Amid tribal, religious and ethnic tensions, the security situation in Pakistan remain as volatile as ever.
Peace talks with the Taliban to end an insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives have recently broken down.
Imran Khan, the ex-international cricketer and dominant political figure in the restive Pakhtunkhwa province in the north of the country, has been at the forefront of efforts to find a peaceful end to this crisis. However, his detractors say he is soft on the Taliban.
He spoke to Isabel Kumar in the Global Conversation. She also put euronews viewers’ questions to him, sent via social media.
Isabelle Kumar: “There has been a military operation against the Taliban with the end of peace efforts – marking an end to those peace efforts – after the Taliban admitted that they had killed 21 soldiers. Do you support the military in their strikes against the Taliban?”
Imran Khan: “I just need to correct two things. Number one, if you are pro-peace and pro-dialogue, that does not mean you’re soft on the Taliban because we have had military operations for nine-and-a-half years. And all it has done is it has exacerbated the situation. From one Taliban group, you’ve got 50 Taliban groups now. So military operations have been a disaster for Pakistan. It’s only added to the insurgency, to the extremism.”
Isabelle Kumar: “So you don’t support this operation at the moment?”
Imran Khan: “I believe that once the dialogue process was exhausted, then only should operations be a last resort. We have never had a proper dialogue in Pakistan between the political government and the Taliban. This was the first effort and this was doomed to failure because there are about 50 Taliban groups, there are some groups not interested in peace. So the moment the peace talks started, these acts of terrorism escalated.”
Isabelle Kumar: “So how can you negotiate with them then? How can you have these peace talks?”
Imran Khan: “Because the majority of the groups are interested in peace talks. So the whole idea was to isolate the ones who are not interested in peace talks from the ones who are interested. If you are 50 groups, surely the war could be won if you can divide them and isolate the real hardliners. At least get the large ones on your side and there was every indication that some of the large groups were willing to talk.”
Isabelle Kumar: “We’ve asked our online audience to send us questions and we’ve had quite a big response; we’ve received this question from someone who goes by the name of Imran Khan. Imran Khan 1984 to be exact. And he has asked: “What is the red line that when crossed will result in your support for a military operation?”. So, when will you be satisfied that the peace talks have been exhausted?”
Imran Khan: “There is no military solution, neither in Afghanistan or Pakistan. In Pakistan the majority of the groups are talking. So this process hasn’t even started. There were only two parleys between the negotiators and then these terrorist acts happen to sabotage these talks. Now, in my opinion these people should have been isolated – the ones who sabotaged the talks – and there should be an operation against them. But if you go… if we go for a full-scale north Waziristan operation… there are 700,000 civilians that are endangered. They are going to bomb them through the air force, through helicopters, gunships, artillery. Women and children are going to be killed, people will seek revenge. In my opinion it will accentuate, exacerbate the situation. We will have more terrorism.”
Isabelle Kumar: “Why didn’t you take part in those talks? You had the opportunity to do so. This was also a question we received from Adil Ishaque Abbasi on Twitter, he said why did you keep yourself out of the dialogue? This would have added weight to the process.”
Imran Khan: “At first, we already represented… my, our party, is represented in the talks by Rustam Shah Mohmand….”
Isabelle Kumar: “But I think the point that you have more weight is an important one…”
Imran Khan: “No, no, no. Let me explain. The Taliban wanted me to represent them. How can I represent the Taliban? There are 50 groups, how can I vouch for them? So there was no question of me representing them.”
Isabelle Kumar: “It wasn’t a question that you were concerned about your image, about this fact that you’re called Taliban Khan? That you weren’t worried about that?”
Imran Khan: “I mean, I didn’t know them, I don’t know what they stand for, so therefore we had our representative in the committee, and actually the talks were going well until one of the Taliban groups sabotaged them by killing these soldiers.”
Isabelle Kumar: “So, should they have just carried on? You think they should’ve just carried on regardless?”
Imran Khan: “Yes, isolate the groups that are not willing to talk. So why not go against those Taliban who are responsible, who took responsibility for the killing of the 23 soldiers? Why not go after them?”
Isabelle Kumar: “Is that not what the military is doing at the moment?”
Imran Khan: “No. They are going to north Waziristan… this (attack) was done by the Momand Taliban which is a different agency all together. So they are already now bombing in north Waziristan and my fear is that this will actually lead to more violence.”
Isabelle Kumar: “Ok, you’ve also said, and correct me if I’m wrong, that if the Pakistani government was to withdraw its support for the US war on terror, was to stop US drone strikes in Pakistan the Pakistan Taliban would lose its momentum. Is that correct?”
Imran Khan: “The whole motivation behind this militancy was the US invasion of Afghanistan. This militancy started when the Pakistan army, under pressure from the Americans sent the Pakistan army into Waziristan and everything started from there, the collateral damage, drone attacks, the belief that the Pakistan army is fighting on behalf of the Americans, the Jihad syndrome, the suicide bomber. So that’s the motivation.”
Isabelle Kumar: “Yes, but you’ve said yourself the situation is far more complex than that. This is the Taliban that shot a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malala_Yousafzai"external">Malala in the head, the teenage girl who was trying to basically support kids trying to have an education, girl children have an education. They want to, they do want to impose Sharia law, certain groups do want to impose Sharia law.”
Imran Khan: “Look, first of all nothing can justify the atrocities committed by the Taliban, nothing can justify that. But let me just say one thing; in the negotiations so far, the moment the negotiations are within the constitution that means that no one can impose their version of Sharia on Pakistan and that’s been my position throughout, that in Afghanistan and Pakistan the American withdrawal will calm things down in Afghanistan and the moment the Pakistan army eventually pulls out, it will bring things under control and the tribal people will then take over their area.”
Isabelle Kumar: “Isn’t that a little simplistic? It just seems far too easy?”
Imran Khan: “It’s the only solution. There are, by the way, no simple solutions left. Everything now is complicated. There were easy solutions when there was only one Taliban group eight years back, there are 50 groups today. Extremism has grown, sectarian killing of Shias, by these extreme Sunni groups, that’s grown. So Pakistan is more radicalised today than it was when we entered the war so therefore there are no easy solutions. But if there is massive collateral damage, you’re pushing those people towards militancy and that’s why every military operation has added to the militants.”
Isabelle Kumar: “You’ve been stopping NATO trucks trying to get into Afghanistan in your protest against these US drone attacks. What are you trying to achieve by that? Because the US is withdrawing from Afghanistan.”
Imran Khan: “But no, but no, the point about drone attacks is that it is counterproductive. All drone attacks do is they increase militancy and the area which my party governs, the Pakhtunkhwa province, [is on] three sides of the tribal area, so it bears the brunt of the revenge attacks from drones and so therefore this was the resolution passed by the parliament, by all the parties, by the federal parliament and the provincial parliament. And the High Court of Peshawar has said that drones are a crime against humanity. The UN resolution has been against drone attacks, Amnesty International has called the drones crimes against humanity, so therefore, this is a protest against drone attacks. All the Americans have to say is that we will cease drone attacks even during the duration of the talks, we will remove the blockade.”
Isabelle Kumar: “OK, we received this question from Cari Machet who asks: “Have you considered taking the US and NATO to court and to sue them for economic loss?”, but also I imagine here, loss of life.”
Imran Khan: “No, I haven’t considered that, but I mean all of us, people in Pakistan are sinking under the war of terrorism, the country has lost over 100 billion dollars in nine years, the rupee has gone from 60 rupees to a dollar to 109 rupees to a dollar. Our total debt has gone up three times from about 4.5 trillion to 15 trillion, the total debt of the country in this time, poverty has grown in the province which our government is, 70 percent of the industry is closed, the only business growing is kidnapping for ransom because there is massive unemployment. So we desperately need peace there – and peace is not going to come by keep bombing people, killing the women and children and turning them into militants.”
Isabelle Kumar: “How worried should we be in Europe of Pakistani militants coming over here, to Europe, to western countries and fighting their Jihad on our territory?”
Imran Khan: “So far – and we are talking about the tribal belt of Pakistan where this is going on – there is no tribal Pashtun who has ever been involved in international terrorism. Neither on the Afghanistan side or the Pakistan side. At the moment they seek revenge on Pakistani security forces, but you know, if this goes on… ==
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