PTI chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan has blamed the “negligence” of Pakistan’s security forces and intelligence agencies for the rising incidents of terrorism in the country.
In an interview with Voice of America English aired on Saturday (Feb 11), Imran spoke on the recent criticism surrounding the PTI government’s decision to negotiate with the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) before it was ousted.
He was responding to a question by the host, who asked him if he still “stands by” the decision to greenlight the talks.
“One of the reasons that terrorism has spiked in Pakistan is because, according to the National Counterterrorism Authority, the time that was taken for negotiations with TTP was used by that group to reorganise. Those talks started when you were in power. Do you stand by your decision to greenlight those talks,” correspondent Sarah Zaman asked.
“Well, firstly, what were the choices [the] Pakistani government faced once the Taliban took over and they decided the TTP, and we’re talking about 30, [30,000] to 40,000 people, you know, the families included, once they decided to send them back to Pakistan? Should we have just lined them up and shot them, or should we have tried to work with them to resettle them,” Imran replied.
He went on to say that his government had had a meeting at that time and the idea behind that was resettlement with the “concurrence of politicians all along the border”, the erstwhile FATA region, security forces and the TTP.
“But that never happened because our government left and once our government was removed, the new government took its eye off the ball,” he said.
The former premier stated that it was possible for the TTP to regroup and then questioned: “But then where were the Pakistani security forces? Where were the intelligence agencies? Could they not see them regrouping?
“How could we be held responsible for their negligence,” the PTI chief asked.
Over the past few months, the law and order situation in the country has worsened, with terrorist groups executing attacks with near impunity across the country.
Since the talks with the TTP broke down in November, the militant group has intensified its attacks, particularly targeting the police in KP and areas bordering Afghanistan. Insurgents in Balochistan have also stepped up their violent activities and formalised a nexus with the outlawed TTP.
According to statistics released by the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), January 2023 remained one of the deadliest months since July 2018, as 134 people lost their lives — a 139 per cent spike — and 254 received injuries in at least 44 militant attacks across the country.
Most recently, more than 80 people — mostly cops — lost their lives during a suicide attack at a mosque in Peshawar’s Police Lines.
The attack has sparked conversation on the causes of the rise in terrorism in the country. The incumbent government has blamed the PTI, calling the previous setup’s move to enter into dialogue with militants “faulty” which was “never endorsed” by parliament.
US not behind ouster
Questioned about his approach towards the US upon a possible return to power and his allegations about the country’s involvement in his ouster, Imran said international relationships should not be based on “personal egos” but on the interest of the country’s people.
“The people of Pakistan, their interest is that we have [a] good relationship with the US,” he said, explaining that it was a superpower and Pakistan’s biggest trading partner.
“Whatever happened, now as things unfold, it wasn’t the US who told Pakistan [to oust me]. It was unfortunately, from what evidence has come up, [former army chief] Gen [Qamar Javed] Bajwa who somehow managed to tell the Americans that I was anti-American. And so, it [the plan to oust me] wasn’t imported from there. It was exported from here to there.”
Imran said the matter was now “in the past, we have to move on”. “It’s in the interest of Pakistan to have good relations with the US and that’s what we intend to do,” he added.
‘Need to get Kabul to work with us’
The PTI chief, while talking about Pakistan’s foreign policy and the relationship with the Afghan Taliban, stressed that the country had to somehow get Kabul to “work with us again” and jointly deal with the issue of terrorism.
“I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but do we want a repeat of what happened to Pakistan from 2005 onwards to 2015, where Pakistan was going under, suffering from terrorism all along the Afghan border? I think we are not in a position to have another war on terror,” he said.
The ex-premier further said that whatever government was functioning in Afghanistan, it was important for Pakistan to have a good relationship with them.
He recalled that he tried his best with the government of former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani.
“Our interest is that having a good relationship with the government in Kabul means that we have a 2,500-kilometer border with them. This means that if there are problems of terrorism, then they will help us.”
Imran also criticised incumbent Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, saying that he had not even paid a single visit to Afghanistan yet.
‘Bajwa had a close relationship with Shehbaz Sharif’
Talking about his relationship with Gen Bajwa, the ex-premier said that his government and the military were on the “same page”, which meant that “we had the organised strength of Pakistan army to help us”.
“We worked together, and you know, Pakistan was considered one of the success stories of Covid-19.”
However, Imran contended that Gen Bajwa “favoured some of the biggest crooks in the country” and didn’t think about corruption as a big problem.
“He wanted us to work with them. What that meant [was] giving them immunity from their corruption cases,” he claimed, adding that Gen Bajwa has a “very close” relationship with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
“And, for some reason, he conspired, and this regime change took place.”
Imran added that the leading principle of the balance of power was that the elected government must also have the authority. “You cannot separate responsibility and authority. So, if the authority lies with the army chief, [but] responsibility lies with the prime minister, no management system works,” he pointed out.
In response to another question, Imran said that he was sure that the new military leadership had realised that the “experiment of regime change” had gone wrong.