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Nation special report

WASHINGTON: Declaring that Pakistan, its army and the United States are on the same page, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday said he would try meet with the Taliban in an effort to persuade the group to meet with the Afghan government, as the United States seeks to end the nearly 18-year-old war.
“I will meet the Taliban and I will try my best to get them to talk to the Afghan government,” Khan said during an appearance at the US Institute of Peace in Washington.
Imran Khan said a Taliban delegation had wanted to meet him a few months back but he did not because of opposition from the Afghan government.
The United States and the Taliban are getting closer to a deal that is expected to be centered on a US pledge to withdraw troops in exchange for a Taliban promise not to let Afghanistan be used as a base for terrorism, officials say.
However, the Taliban have refused to negotiate with the government, denouncing it as a US puppet, but in an effort to foster Afghan reconciliation, a 60-strong delegation of citizens met the Taliban for two days of talks in Qatar from Sunday.
Pakistan’s role in the peace negotiations is a delicate one.
Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of supporting the Taliban, a charge Pakistan denies, saying it has suffered heavily from the fighting.
The United States has also pressed Islamabad to do more to curb militant groups based in its territory. Even as talks continue, the Taliban and the government have continued fighting.
Afghan government forces mistakenly killed seven civilians, including children, in an attack on militants south of the capital, a provincial official said on Monday, the latest victims of a war undiminished by peace talks.

Address at USIP

Imran Khan, during an address delivered at the United States Institute of Peace on Tuesday, impressed upon the audience that Pakistan seeks a “dignified relationship with the US” which is not curtailed by the securing or withdrawal of aid.

“I would like to have a relationship between the two countries of mutual trust. I would like to have a relationship as equals, of friendship. Not as it has been before […] Pakistan wanting aid from the US and then for aid it is expected to do certain things.

“The reason why I am happy leaving the US this time is because we now have a relationship based on mutual interest, which is peace in Afghanistan.”

The premier said that he had been asked about whether there would be a request for funds to which he had said: “I hate the idea of asking for funds. Aid has been one of the biggest curses for my country. What it has done is it has created the dependency syndrome.””Countries rise because of self respect and self esteem. No countries rise because of begging and borrowing for money,” he added.

He expressed confidence that there was “convergence between the United States and Pakistan” when it came to recognising that there is no military solution to deal with the war in Afghanistan.

He said that he viewed the dynamic to be different now, as both sides were finally looking at things through the same lens.

“The Pakistan Army was fighting but they [the US] thought we are not doing enough […] we had gone out of our way. But this time, we are all on the same page that only a political settlement through dialogue will work,” said the prime minister.

In January this year, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo had emphasised a new “sustainable” strategy of the United States for fighting terrorism which seeks to end long, drawn-out wars

“President Trump very much wants to end these long, drawn-out [wars] — 17 years now in Afghanistan,” the chief US diplomat had said.

In today’s discussion with Nancy Lindbord, the president of the United States Institute of Peace, PM Imran expressed great hope that a political settlement to the Afghan war can be reached and that the relationship between the United States and Pakistan had great potential after this visit.

When asked what makes things different now in the relationship between the two countries compared to the past, the premier said: “I always felt [previously] that the relationship was never multi-pronged, always transactional.”

The premier, providing a backdrop to the circumstances that led to the present situation in Afghanistan, said that the ‘jihadists’ had been convinced to fight against the Soviets and once the ‘jihad’ was over, the US packed up and left and “we were slapped with sanctions”.

“We were left with 4 million afghan refugees […] a number of militant groups created to fight the Soviets, all dressed up and nowhere to go, heroin, drugs — which at some point were used to pay for the fighting,” he continued, to highlight the scale of the fallout after the war had ended.

He said that after 9/11 Pakistan again joined the US [in the fight against terrorism].

“I only had one seat in parliament. When Gen Musharraf consulted us [on whether we should join the war] I opposed it and said we should stay neutral.”

He then went on to explain, why he felt it would have been in Pakistan’s best interest to remain neutral.

“We had created these ‘jihadi’ groups in the 80s. We had indoctrinated them in the idea of ‘jihad’. That foreign occupation in Afghanistan […] it was a religious duty to fight them. So all these foreign groups, including Al Qaeda had arrived in Pakistan.”

“Now comes 9/11. And the US invades Afghanistan. And now we are trying to tell the same groups, who had close links with the Pakistan Army — because they were created by the Pakistan Army — now we are telling them because the good guys are there, its no longer ‘jihad’.”

Pakistan media

He then went on to talk about how free the media in Pakistan is, saying that he had spent 18 summers of his life in Britain where he had had noted that the media is very open and free. “The Pakistan media, in my opinion, is even freer than the British media […] it is not just free but sometimes out of control,” said the prime minister.

He went on to say that in Britain no media would have published the kind of remarks that the Pakistani media had since he had come into power.

“A prime minister of a country and this man sits on television and says he is ‘getting divorced tomorrow’,” he said, referring to rumours that had circulated in the media a few months ago about his allegedly rocky relationship with First Lady Bushra Bibi.

“In the olden days, this guy would have been beaten up. In Nawaz Sharif’s time, he had journalists beaten up. Asif Zardari — people were petrified of him. People would disappear,” he said.

The premier said he, on the other hand, had gone through the legal channels to take action.

“So what we need, is to control the media, not through the government but through a media watchdog.

“They reported wrongly that the IMF had said that the rupee would fall, to a number they quoted. There was a run on the rupee. Who would do that [anywhere else in the world]?”

He said that the government was on the one hand struggling to revive the economy and on the other hand the media was falsely reporting such things and causing a run on the rupee.

“I feel very strongly we will strengthen the media watchdog. It is not censorship. There are 70-80 channels in Pakistan. Only three reported they were having some problems.”

Aafia Siddiqui case

Asked about Dr Shakil Afridi, who has been in detention since 2011 after being taken into custody for helping American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in tracking down Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, Prime Minister Imran said it was a “very emotive issue”.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and US President Donald J. Trump in discussion at White House on 22nd July, 2019.

“Shakil Afridi in Pakistan is considered a spy.”

“A spy for the US,” the host interjected.

“Spy for the US,” said the premier.

“We in Pakistan always felt that we were an ally of the US and that we had been given the information about Osama bin Laden, we should have taken him out.”

When Baier brought up the “skepticism” surrounding the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the prime minister pointed out: “And yet it was the ISI which gave the information which led to the location of Osama bin Laden. If you ask CIA, it was the ISI which gave the initial location through the phone connection.”

“But the US was acting after being attacked on 9/11 to try to get the mastermind,” said the host.

“But bear in mind Pakistan was fighting the war for the US, Pakistan wasn’t attacked […] at the time it hugely embarrassed Pakistan,” the premier said. “Pakistanis were embarrassed. Here we were, an ally of the US and the US did not trust us, and they actually came in and bombed and killed a man in our territory.”

“Not just a man — the terrorist who killed 3,000 plus Americans,” added Baier.

“Well let us not forget Pakistan lost 70,000 people in this fight. We were fighting this war for the US and we lost all these people fighting this war. So there was obviously a lot of anger about the way this whole thing was done. But that’s all in the past.”

“You’re the prime minister — you can make a decision, can’t you?” Baier cut in, pressing on Afridi’s release.