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Afghanistan on historic crossroads, should give Taliban ‘more time’: PM Khan

Prime Minister Imran Khan gave an interview to CNN. Source: CNN

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said the best way forward for peace and stability in Afghanistan is to engage with the Taliban and “incentivize” them on issues such as women’s rights and inclusive government.

Speaking to CNN from his private residence in Islamabad, the prime minister spoke about enduring what he perceived as a “terrible” relationship with the United States that has been disastrous for Pakistan and how he is now seeking a more pragmatic approach in dealing with Afghanistan’s new leaders.

“The Taliban hold all of Afghanistan and if they can sort of now work towards an inclusive government, get all the factions together, Afghanistan could have peace after 40 years. But if it goes wrong and which is what we are really worried about, it could go to chaos. The biggest humanitarian crisis, a huge refugee problem,” he said.

PM Imran Khan claimed that the Taliban are looking for international aid to avoid a crisis, which could be used to push the group in “the right direction towards legitimacy.” However, he warned that Afghanistan could not be controlled by outside forces.

“No puppet government in Afghanistan is supported by the people,” he said. “So rather than sitting here and thinking that we can control them, we should incentivize them. Because Afghanistan, this current government, clearly feels that without international aid and help, they will not be able to stop this crisis. So we should push them in the right direction.”

PM Imran Khan said he was expecting a bloodbath after the US forces left, similar to the one after the Soviets were defeated in 1989.

“Our intelligence agencies told us that the Taliban would not be able to take over all of Afghanistan, and if they tried to take Afghanistan militarily, there would be a protracted civil war, which is what we were scared of because we are the ones who would suffer the most,” Khan said.

He said now the world should “give them time” to form a legitimate government and make good on their promises.

Regarding the omission of women from the Taliban’s interim government, PM Imran Khan said, “It’s a mistake to think that someone from outside will give Afghan women rights. Afghan women are strong. Give them time. They will get their rights.”

“Women should have the ability in a society to fulfill their potential in life,” said Khan. “In Pakistan, what we have done is we have actually paid stipends to poor families to get the girls to study in school because we feel that if the girls, if the girl child studies, if they have education, they will get their own rights,” he said.

Not spoken to Biden

PM Imran Khan said he has not spoken with President Joe Biden since the Taliban takeover. “I would imagine he’s very busy, but our relationship with the US is not just dependent on a phone call, it needs to be a multidimensional relationship,” said Khan.

That’s something Khan doesn’t feel Pakistan enjoyed during the US’ 20 year war in Afghanistan. “We were like a hired gun,” Khan said. “We were supposed to make them win the war in Afghanistan, which we never could.”

Khan said he repeatedly warned US officials that America could not achieve its objectives militarily and would “be stuck there.” He said the US should have attempted a political settlement with the Taliban from a “position of strength,” at the height of its presence in Afghanistan, not as it was withdrawing.

The prime minister said thousands of Pakistanis lost their lives in terrorist attacks by militant groups owing to his country’s support for the US.

“Just because we sided with the US, we became an ally of the US after 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan. The suffering this country went through with at one point there were 50 militant groups attacking our government… on top of it, they must also know there were 480 drone attacks by the US in Pakistan,” he added.

“Only time a country has been attacked by its ally,” he said of the US strikes. “What are these safe havens?” Khan asked. “The area of Pakistan along the border of Afghanistan had the heaviest surveillance by the United States drones … surely they would have known if there were any safe havens?”

PM Imran Khan said he cannot destroy his country to “fight someone else’s war.” “The Afghan Taliban weren’t attacking us. I wish if I was in government. I would have told the US that we are not going to take them on militarily because first, we have to serve the people. My responsibility would have been to the people of my country,” Khan said.