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Imran Khan says no Pakistani bases to US for withdrawal from Afghanistan

Nation Special Report

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has categorically said that Pakistan would “absolutely not” allow any bases and use of its territory to the US for any sort of action inside Afghanistan.

“Absolutely not. There is no way we are going to allow any bases, any sort of action from Pakistani territory into Afghanistan. Absolutely not,” the prime minister told Axios on HBO in an interview.

In an excerpt of the interview, to be aired on Sunday, on the Axios website, the interviewer Jonathan Swan had questioned, “Would you allow the American government to have CIA here in Pakistan to conduct cross-border counterterrorism missions against Al-Qaeda, ISIS or the Taliban?”

Surprised over his clear-cut response of “absolutely not”, the interviewer interrupts the prime minister to reconfirm his words asking, “Seriously?”

Axios on HBO is a documentary-news programme that combines the reporting of Axios journalists with the expertise of HBO filmmakers to explore the collision of tech, media, business, and politics.

Imran Khan remained a staunch critic of his country’s decision to join the US-led war on terror in 2001, describing it as “one of the biggest blunders” that not only led to the killings of tens of thousands of Pakistanis but also proved costly in economic terms.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan expressing his views during an interview on HBO.

He slammed previous administrations for allowing the Americans to use Pakistani air bases to operate their drones that killed dozens of militant leaders in the Af-Pak region while also resulting in collateral damage in his country’s tribal territories.

Some recent media reports suggested Pakistan was willing to offer military bases to US forces, though the country’s foreign office said no “such proposal [had been] envisaged.”

The country’s foreign minister and national security adviser also ruled out the possibility of allowing the US to use Pakistani military bases, though speculation regarding a conversation between Washington and Islamabad over the issue did not fade away.

Axios on HBO is a documentary-news program that combines the reporting of Axios journalists with the expertise of HBO filmmakers to explore the collision of tech, media, business, and politics.

The series has featured interviews with former US President Donald Trump, Sundar Pichai, Elon Musk, Mary Barra, now US President Joe Biden, Andrew Yang and Kamala Harris, among others.

Kashmir issue

Imran Khan has said that the Kashmir dispute, which holds the 1.4 billion people of South Asia hostage, could be settled if the United States showed a ‘resolve and will’. “This festering can ease if the US has the resolve and will. This can be sorted out,” he said.

The ‘Kashmir dispute’ was put on top agenda by the prime minister as the interviewer asked him about the priorities of discussion when he meets US President Joe Biden in future.

PM Imran said that “almost 1.4 billion people in the sub-continent are held hostage with one dispute of Kashmir” and the United States being a powerful nation of the world had a big responsibility in that regard.

The Kashmir dispute, he said, needed a settlement as per the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council that called for a plebiscite to let the Kashmiris decide about their own future.

The prime minister pointed out that the West was ignoring the genocide in Kashmir, with hundreds and thousands of Kashmiris killed by the Indian troops. “This is such a big issue in the Western world as why are the people of Kashmir ignored,” he said, adding the Kashmir issue was “much more relevant” where 800,000 Indian troops had put the nine million Kashmiris in ‘jail’.

“Why is this not an issue? This is hypocrisy,” he said, referring to the apathy of the West towards the plight of Kashmiri people facing the humanitarian crisis for decades.

Asked about Pakistan’s “growing nuclear capability”, he said Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal was “simply for its own defence” in the scenario of a country seven times of its size. He expressed the belief that the resolution of the Kashmir issue would lead the two countries towards peace. “The moment there is a settlement on Kashmir, I believe Pakistan and India will live as civilized neighbours without nuclear deterrence,” he said.

Withdrawal from Afghanistan

On the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, he stressed that there must be a prior “political settlement” as military solution was not the viable option. He hinted at the possibility of a civil war if the US troops pulled out without a political settlement, which, he explained, as the “coalition government with Taliban and others as stakeholders”.

Asked whether Pakistan would like to welcome the Taliban into the comity of nations, he said, “As far as Pakistan is concerned, whoever is representing the people of Afghanistan, we would deal with them.”

PM Imran categorically said that Pakistan would “absolutely not” allow any bases and use of its territory for any sort of action inside Afghanistan. “Absolutely not. There is no way we are going to allow any bases, any sort of action from Pakistani territory into Afghanistan. Absolutely not,” he said,

In response to the question if he would allow the American government to have CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) conduct counter-terrorism missions in Pakistan against Al-Qaeda, ISIS or the Taliban. “We will be partners in peace, not in conflict,” he said. Pakistan could not afford any more military actions from its soil as it was the country that suffered most after Afghanistan, he added.

To a question if Pakistan would allow the US to use its air space for strikes, he said, “Such an approach of the US [of airstrikes] did not work for 20 years. Why would it work again?”

“Over 70,000 Pakistanis embraced martyrdom due to the US-Afghan war. We have given sacrifices more than anybody else in this war.” He noted that his country is currently hosting three million Afghan refugees. Imran Khan has warned the world of the possibility of a civil war in Afghanistan if foreign troops leave the war-torn country without settlement.

On “doing vastly better than the United States” on Covid-19, the prime minister said that partial lockdown coupled with comprehensive data analysis helped his government keep the pandemic in control. Smart lockdown was the “best decision” to cope with the situation, he added.

PM Imran recalled that with the people in Spain and Italy ending up in hospitals as Covid-19 raged through Europe, there was a big temptation by the politicians from the opposition for a total lockdown. However, he said, he opted for smart lockdown given the problems of the poor.

He mentioned that an effective working of the National Command and Operation Centre with daily data monitoring and input by the provinces, army, doctors and health specialists helped the government handle the situation.

Nuclear programme

Responding to a question, the prime minister stated that the country’s nuclear programme is only for self-defence. “I am against nuclear weapons, but our nuclear arsenal is for defence purposes,” he said.

Increasing Islamophobia in the West

PM Imran Khan highlighted that Islamophobia has increased in Europe after 9/11 and urged international efforts to counter this dangerous trend. He termed a “big communication gap” between the Islamic world and the western societies as the main reason for this increase.

He said after 9/11, the term ‘Islamic terrorism’ was coined massively that misguided people in the West who started believing that Islam led to terrorism. He pointed that with the involvement of a few Muslims in terrorist activities, the entire 1.3 billion Muslim community became the target.

Talking about the open letter he had written to leaders of Muslims states calling on them to unite against Islamphobia, PM Imran said: “There is a big communication gap between the Islamic world and Western societies. It happened after 9/11 when the world ‘Islamic’ terrorism came into currency.”

The moment you say Islamic terrorism, the common man in the West thinks there is something within the religion which leads to terrorism, he said. After 9/11 any time there was a terrorist act where a Muslim was involved, 1.3 billion Muslims across the world started becoming targets, he said.

‘China is a friend’

The prime minister said China has always supported Pakistan whenever needed and explicitly praised their helping hand. When asked to comment on the Uighyr issue, he said Pakistan and China discuss issues behind closed doors.

Asked why he was so outspoken about Islamophobia in the West but silent about the genocide of Uighur Muslims in China, he said that all issues were discussed with China “behind closed doors”.

“China has been one of the greatest friends to us in our most difficult times. When we were really struggling, China came to our rescue. We respect the way they are and whatever issues we have, we speak behind closed doors.

“I look around the world what’s happening in Palestine, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan. Am I going to start talking about everything? I concentrate on what is happening on my border, in my country.”

He questioned why this was such a big issue in the Western world when the people of occupied Kashmir were being ignored. “It is much more relevant. Compared to what may be going on with the Uighurs, 100,000 Kashmiris have been killed,” he said, adding that the occupied valley had been turned into an “open prison”.

“Why is that not an issue?” he asked, adding that he considered it to be “hypocrisy”.