Engage with Taliban or face collapse of Afghanistan, PM Imran warns US

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ISLAMABAD – The United States should take the lead to engage with the Taliban in order to save Afghanistan from further chaos that would most affect Pakistan as an immediate neighbour, Prime Minister Imran Khan said.

The premier in an interview with the Middle East Eye spoke about a wide range of topics including the developing situation in Afghanistan, ties with the US, cricket tours’ cancellation by New Zealand and England and China’s alleged maltreatment with Muslim community in Uighur.

Khan said that the US has to provide aid package to Afghanistan or face another chaotic phase in the country which would become a safe haven for Islamic State militants.

Washington must take steps amid looming challenges as Pakistan has already lost tens of thousands people due to US-led war in Afghanistan, he said.

“It’s a really critical time and the US has to pull itself together because people in the United States are in a state of shock,” he told MEE in an interview in Islamabad.

“They were imagining some sort of democracy, nation-building or liberated women, and suddenly they find the Taliban are back. There is so much anger and shock and surprise. Unless America takes the lead, we are worried that there will be chaos in Afghanistan and we will be most affected by that.”

PM Imran Khan said: “The world must engage with Afghanistan because if it pushes it away, within the Taliban movement there are hardliners, and it could easily go back to the Taliban of 2000 and that would be a disaster.”

The Taliban, who regained power in Afghanistan after toppling Ashraf Ghani-led government in mid-August, are still sanctioned by the US, preventing the group from accessing country’s funds to the tune of $9 billion held by the US.

He warned that sanctions would trigger a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan where half of the population lives below the poverty line.

“If they leave Afghanistan like this, my worry is that Afghanistan could easily revert back to 1989 when the Soviets and US left and over 200,000 Afghans died in the chaos,” he said, referring to the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal from the country.

Khan told the international media outlet that he had warned Biden, John Kerry and Harry Reid – then all senators – in 2008 that there was no military solution to the Afghan conflict.

Responding to a question, he said that the current government is not inclusive, but said the incumbent structure was a transitional one.

“They need an inclusive government because Afghanistan is a diverse society,” he said, adding that he was working closely with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in this regard.

Talks with TTP

Talking about talks with the TTP, he said that the outfit is consisted of 50 groups and that he was trying to reconcile those elements who were willing to hold talks.

“Now we are trying to talk to those who can be reconciled because it’s from a position of strength. I always believed all insurgencies eventually end up on the dialogue table, like the IRA [Irish Republican Army] for instance,” he said.

He said that the Taliban government has assured that the TTP would not be allowed to launch attacks on Pakistan from inside Afghan territory.

“We now have to talk to those we can reconcile and [persuade to] give up their arms and live as normal citizens.”

Condemning the US drone attacks in Afghanistan, he said: “It is the most insane way of fighting terrorism. Doing a drone attack on a village mud hut and expecting there will not be casualties. And a lot of time the drones targeted the wrong people.”

Khan said it was too early to predict the the regional effect of the haste US withdrawal would be.

But he said China was the emerging power that would take steps to fill the vacuum and had stood by Pakistan.

He also appreciated China for its help to Pakistan during the tough times.

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