Failure to engage with the Taliban could push the group back 20 years: PM Imran

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday once again stressed the need for the international community to engage with the Taliban and said that a failure to do so could push the group back 20 years. In an interview with the Middle East Eye, the premier discussed a wide range of topics including the current situation in Afghanistan, relations with the United States, Indian actions in occupied Kashmir, and allegations against China regarding the treatment

Stressing the need for the international community to engage with the Taliban government in Afghanistan, PM Imran said that 20 years of civil war had devastated the country. He said that after so many years, members of the Taliban who had given sacrifices would want to be rewarded by being placed in the government’s hierarchy.

“Yet, the government is clearly trying to get international acceptability so it wants an inclusive government, talks about human rights and not allowing its soil to be used for terrorism by anyone,” he said, adding that it was a critical point for the war-torn country. The world must engage with Afghanistan,” he said as he warned of the consequences of not doing so. There must be hardliners within the group and it can easily go back to the Taliban of 20 years ago. And that would be a disaster.”

He said that if Afghanistan would once again descend into chaos, it would become a fertile ground for terrorists like ISIS, which is a worry for all countries in the region.

“It would be a total waste, what will the US have to show after 20 years? Therefore, a stable Afghanistan government which can then take on ISIS, and the Taliban are the best bet to take on ISIS, that is the only option left.”

He said that isolating and imposing sanctions on Afghanistan would result in a massive humanitarian crisis.

“If they are left like this, my worry is that could revert back to 1989 when the Soviets and Americans left,” he said, adding that over 200,000 Afghans died in that chaos.PM Imran added that the US had to “pull itself together” from the shock it had suffered after the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan.

“I don’t think they have found their feet as yet,” he said, adding that Pakistan would also suffer as a result of chaos in Afghanistan.

When asked about Pakistan’s point of view after the Taliban takeover, the prime minister said: “We have been so relieved because we expected a bloodbath it was a peaceful transfer of power”.

The premier said there were a number of reasons for the lack of resistance from the Afghan army, including the corruption of the former government.

Pressed on the lack of inclusiveness in the new government setup, the prime minister acknowledged that it was not present “right now” but hoped it would be in the future, adding that it was needed because Afghanistan was a diverse society.

Similarly, on the issue of women’s rights, he said the Taliban should be incentivized to “walk the talk” —pointing out that the group had said it would allow women to work and get educated.

‘All insurgencies end up on dialogue table’

When asked about the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) posing a problem for the country, the prime minister said that Pakhtuns on Pakistan’s side of the border had started attacking the state when it allied itself with the US invasion of Afghanistan.

“They called us collaborators, started attacking us and calling themselves the Pakistani Taliban which we didn’t have before joining the alliance. At one point there were 50 different groups calling themselves the Taliban [and] attacking us,” the prime minister said.

He added that this movement and its motivation died down once the US footprint decreased and Pakistan ceased being a collaborator.

“We are no longer collaborators because we are not allying ourselves with anyone fighting the Pakhtuns so the motivation has gone down. Now we are trying to talk to those who can be reconciled because it is from a position of strength.

“I believe that all insurgencies eventually end up on the dialogue table,” the premier said.

He pointed out that the Taliban had assured Pakistan it would not let Afghanistan’s soil be used against any country. This was in contrast with the previous Afghan government, which he alleged had facilitated Indian agencies in helping conduct attacks against Pakistan.

The prime minister also derided the US policy of conducting drone attacks in its efforts to fight terrorism, calling it the “most insane” method.

He partly attributed the rise of the TTP to collateral damage suffered in the wake of US drone attacks and military operations in tribal areas. “Whenever the army goes into civilian areas, there is collateral damage.”

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