Pakistan will do everything to promote a political settlement of the long-running conflict in Afghanistan, except the use of military action against the Taliban, Prime Minister Imran Khan said in an interview with an influential American newspaper.
“I mean, we will do everything up to that. All sections of our society have decided that Pakistan will take no military action,” he said in a conversation with two New York Times journalists in a video call.
Imran Khan said Pakistan had used the “maximum leverage” it could on the Taliban to bring them to negotiating table with the United States and then with the Afghan government. “Unfortunately,” he said, “there is still a feeling in the Afghan government that Pakistan could do more, which I have to say is very disappointing to us when they blame us for being unable to, after so many years, come to some sort of a settlement.”
Replying to a question, the prime minister said Pakistan had been in constant communication with the Afghan government at different levels. Asked whether his government would recognize the Taliban if they carried a full military takeover in Afghanistan, the prime minister said, “Pakistan will only recognize a government which is chosen by the people of Afghanistan, whichever government they choose.”
In the wide-ranging interview, Prime Minister Imran Khan also discussed US-Pakistan relations, saying, “Basically Pakistan would want a civilized relationship, which you have between nations, and we would like to improve our trading relationship with the US,” following the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Asked to elaborate on the ties with Washington, he said, “You know, say between the US and Britain, or actually between US and India right now. So a relationship which is even-handed. You know, unfortunately, the relationship (with US) was a bit lopsided during this war on terror.”
During that period, the prime minister said the US felt that they were giving aid to Pakistan, they felt that Pakistan then had to do US’s bidding. “And what Pakistan did in terms of trying to do the US bidding actually cost Pakistan a lot in human lives. Seventy thousand Pakistanis died, and over $150 billion were lost to the economy because there were suicide bombings and bombs going on all over the country. That’s where the problem began. The US kept expecting more from Pakistan. And unfortunately, Pakistani governments tried to deliver what they were not capable of,” he said. “So there was this mistrust between the two countries. And people in Pakistan felt they paid a heavy, heavy price for this relationship. And the US thought Pakistan had not done enough. So in that sense, it was a lopsided relationship. What we want in the future is a relationship based on trust and common objectives. That’s actually what we have right now with the US – I mean, our objectives in Afghanistan are exactly the same today.”
About military and security relationship with the US going forward, he said, “Post the US withdrawal, I don’t know what sort of military relationship it will be. But right now, the relationship should be based on this common objective that there is a political solution in Afghanistan before the United States leaves, because Pakistan doesn’t want a civil war, a bloody civil war in Afghanistan. And I’m sure neither does the US, after it leaves, it wants the country going up in flames after spending, God knows, $1 trillion or $2 trillion. So that’s a common objective.”
In the interview, the prime minister reminded that Pakistan had also opposed that military action against the Taliban, but then the United States pressured Pakistan to send its troops into the tribal areas, to flush out maybe a few hundred Al-Qaeda [militants] who had come into Pakistan from Afghanistan after [the Battle of] Tora Bora. “Remember, the whole border [was] completely open.
There was never any border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is called the Durand Line. Now, we are fencing it, and almost 90 percent of the border, we’ve fenced now. What if [the] Taliban try to take over Afghanistan through [the] military? Then we will seal the border, because now we can, because we have fenced our border, which was previously [open], because Pakistan does not want to get into, number one, conflict. Secondly, we do not want another influx of refugees.”
Asked about the prospects of relationship with India, he said he had tried with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to improve relations with India, but did not get anywhere. “I think that it is a peculiar ideology of the (Hindu nationalist group) RSS, which Narendra Modi belongs to, which just came up against a brick wall.”
The prime minister agreed with the correspondent that had there been another Indian leadership. “I think we would have had a good relationship with them. And yes, we would have resolved all our differences through dialogue.”
Questioned if the status quo remains on Kashmir, could it be considered a win for India, Imran Khan said, “I think it’s a disaster for India because it will just mean that this conflict festers on and on. And so as long as it festers, it’s going to stop there being any relationship – normal relationship – between Pakistan and India.”
Replying to a question, Prime Minister Imran Khan said the world would really benefit if the two economic giants – China and the US – really got along and trade with each other. “Secondly, why do we have to choose sides – either it’s the US or China? I think we should have a relationship with everyone. China has been very good to us, in the sense that after the war on terror, or during the war on terror, we took a real battering in this country,” he said. “Our debt went up, which happens when a country is in a war situation. Business activity freezes. The provinces and the tribal areas were devastated by this war,” he said. “So China is the country that came to Pakistan’s help. And obviously we’ve had a long relationship with China.
“So number one, I do not see why the US should think that India is going to be this bulwark against China. If India takes on this role, I think it would be detrimental for India because India’s trade with China is going to be beneficial for both India and China.”