Interview: PM Imran talks peace with Taliban, meeting Trump and 'concerns' about Pakistan's nuclear weapons

In conversation with Fox News, says Pakistan is open to negotiations on prisoner swap of Shakil Afridi, Aafia Siddiqui.
Published July 23, 2019

Prime Minister Imran Khan, in an interview with Fox News' Bret Baier following the meeting with President Donald Trump on Monday, said that he found the US leader "refreshing and straightforward".

Prime Minister Imran Khan in an exclusive interview with Fox News' Bret Baier on Monday.
Prime Minister Imran Khan in an exclusive interview with Fox News' Bret Baier on Monday.

"I was very happy with the meeting. I found President Trump refreshing in the sense that completely [...] someone who is a straightforward man, no mixing, no juggling with words. He just came out straight with things. Not just me, my whole delegation loved the meeting."

Baier asked Prime Minister Imran if he was surprised by Trump's comments on Afghanistan, in which the US leader talked about "wiping off Afghanistan from the face of the Earth".

"If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people. Does that make sense to you? I don’t want to kill 10 million people [...] if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be gone. It would be over in — literally, in 10 days. And I don’t want to do — I don’t want to go that route," Trump had said in the Oval Office.

"I guess what the president meant was that if he had a scorched earth policy, where a military machine went from one side of Afghanistan to the other. The US has the greatest fire power in the history of mankind. But clearly that would be devastating," said the prime minister.

"Already people in Afghanistan have suffered four decades of conflict. The last thing Afghanistan needs is more violence and it needs peace.

"The Taliban should become a part of the political process, so then you would have a government which will represent the people of Afghanistan."

When asked if negotiations had been sufficiently productive, the premier said: "I think they have been the most productive so far. I mean up to date, they have gone the furthest in the two sides coming together."

The host asked the premier about Taliban initiating attacks, such as the one in Dera Ismail Khan on Sunday which was claimed by the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s Khorasani group, while negotiations were underway.

"The danger is, of course for Afghanistan and Pakistan, that if we do not have some sort of a peace settlement in Afghanistan, the danger of ISIS [...] and ISIS is more of a danger not just to us, but to other countries too," replied the prime minister.

He said Pakistan hopes to give good news regarding freeing of some foreigners — including Americans and Australians — kidnapped and held in Afghanistan.

'Open to prisoner swap for Aafia Siddiqui'

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".

"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.

"There are some decisions in a democracy which even a prime minister finds difficult because we do have an opposition. But this is something that can be negotiated. We also have someone in prison in the US, a frail woman called Aafia Siddiqui, so yes we could negotiate some sort of a swap," said the premier.

Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a neurologist, has been languishing in a United States jail on charges of trying to kill US agents and military officers in Afghanistan.

The premier said the prisoner swap was not discussed in the meeting with Trump and that so far no negotiations had started, but Pakistan would be open to it.

'Nuclear war with India not an option'

"If India said we would give up our nuclear weapons, would Pakistan?" Baier asked.

"Yes," replied the premier. "Because nuclear war is not an option. And between Pakistan and India, the idea of nuclear war is actually self-destruction, because we have [a] two and a half thousand-mile border.

"Also, I think there's a realisation in the subcontinent and there was some incident that happened last February and we again had tension at the border. An Indian plane was shot down in Pakistan.

Read: How Pakistan, India pulled back from brink of war

"So there's a realisation and that's why I asked President Trump if he could play his role. The US is the most powerful country in the world, the only country that could mediate between Pakistan and India, and the only issue is Kashmir.

"The only reason for 70 years, that we have not been able to live like civilised neighbours, is because of Kashmir."

US mediation in India-Pak, Pakistan mediation in Iran

Baier mentioned India's response to Trump's comments on Narendra Modi asking the US president to mediate. India's foreign ministry issued a statement shortly after Trump's comments, saying "no such request has been made by Prime Minister Modi".

"I really feel that India should come on the table," reiterated the prime minister. "The US could play a big part, President Trump certainly can play a big part. We're talking about 1.3 billion people on this Earth. Imagine the dividends of peace if somehow that issue could be resolved."

When asked about Iran wanting a nuclear weapon, the premier replied: "I can't say [...] but as a neighbour of Iran, we certainly hope that this does not become a full-blown conflict.

"We would love to help if we are asked because we are a neighbour of Iran [...] the last thing we want is a conflict in Iran, which will obviously affect us. Not just us, but it will affect oil prices, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia. We would do anything for a peaceful resolution."

Concerns about Pakistan's nuclear weapons

Baier posed a question about "concerns" in America regarding terrorists getting their hands on Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

"They have absolutely no need to worry about Pakistan's nuclear weapons because Pakistan has one of the most professional armies, we have one of the most comprehensive command and control of our nuclear weapons," said Prime Minister Imran.

"The United States knows about it because we share our intelligence with the US about the way we have the safety measures about our nuclear programme."

'Pak, US on one page'

"Today, what's your sense after this meeting in the Oval Office about the financial relationship and the counter-terrorism relationship [with the US]?" asked the interviewer.

"The whole idea of this meeting was that we should be on one page. This mistrust which has dogged our relationship. Pakistan — was it an ally or was it an enemy? We were bombed by drone attacks by an ally," said the prime minister.

"All this mistrust in the past, we wanted to reset our relationship based on understanding that we are on the same page. We want peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan will do everything to help the Taliban come on the dialogue table so that there is peace.

"We struck that understanding today. I came out feeling that we really now are allies. Both of us want peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan will do everything possible to ensure that this peace process goes forward."