SHAWAL, Aug 8: The Taliban have threatened to kill Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan if he holds a planned march to their tribal stronghold along the Afghan border in protest against US drone attacks.
Although the Pakistani Taliban also oppose the strikes, which have killed many of their associates, spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan said they would target Imran Khan because he calls himself a `liberal’.
He also warned they would attack anyone participating in upcoming elections.
“If he comes, our suicide bombers will target him,” Ahsan told The Associated Press in an interview on Monday in South Waziristan. “We will kill him.”
The threat could come as a surprise to many in Pakistan who have criticised Khan for not being tough enough on the Taliban and instead focusing most of his criticism on the government’s alliance with the US. Some of his critics have nicknamed him `Taliban Khan’ because of his views and his cozy ties with conservative Islamists who could help him attract right-wing voters in general 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 it clear that he is a practising Muslim.
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 PTI could not be immediately reached for comment.
Ahsan said the Taliban considered anyone who would participate 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 would 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 Taliban in South Waziristan in 2009 and has claimed to have largely cleared the area. But the militants regularly launch attacks.
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 militants fired into the air in celebration at the end of the interview.—AP