Prime Minister Imran Khan asked on Wednesday for evidence of where Afghan Taliban sanctuaries are located in Pakistan.
In an interview with PBS Newshour, host Judy Woodruff asked PM Imran about claims of Taliban sanctuaries being present in Pakistan and a report about 10,000 fighters crossing the border to help the group in Afghanistan.
“Judy, for a start, this 10,000 Taliban, or as the Afghan govt says, Jihadi fighters have crossed over, is absolute nonsense. Why don’t they give us evidence of this?” asked PM Imran.
To the question about the safe havens, PM Imran wondered where the sanctuaries are located in Pakistan.
The premier explained that Pakistan is hosting three million refugees who are Pashtuns, the same ethnic group as the Taliban. He added that there are camps of 500,000 and 100,000 people or more.
“Taliban are not some military outfit. They are normal civilians. If there are some civilians in these camps, how is Pakistan supposed to hunt these people down? How can you call them sanctuaries?” asked PM Imran.
The host had thrown this question to a follow up on Washington and other organsiations’ claims that Pakistan has helped the Afghan Taliban.
The PM had told the host that the allegations were unfair and told her the history of the conflict. He explained that Pakistan had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York.
The premier said that the Al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan and no Pakistani was involved in the attack.
“There were no militant Taliban in Pakistan and no Pakistani was involved,” said PM Imran. He added that when Pakistan decided to join the US’ war on terror, the country was devastated as it lost 70,000 of its citizens and $150 billion was lost in the economy.
‘US has really messed it up in Afghanistan’
When Woodruff asked the PM about his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, he said that Washington had really messed up the situation in Afghanistan.
“First of all, they tried to look for a military solution in Afghanistan when there was never one. And people like me, who know the history of Afghanistan and kept saying there isn’t a military solution were called anti-American. I was called Taliban Khan,” said PM Imran.
PM Imran also shared that despite the US being in Afghanistan for 20 years, he does not know what the US objective was in the country.
“I don’t know what the objective was in Afghanistan, whether there was to have some nation building, democracy or liberate the women. Whatever the cause was, the way they went about it was never going to be the solution,” said PM Imran.
He also lamented the way US dealt with this solution. The PM explained that when the NATO forces had decided that there was no military solution, the bargaining power they had was gone.
“When they finally decided there is no military solution, unfortunately, the bargaining power of the American or NATO forces had gone,” said PM Imran. He added that the US should have gone for a political solution when 150,000 NATO troops were in Afghanistan.
“Once they had reduced the troops to barely 10,000 and when they gave the exit date, Taliban thought they had won,” said PM Imran. He added that it is difficult right now to ask the group to compromise or “force them” to take a political solution.
“Its very difficult to force them into a political solution because they [Taliban] think that they won,” said PM Imran.
Pakistan’s good and bad outcomes for Afghanistan
The host had also asked the PM about Pakistan’s good and bad outcomes for the Afghanistan conflict.
PM Imran told the host that the good outcome for Islamabad would be if an inclusive government with all factions, including Taliban, is formed in Afghanistan. He added that the worst situation for Pakistan would be a “protracted civil war” in Afghanistan.
In such a scenario, the PM said Islamabad would face two problems, firstly, of refugees and secondly, the country fears that Pashtuns within Pakistan would be drawn to the conflict .
“What we fear is that a protracted civil war would bring more refugees and you know our economic situation is not such that we can have another influx,” said the PM.
“Secondly, the worry is that the civil war will flow into Pakistan because Taliban are ethnic Pashtuns. Now there are more Pashtuns on our side of the border than Afghanistan. And so the worry is if this goes on, the Pashtuns on our side will be drawn into it and that is also the last thing we want,” said PM Imran.
US bases will make Pakistan a target: PM
The PM also shared that having US military presence in Pakistan would make the country a target.
He told Woodruff that when Pakistan joined the war on terror it lost 70,000 people and was on the verge of bankruptcy.
“We do not have the capacity to have any more fighting within our border or any terrorism within our country,” said the PM. He reminded that at the height of the war on terror, there were suicide bombings taking place all over the country and businesses and tourism had collapsed.
“If there is a conflict going on in Afghanistan and there are bases in Pakistan, we then become targets and we will then become part of a conflict,” said PM Imran.
The premier said that Pakistan wants to partner with the US in peace, but not in conflict. He added that the last relationship between Islamabad and Washington was transactional.
“Pakistan was more like a hired gun. The US says we gave you aid and that’s why you were fighting this so called war on terror,” said PM Imran. He added that the aid given by the US was “minuscule” compared to the cost of Pakistan’s participation in the conflict.
‘Afghanistan in this situation because of US military failure’
PM Imran told the host that Pakistan cannot do much if the Taliban take over Afghanistan as the military solution has already failed.
“What are we supposed to do about it? Here were the US for two decades in Afghanistan trying to force a military solution. The reason why we are in this position now is because the military solution failed,” said PM Imran.
The premier repeated that the best choice that everyone has is that somehow a political settlement emerges in Afghanistan. He added that the Taliban sitting down with the Ashraf Ghani government to form an inclusive government was the best choice.
“Absolutely, there is nothing more we can do except push them as much as we can for a political settlement – that’s all,” the PM said when asked if Pakistan was willing to accept a Taliban government in Afghanistan. However, he said that all Pakistan can do is pray that the people of Afghanistan decide what government they wish to have,
“As far as Pakistan is concerned, we have done what we can,” said PM Imran.