The Pakistan government is not a spokesperson for the Taliban and Islamabad cannot be held responsible for the actions of the insurgent group in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of soldiers from the US and its allies, Prime Minister Imran Khan has said.
In his comments to Afghan media representatives that were aired on Thursday, Mr Khan also said that Pakistan will have good relations with whoever the Afghans choose.
“What the Taliban are doing or aren’t doing has nothing to do with us. We are not responsible, neither are we spokespersons for the Taliban,” Mr Khan was quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.
Mr Khan’s remarks were a continuation of Pakistan’s repeated warnings that it would not accept the responsibility if it was blamed for any setbacks in the Afghan peace process.
Under a deal with the Taliban, the US and its NATO allies agreed to withdraw all troops in return for a commitment by the militants that they would prevent extremist groups from operating in areas they control. US President Joe Biden has announced that American troops will be out of the country by August 31.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan by brute force from 1996 to 2001 when the US invasion toppled their government.
The US invaded Afghanistan in October, 2001 after the Taliban refused to hand over al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden, who was behind the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in America.
Mr Khan again distanced Islamabad from the developments in Kabul, saying: “All we want is peace in Afghanistan.”
He said that the Afghans had a choice to make: to either pursue the US-backed military solution or to pursue a political settlement where there is an inclusive government. “(The latter) is the only solution,” he said.
“There are three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, almost all of them are Pashtuns and most will have sympathies with the Taliban. How is Pakistan supposed to check who is going over there to fight when we have about 30,000 people crossing into Afghanistan every day. How is Pakistan going to check that?” Mr Khan asked.
Mr Khan said it was not possible for Pakistan to sift through the refugee camps to find out who was pro-Taliban and who was not, adding that until recently there was no physical border between the two countries.
“The Durand Line was imaginary,” he said, referring to the 2,640-kilometre-long border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said that Pakistan has completed 90 per cent of the border fencing.
“We are trying our best, but it is not possible to hold Pakistan responsible when you have over three million refugees here,” he said.
He said that it was not in Pakistan’s interest to have civil war break out in Afghanistan. “What interest could Pakistan have in backing someone to take over Afghanistan?” he asked.
What is clear is that no one party will be able to take over Afghanistan, he said, adding that in the 90s Pakistan had pursued the policy of ”strategic depth” as it was wary of Indian influence in Afghanistan.
“In those days we did try to have favourites. Now, and especially in my government, we believe that Afghanistan can never be controlled from the outside,” he said.
So Pakistan will have good relations with whoever the Afghans choose, he said. “We have no favourites now.”
Commenting on the abduction and torture of the Afghan ambassador’s daughter in Islamabad, Mr Khan said that authorities had charted out the exact path taken by the victim. He said that taxi drivers were traced and interrogated.
“Unfortunately, what the ambassador’s daughter is saying and what the cameras show do not add up. She says she was put in a taxi, taken away and beaten up. But there is a picture of that taxi and she is sitting there and she is fine,” Mr Khan said.
He said that the probe team from Afghanistan would be handed over all the information.
Mr Khan said that Pakistan had nothing to do with why 150,000 NATO troops did not succeed in Afghanistan. “It”s exactly like what the Americans did in Vietnam. When they failed in Vietnam, they blamed insurgents from Cambodia or Laos.”
He said that Pakistan was told at one point that the Taliban’s main sanctuaries were in North Waziristan. “They kept pushing us to take action. Finally after four or five years, we took action [but] one million people were internally displaced […] what difference did it make?”
He said that the Americans should have spoken to the Taliban from a position of strength. “When there were 150,000 NATO troops, that was the time to talk to [the Taliban]. How can they expect the Taliban to compromise when an exit date has been given and a few thousand troops are left?”
Mr Khan also questioned what the US would achieve operating from Pakistan when it could not achieve its goal in Afghanistan for the last 20 years.