• In interview with German magazine, PM terms New Delhi threat to neighbours
• Says army should not have become involved in post-9/11 war
• Insists Pakistan has more freedom of speech than any Western country
• Calls Bushra Bibi his soulmate

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday said Pakistan wanted an “even-handed treatment” from the United States with respect to India, especially on the Kashmir issue, warning that the region (South Asia) was a hotspot and could flare up any time.

“That’s why we expect the US, as the strongest country in the world, to be even-handed, whoever becomes president. The US thinks India will contain China, which is a completely flawed premise,” Prime Minister Khan said in an interview with the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel.

The premier’s comments come days after the US and India signed a pact to share sensitive satellite and map data. During a visit to New Delhi, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the two countries had to work together to confront the threat China posed to security and freedom.

“India is a threat to its neighbours, to China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and to us. It has the most extremist, racist government on the subcontinent. It is a fascist state, inspired by the Nazis in the 1920s and 30s,” the prime minister said.

When the interviewer pointed out that a proposed new law could make it impossible for journalists to report on the Pakistan Army in future, he said: “There will be another way of dealing with the security forces — not through the media, but through the government.”

“I will speak to the army chief if I think there’s something wrong. There are always human rights violations in military operations and sometimes we speak about it when it happens. But this should not be done in public,” he said, adding that “when soldiers are risking their lives, you cannot demoralise them in public”.

Prime Minister Khan refrained from saying which candidate — President Donald Trump or Joe Biden — had a better shot at winning the US elections.

“Joe Biden is in front in opinion polls, but Donald Trump is very unpredictable because he’s not like normal politicians. He plays by his own rules,” Mr Khan said.

He said when he started his own party he had to do a lot of “out-of-the-box thinking”.

“[PTI] was the first to rely on social media and the first to attract the youth to our rallies,” he said.

Asked whether he saw similarities between himself and the US president, PM Khan said: “We [PTI] had to be very unorthodox and, in some ways, Donald Trump does too.”

Afghan war

Prime Minister Khan said Pakistan had “nothing to do with the terror attacks on 9/11 as Al Qaeda was already in Afghanistan”.

He, however, said: “After 9/11, we should not have allowed our army to become involved in the war. I opposed it from day one. The US put pressure on us, and the military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf succumbed to that pressure.”

When the interviewer pointed out that, at the time, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only countries supporting the Taliban, he replied: “Don’t forget, Osama bin Laden was a hero in the 1980s. He supported the Mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and he was backed by both the CIA and Pakistan.

“It was Pakistan’s right to recognise the Taliban but Pakistan had no control over the Taliban. When Pakistan asked the Taliban to hand over Bin Laden to the Americans, they refused.”

Asked how Pakistan was able to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, the premier said the country had leverage due to 2.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

However, he added that no one could predict the way things would go in Afghanistan.

“What I can say is that after Afghanistan, the country that wants peace the most is Pakistan. We have lost 70,000 people in this conflict, and our tribal areas adjacent to the Afghan border have been devastated during the last 15 years. Half of the people in these areas have become internally displaced,” he said.

He also regretted the “double image” given to Pakistan.

“It all started in the 1980s, after the Iranian revolution. Many in the West began looking at Muslim countries as if there was a divide between liberals and fundamentalists — a very artificial assessment.

“Muslim countries are no different from other communities. All communities are divided into moderates which make up the majority, and the extremists,” Mr Khan said.

Freedom of speech

The prime minister said Pakistan had more freedom of speech than almost any Western country.

“I have been wrongly slandered as prime minister here and gone to court but even as prime minister, I haven’t been able to get justice.

“As long as criticism is based on truths and facts, it would be accepted. Every day, our security forces lose people in battle. Every country protects its institutions, not when they do something wrong, but when they’re being attacked,” he said.

Yemen conflict

Calling the conflict in Yemen a “colossal human rights disaster”, Imran Khan said he immediately offered to mediate after coming to power.

“I spoke to Iran and then I spoke with Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. But you can’t force anybody to agree on peace talks if they don’t want to,” he added.

Commenting on a possible war between Riyadh and Tehran, he said: “It would be a disaster. It would be devastating for countries all over the world, especially the poor, and the price of oil would shoot up.”

Discussing normalisation of ties between Israel and several countries in the Middle East, PM Khan reiterated that Pakistan would not recognise Israel until the Palestinian conflict was settled.

“Every country has its own foreign policy priorities. They have to think about their own people and it’s their decision. As for Pakistan, the founder of the nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, spoke in the 1940s about the Palestinian situation as a huge violation of human rights.

Praising China

The prime minister lauded China for reducing poverty and expressed his wish to replicate the same in Pakistan.

“What China has achieved is remarkable. I admire China because they have taken 700 million people out of poverty within the short period of 40 years. This is the model I want to emulate in Pakistan. Despite not having electoral politics, they are good at bringing the best people to the top in their country. It’s a system based on meritocracy,” he added.

Opposition

Criticising the opposition leaders, the prime minister said: “As we know from the Panama Papers, the same is true for Pakistani politicians. Millions of dollars went into properties in the most expensive areas in London, siphoned off from this country.”

When asked about the 11-party opposition alliance that has vowed in recent weeks to oust his government, he said: “They want to blackmail me into getting them out of corruption cases. But there’s no way I will ever relent.”

He said he inherited the economic crisis but things were improving now due to painful reforms.

“Now all these guys from the opposition have united and are worried that once we stabilise things, they will all end up in jail because of huge corruption cases.”

Handling Covid-19

The prime minister said Pakistan handled the pandemic sagaciously, adding that ‘smart lockdowns’ were the key to curbing the spread of the virus.

“Almost half of the population survives on daily and weekly wages. Therefore, we imposed a ‘smart lockdown’ [and] only restricted areas where we discovered an outbreak. We didn’t stop supply lines.”

His ‘soulmate’

Imran Khan said his wife, Bushra Bibi, was his soulmate.

Asked whether he took guidance from her, he replied: “Only a fool doesn’t talk about everything with his wife. She has great wisdom. I discuss everything with her.”

“She is my soulmate. She is my companion. I would not have survived without her,” the prime minister added.

Published in Dawn, November 1st, 2020

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