US has really messed it up in Afghanistan: PM Imran
Deeming negotiated settlement to be the only solution for the Afghan conflict, Prime Minister Imran Khan remarked that the ‘US has really messed it up in Afghanistan’.
In an interview with Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) ‘Newshour’ on Tuesday, a primetime television programme, the premier emphasized 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.
At the outset, the programme’s anchor, Judy Woodruff, asked Imran about his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan as US completes withdrawal of its troops from the war-torn country, the PM said that the US has been trying to force a military solution in the country to no avail.
“The reason why we are in this position now is that the military solution failed,” he underscored.
“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.”
Imran reiterated that after suffering huge human and material losses while participating in the US war against terrorism Pakistan wants to be partners in peace, but not in conflict.
He said that in the initial years when he was raising his voice against a military solution, he was dubbed 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.
The premier believed that now since the troops have been reduced to barely 10,000 and have already given an exit date, the Taliban think they have won.
“It is very difficult to get them to compromise now or force them into a political solution because they think that they (have) won,” he added.
The only good outcome for Afghanistan, the prime minister reiterated, was a political settlement that is inclusive, so they form some sort of a government that includes all sorts of different factions.
“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 will have to face the war and an influx of refugees.”
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,” he added.
The premier also elaborated that the civil war will flow into Pakistan because the Taliban are ethnic Pashtuns and those belonging to the same ethnicity ‘will be drawn into it’.
Asked about Pakistan’s alleged support to Afghan Taliban fighting US troops by providing them safe havens and reports that 10,000 fighters crossed the border to Pakistan recently, the prime minister rebuked the comments calling them ‘extremely unfair’.
He said the claim about 10,000 fighters crossing the border was ‘absolute nonsense’.
“Why don’t they give us evidence of this? Firstly, let me just go back. When they [US] say that Pakistan gave safe havens, sanctuaries to the 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 said, “After losing 70,000 people and going bankrupted by the war on terror, we do not have the capacity to have any more fighting within our border or any terrorism within our country.
When Pakistan joined the war on terror there were suicide bombs taking place all over the country. Businesses collapsed. Tourism collapsed,” the premier added saying that if Pakistan allows US bases it will become a target.
“We will then become part of a conflict which we have been for the past 15 years, and we do not want.”
Speaking about Pakistan-US relations, the premier said that ties with the previous administration were ‘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,” he maintained.
“Pakistan, on the other hand, felt that there was no need to be part of this war. We lost 70,000 lives. I mean, where — which other country has lost 70,000 people fighting for someone else’s war?
“So, Pakistanis felt that they were fighting US’ war. Our economy was 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.”
Imran added that now Pakistan’s position was very straightforward and Islamabad has played its role in getting the Taliban to talk to the US.
“We have done our bit,” he said adding that Pakistan can no longer afford a civil war.
“US wants bases in Pakistan in case there’s a civil war in Afghanistan. But if there’s a 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.”
In response to whether Islamabad was prepared to accept Taliban victory next door, the premier commented that there was nothing more that Pakistan can do.
“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 the people of Afghanistan. As far as Pakistan is concerned, we have done what we can,” Imran added.
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