is the last thing we want.”
Asked about the reported Pakistan’s support to the Afghan Taliban fighting US troops in Afghanistan by providing them safe havens and that 10,000 jihadi fighters had gone across the border recently, the prime minister called these comments “extremely unfair”.
“For a start,” he said the claim about 10,00 jihadi fighters having crossed over was “absolute nonsense”.
“Why don’t they give us evidence of this? Firstly, let me just go back. When they say that Pakistan gave safe havens, sanctuaries to Taliban, where are these safe havens?
Pakistan, he added, does have three million Afghan refugees, but the Taliban are not some military outfit. “They are normal civilians. And if there are some (non-civilians) in these camps, how is Pakistan supposed to hunt these people down? How can you call them sanctuaries?
When asked about his refusal to allow the US to have any sort of bases in Pakistan to support counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, Imran Khan said, “When a country loses 70,000 people and is bankrupted by this war on terror, when we joined the US after 9/11, we do not have the capacity to have any more fighting within our border or any terrorism within our country, because, when we were in the height of that war on terror, which Pakistan joined, there were suicide bombs taking place all over the country.
“The businesses collapsed. Tourism collapsed. So, what we do not want to be is part of any conflict. Now, if there’s a conflict going on in Afghanistan and there are bases in Pakistan, we then become targets. We will then become part of a conflict which we were in the last 15 years, and we do not want.”
Asked about the kind of relations he wanted to have with the US, the prime minister said,
“Well, Judy, the last relationship was transactional. Pakistan was more like a hired gun. The US says that we paid you, we gave you aid, and that’s why you were fighting this so-called war on terror.
“Pakistan, on the other hand, felt that here was a country which had no need to be part of this war. It loses 70,000. I mean, where — which other country has lost 70,000 people fighting for someone else’s war?
“So, Pakistanis felt that here we were, fighting the US’ war, our economy devastated. It was minuscule compared to the amount of money we lost in the economy. And yet we were blamed for the failure in Afghanistan.”
“Now,” Imran Khan added, “Pakistan’s position is very straightforward. We want to help and we have helped getting the Taliban to talk to the US, got them on the dialogue table. We have done our bit.
“What we cannot afford now, if there is civil war — what the US wants is US bases in Pakistan if there’s civil war in Afghanistan. But if there’s civil war in Afghanistan, we will immediately get stuck into it. There will be terrorism within Pakistan. We do not want — apart from anything else, our country cannot afford it.
“We have just recovered from a desperate economic situation. And we do not want to go through it again.”
“I hear that message,” Ms. Woodruff, the anchor remarked, but went on to ask: “Are you prepared to accept Taliban victory next door?
“Absolutely, there’s nothing more we can do, except push them as much as we can for a political settlement. That’s all,” was the prime minister’s response.
“But what happens in Afghanistan, we can only pray that the people of Afghanistan decide what government they want. And so we hope that that’s what will happen in the end; they will form some sort of an inclusive government.
“But that’s for people of Afghanistan. As far as Pakistan is concerned, we have done what we can,” PM Khan added.