Updates on Thursday, August 9:
KARACHI: The spokesman for the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Ahsanullah Ahsan, has denied reports that the militant organisation has threatened to kill cricket star turned politician Imran Khan if he holds a planned march to their tribal stronghold.
The Associated Press (AP) on Wednesday, in an interview with Ahsan in the militant group’s stronghold of South Waziristan, quoted the Taliban spokesman as saying: “We will kill him.”
“We will not accept help or sympathy from any infidel,” AP quoted Ahsan as saying, referring to Khan. “We can fight on our own with the help of God,” added the report.
However, in an email sent out Thursday, the spokesman partially denied the report.
“There is news in [the] media that I have threatened to kill Imran Khan…if he comes to Waziristan,” said the email, adding: “That was quoted by an AP reporter…regarding my interview with him. I gave him [an] interview but I hadn’t stated in that interview that we are going to kill Imran Khan.”
The spokesman added that an announcement on a reaction to Imran Khan’s visit will be made after the “Shurah of TTP…decide what to do a week before his (Khan’s) sure arrival.”
However, Ahsan went on to admit the rest of the interview.
“It's sure and clear that we don’t have any sympathy with Imran Khan. Neither [do] we need his sympathy, as he himself claims to be liberal and we see liberals as infidels,” he said.
Taliban threaten to kill Imran Khan
Earlier on Wednesday, AP reported that the Taliban had threatened to kill Imran Khan if he holds a planned march to their tribal stronghold to protest US drone attacks.
Although the Pakistani Taliban also oppose the strikes, spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan said they would attack Imran Khan because he calls himself a “liberal” a term they associate with a lack of religious belief.
The threat could surprise many in Pakistan who have criticised Khan for not being tough enough on the Taliban and instead focusing his criticism on the government’s alliance with the US.
Ahsan spoke to The Associated Press in an interview on Monday in the militant group’s stronghold of South Waziristan. “We will kill him,” said Ahsan.
Some of his critics have nicknamed him “Taliban Khan” because of his views and his cozy ties with conservative leaders who could help him attract right-wing voters in national elections likely to be held later this year or early next year.
Khan has described himself as a liberal in various TV interviews, but he has also made clear that he is a practicing Muslim. Ahsan, the Taliban spokesman, seemed to ignore that distinction and said the militants didn’t want Khan’s help in opposing drone attacks.
Khan has said he is planning to lead thousands of people in a march to Waziristan in September to demonstrate against the strikes.
”We will not accept help or sympathy from any infidel,” said Ahsan, referring to Khan. ”We can fight on our own with the help of God,” he said, as drones buzzed overhead.
The spokesman for Khan’s party could not be immediately reached for comment. Ahsan said the Taliban consider anyone who participates in elections, even religious parties, as infidels and will target them.
“The election process is part of a secular system,” said Ahsan. “We want an Islamic system and will create hurdles to secularism.” An AP reporter interviewed Ahsan at a remote compound on a forested mountainside in South Waziristan.
He was taken there from a compound in the Shawal area that housed several dozen Taliban fighters armed with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and anti-aircraft guns. Artillery fired by the Pakistani army regularly pounded the ground near the compound.
The military launched a major offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan in 2009 and has claimed to have largely cleared the area.
But the militants regularly launch attacks, and the interview held with the AP indicated they move relatively freely. Ahsan arrived for the interview in a pick-up truck with two other Taliban commanders.
He was wearing a white shalwar kameez and a woolen Chitrali cap. He spoke with an assault rifle laid across his lap, and he and the other commanders fired into the air in celebration at the end of the interview.—AP