Imran criticises war on terror as misguided venture

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said the American “war on terror” bred more terrorists, adding that Islamabad was virtually a “fortress” during this period.

The prime minister expressed these views during an interview with Fareed Zakaria for CNN, which aired on Sunday when he was asked about his take on terrorism in the broader Middle East.

“The US war on terror actually bred terrorists. I can tell you from Pakistan’s example because by joining the US, we had 80,000 people die,” he said, adding the war produced more terrorists as it went along.

“I am convinced it’s exactly the same what happened in Afghanistan. These night raids and drone attacks […] the US must review its policy.”

Two decades after the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism has emerged as a wasteful, misguided exercise that poses its own threat to US national security, experts say.

Khan said US citizens were being told that the drone attacks were accurate and the terrorists were targeted. “Bombs exploding in villages; how would they only [target] terrorists?” he asked, adding that there was a lot of collateral damage.

“I am afraid, the public in the US didn’t know the amount of collateral damage [that happened]. We bore the brunt.”

He said that Pakistan was considered a collaborator of the US and, therefore, had to face revenge attacks. “There were suicide attacks all over the country. We lost 80,000 people.”

“But the US has withdrawn and the terror continues,” Zakaria noted, to which Khan said that the attacks now “are much less”.

“You can’t compare […] during the height of the ‘war on terror’ Islamabad was a fortress. You had suicide attacks going [on] everywhere. Compared to what used to happen, terrorism is almost insignificant now.”

When asked about the situation in war-torn Afghanistan, the premier said that it was imperative for the US to understand that disliking the Taliban government was one thing but it was ultimately about the country’s 40 million people.

“Half of them are in a very precarious situation […] winter in Afghanistan is extremely wicked, ruthless,” he said, adding that the Afghans were also facing food shortages and there were concerns of the situation spiraling into a humanitarian crisis.

Zakaria also asked Khan about his experience in dealing with the Afghan Taliban and his advice to the US.

“What are the choices?” asked Khan.

“Is there an alternative to the Taliban right now? No, there isn’t. Is there a chance that if the Taliban government is squeezed there could be a change for the better? No.”

He went on to say that the only “alternative” that was currently available was to work with the Taliban and incentivise them in achieving things, such as inclusivity and human rights.

“That’s the only way forward right now.”

Khan said that if Afghanistan is abandoned, the neighbouring country could descend into chaos. “Our best hope is that a stable Afghanistan will ensure stability and peace in Pakistan,” he said, adding that peace in Afghanistan was in everyone’s interest.

Asked whether the US should recognise the Taliban government, Khan said recognition would have to come “sooner or later”.

“The world wants some guarantees before it recognises the Taliban. So how far is the US going to push the Taliban to conform to [their expectations]. This is the question. Can the Taliban go all the way? Are they capable of going all the way bearing in mind this is a very strong ideological movement that represents a culture that is completely alien to Western societies?”

The premier said that there would have to be “give and take”. Not recognising the government and freezing their accounts was only harming the people of the war-torn country, he said.

During the interview, Khan was also asked about China’s alleged mistreatment of Muslims in Xinjiang.

He said that Pakistan had sent its ambassador to Xinjiang who said the situation was different than what was being portrayed by the Western media.

The prime minister also highlighted that Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) was a disputed territory between Pakistan and India.

“Over the last 35 years, approximately 100,000 Kashmiris have died,” he said, adding that in 2019 India unilaterally revoked the region’s special constitutional status.

“There are extra-judicial killings. There are no rights, there are clampdowns [and] 800,000 Indian troops in the valley.”

Khan said that there was “hardly any indignation” about what was happening in IIOJK compared to what was supposedly happening in Xinjiang, lamenting the fact that the Kashmir issue “did not get the attention it deserved”.

“Are you saying that the treatment of Muslims in Kashmir is worse than the treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang?” Zakaria asked, to which the prime minister replied that there would be “absolutely no comparison”.

“I have only one source which is our ambassador in China […] what is happening in Kashmir is criminal.”

When pressed by the journalist on whether he condemned what was happening in Xinjiang, the premier said: “Sadly, and I hope it doesn’t happen, we are heading towards another Cold War. We all know that once these sides are taken, which side do you believe?”

He said that what China was saying was completely different to what the US was saying. “So who do you believe? That’s why we asked our ambassador to give us his opinion and it’s not what is appearing in Western media.”

He added that the world should not head towards another Cold War-like situation.

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