Prime Minister Imran Khan, during a wide-ranging talk with foreign journalists at his residence on Wednesday night, said he wasn’t really “waiting” for a call from US President Joe Biden.
“I keep hearing that President Biden hasn’t called me. It’s his business. it isn’t like I’m expecting any call,” he said in response to an issue from a Reuters journalist.
The prime minister’s comments come days after National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf stated that Pakistan has other options if Biden continues to ignore the country’s leadership.
“The president of us hasn’t spoken to the prime minister of such a crucial country who the US itself says is make-or-break in some cases, in some ways, in Afghanistan — we struggle to know the signal, right?” Yusuf had told The Financial Times in an interview.
“We’ve been told whenever that … [the phone call]will happen, it’s technical reasons or whatever. But frankly, people don’t believe it,” he had said. “If a call may be a concession, if a security relationship may be a concession, Pakistan has options,” he had added, refusing to elaborate.
During the interaction with the foreign media, the prime minister talked about the present situation in Afghanistan, its impact on Pakistan, and therefore the withdrawal of folks troops from the war-torn country.
“The hasty way during which the Americans left, if they wanted a political settlement then sense dictates that [you negotiate]from an edge of strength,” he said, adding that the US was now blaming Pakistan once they did not have any leverage.
“I think the Americans have decided that India may be a strategic partner. Maybe that’s why Pakistan is being treated differently. Pakistan is simply considered to be useful only within the context of settling this mess.”
The premier added that Pakistan’s closeness to China was one more reason for the change within the US’ attitude.
Fallout in Pakistan
The prime minister stressed throughout the interaction that Pakistan stood to lose the foremost from deterioration within the Afghan situation.
“You inquire from me whether we are worried? We are [definitely]worried because the direct impact of descending into a protracted war […] the country which will be most affected after Afghanistan are going to be Pakistan.”
He explained that the Taliban were a Pakhtun-majority group and hence there would be spillover effects in Pakistan’s Pakhtun majority areas.
“It happened in 2003/2004 that our Pakhtun areas reacted to what was happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan lost 70,000 people therein because we supported the Americans.
“So there’s a likelihood that we’ll again have problems in our Pakhtun areas,” the premier explained. He added that on the brink of three million people had also been internally displaced from the tribal areas.
Prime Minister Imran Khan acknowledged that Pakistan already housed 3 million registered Afghan refugees with more unaccounted for. “Our economy is simply recovering [so] we do not want another inflow of refugees,” he said.
Any war in Afghanistan would also derail Pakistan’s plans for connectivity with Central Asia and geo-economic agenda, throwing them “out the window”, the premier highlighted.
He said a “nightmare scenario” for Pakistan would be a protracted war just in case the Taliban tried to make an exclusive Afghan government through a military takeover.
The premier explained that Afghanistan was an ethnically diverse population so if the Taliban tried to require over and one ethnos tried to impose itself over the others, it might cause “constant unrest which isn’t what Pakistan wants”.
He reiterated Pakistan would be suffering from that unrest.
“We have a bigger Pakhtun population here in Pakistan than in Afghanistan and they are probably the foremost xenophobic people on earth. They fight one another normally but when it’s an outdoor [force], all of them get together.”
Pakistan’s entry within the US-led war on terror in 2001 led to a “civil war within the tribal areas”, the prime minister said, explaining that as a result, the militant organizations formed to wage Jihad against the Soviet Union turned against Pakistan.
“Hence it’s in Pakistan’s interest that there’s a political settlement and every one factions come [together to form]a government that represents everyone.”
Responding to an issue on the extent of Pakistani influence over the Taliban, the premier said that even back in 2001, when Pakistan had recognized the Taliban government and was “most influential”, the group had still refused handy over Osama bin Laden.
“So even then Pakistan’s influence wasn’t all-encompassing.”
He said that anyone who thought Afghanistan might be controlled from outside “doesn’t understand the character of the Afghan people”, adding that the people couldn’t be made “puppets”.
“If I used to be a Pakistani policymaker within the 90s, I might not have encouraged this concept of strategic depth which was Pakistan’s policy at the time.
“It is extremely understandable because India, seven times the dimensions of Pakistan, was a hostile eastern neighbor and therefore the Pakistani security setup was always worried about facing hostilities on two fronts so there was always an effort to possess a pro-Pakistan government in Afghanistan,” he said.
Prime Minister Imran Khan emphasized that attempting to influence the Afghan government wouldn’t work since the Afghan population wouldn’t accept it and any perception of being controlled from outside would cause a loss of credibility.
“Pakistan should work with any government that’s selected by the people of Afghanistan.”
Hence, the PTI government’s policy was to interact with all Afghan factions, hold no favorites, and have a readiness to figure whichever government comes into power.
The attitude of Afghan govt
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he had tried to influence the senior Taliban leadership during their visit to Pakistan earlier this year to return to a political settlement but that they had refused to speak to President Ashraf Ghani.
He said he had suggested an interim government in 2019 before the Afghanistan presidential election but “the Afghan government was very critical about this remark […] Once President Ghani got elected and therefore the Taliban were excluded, it had been always getting to be a drag from then onwards since he insisted they ask him while they didn’t recognise him or the elections”.
“Now the Afghan government is extremely critical about Pakistan [and]they think we’ve some magical powers that we’ll make the Taliban do whatever we would like [them] to try to to ,” the premier said, adding that the Afghan government didn’t realize that Pakistan’s leverage was “minuscule and diminished” since the American withdrawal.
He said it became extremely difficult to influence the Taliban once the US gave a date for withdrawal and therefore the Afghan government was now blaming Pakistan for things in Afghanistan.
“They somehow think Pakistan has supernatural powers [and that]we are a superpower plus which has such power that the 60,000 to 70,000 Taliban can combat 300,00 Afghan government troops with aircraft and modern weapons and somehow we have the facility to form them (Taliban) win.”
The prime minister noted that the Afghan government’s posturing was aimed toward bringing the US back to Afghanistan.
“They want the Americans to intervene again but they have been here for 20 years so what is going to they are doing now which they didn’t neutralize 20 years?” he questioned.
The prime minister reiterated that Pakistan had made it clear “our soil won’t be used [for operations in Afghanistan] in order that we again get embroiled in an Afghan civil war” and it didn’t want military bases in its territory.
“As far as I do know after [August] 31, the Americans are getting to stop all kinds of [operations], even air attacks in Afghanistan,” he said.