- In interview with Australian journalist Jonathan Swan, Pakistan prime minister says country will not be part of any conflict anymore
- Adds he has not spoken to US President Joe Biden yet
Karachi: After Afghanistan, Pakistan will suffer the most in case the US withdraws its forces without a political settlement, said Prime Minister Imran Khan in an interview with Australian journalist Jonathan Swan that was aired on HBO’s Axios early Monday morning.
The cricketer-turned-politician also categorically rejected reports that the US would be allowed to establish bases in Pakistan to conduct counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, saying the now-trending phrase, “absolutely not”.
“After Afghanistan, Pakistan will suffer the most if the US leaves without a political settlement,” said Khan. “Pakistan suffered 70,000 casualties – more than any other country – by joining the American war. We cannot afford anymore military actions from our territory.
“We will be partners in peace, not in conflict.”
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman also said “it hasn’t been discussed at all” to allow the US forces to use Pakistan’s airspace to conduct airstrikes into Afghanistan.
“We are not going to be part of any conflict anymore. This hasn’t been discussed at all.
“Why would the Americans be bombing Afghanistan after it hasn’t worked for 20 years. Why will it work again,” said Khan when Swan, HBO Axios' National Political Correspondent, pressed if there is a decision regarding the matter in the offing.
The PM's statements come at a time when there are reports that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is under pressure to find new bases for its counterterrorism and surveillance operations in wake of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"The CIA is seeking ways to maintain its intelligence-gathering, war-fighting, and counterterrorism operations in the country," said The New York Times report earlier this month, adding that the agency’s analysts are warning of the ever-growing risks.
The prime minister took the opportunity to mention the Kashmir issue as Swan mentioned US President Joe Biden, and asked if Pakistan’s prime minster had spoken to him since he took office.
“No, I haven’t. Whenever he (Biden) has time, he can speak to me. Clearly, he has other priorities.”
Swan then posed the question of what PM Khan would say to him if he had a meeting with him.
“The US has a big responsibility – most powerful nation in the world. There are 1.4 billion people in the subcontinent, and we are held hostage (due to) one dispute in Kashmir.
“If the Americans have the resolve and the will, this can be sorted out.”
Speaking on Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities after being asked by Swan, the prime minister said the arsenal is to “protect ourselves”. “Any country that has a neighbour seven times its size, as Pakistan has, would be worried.
“I am completely against nuclear arms – always have been. We have fought three wars (with India). But we have never faced war since nuclear deterrents.”
Khan stressed that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute would result in the two neighbours “not needing nuclear deterrents”.
Khan said the need to write a public letter asking Muslim leaders around the world to unite against Islamophobia, particularly in the west, stemmed from a “communication gap” that happened after 9/11.
“The communication gap between Islamic societies and the western world happened after 9/11.
Meanwhile, Khan added “what our conversations with the Chinese have been, this is not the case, according to them”, when asked about Uighur Muslims.
“Whatever issues we have with the Chinese, we speak to them behind closed doors.
“China has been one of our greatest friends – when our economy was struggling. We respect the way they are,” said Khan, swaying the conversation to Kashmir once again.
When Swan asked Khan why has Pakistan done "objectively, vastly better than the US with Covid", the PTI chief said the concept of smart lockdowns has helped the country.
"There was a big temptation in Pakistan that we should impose total lockdowns. But 70-75% of our workers are in the informal sector.
"You cannot lock down hungry people. Immediately, we opened up, and imposed 'smart lockdowns'."
Khan said the inflow of daily data, which was being monitored by a command centre, helped identify hotspots where the lockdown was imposed.