Pakistan expects US support on Kashmir dispute

ISLAMABAD – Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that Pakistan wants “even-handed treatment” from the United States with respect to India making the South Asian region a hot-spot which could flare up at any time.

In an interview with German Magazine Der Spiegel, the premier said, “India is a threat to its neighbours, including China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.”

“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. India is a threat to its neighbours, to China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and to us,” he said.

The Prime Minister said India currently is the most extremist and racist government in the subcontinent, inspired by the Nazis of 1920s and ‘30s. “Pakistan expects from the United States an even-handed treatment with respect to India, especially on the Kashmir dispute”, he emphasised.

Prime Minister underscored that the writings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—the intellectual forerunner of Indian’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party— openly admired Hitler. The Nazis wanted to get rid of the Jews and the RSS wanted to rid India of the Muslims, he said.

He said the United States thinks that India will contain China, which is a completely flawed premise.

In response to a question regarding how Pakistan was able to bring Taliban to the negotiating table, the premier stated that with over 2.7 million Afghans residing in Pakistan, Islamabad has a certain amount of leverage that the country uses to the utmost.

“We have no favourites in Afghanistan. Our only interest is that the future government in Kabul does not allow India to operate from there against Pakistan,” he stressed. He further stated that no one can predict which way things will go in Afghanistan right now.

“What I can say is that after Afghanistan, the country that wants peace most is Pakistan,” he added.

About Afghanistan, the Prime Minister said from day one, his government has been fostering dialogue to resume peace in that country.

On a question concerning Pakistan passing a new law prohibiting criticism on the military, the Prime Minister said that the country has more freedom of speech than almost any Western state.

“As long as criticism is based on truth and facts, it will 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 stated.

He elaborated that 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. When soldiers are risking their lives, you cannot demoralize them in public,” he added.

Regarding Middle Eastern countries warming up to Israel, the premier stated that every country has its own foreign policy. “The founder of the nation, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, a brilliant man, spoke in the 1940s about the Palestinian situation as a huge violation of human rights. Pakistan still takes this view. Unless there’s a just settlement, we cannot recognise Israel,” Imran stressed.

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

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 the normalisation of ties between Israel and several countries in the Middle East, the premier reiterated that Pakistan would not recognise Israel until the Palestinian conflict is settled. Lauding China, the premier said that what the country has achieved in 40 years is remarkable.

“I admire China because they have taken 700 million people out of poverty within the short period of 40 years,” he said adding that this was the model he wanted 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. I’ve seen how the Communist Party sort of sifts through all the talent and bring it to the top. Furthermore, in the past seven years, China has put 450 ministerial level officials in jail on corruption charges,” he said. He further underscored that countries weren’t poor because of a lack of resources but because of corrupt leadership.

“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.”

In response to a question regarding the opposition parties joining forces against him under the banner of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), the Imran Khan snubbed being blackmailed.

“There’s no way I will ever relent. Look, we are facing the biggest trade gap in our history. Our imports were $60 billion, but exports were only $20 billion. The rupee is falling and there’s inflation because we import fuel. Everything is getting more and more expensive, even electricity. We have to raise our revenues, so we have to increase our tax base. We’re going through these painful reforms and all these guys from the opposition get together. They are worried that once we stabilize things, they will all end up in jail because of huge corruption cases,” he maintained.

Speaking about Pakistan’s strategy to combat coronavirus, the Prime Minister said that almost half of the Pakistani people live on daily and weekly wages and therefore the country had to opt for a smart lockdown.

“We only restricted areas if we found that there was an outbreak, and we did not stop our supply lines. We did not stop the agriculture sector and quickly reopened the construction sector, because that’s what employs the most people in the urban areas. That saved us,” he said adding that India instead restricted people to their homes in poor areas. “They have a lot of poverty now, same in Iran,” he stated.

The Prime Minister said that from peak numbers in June, Pakistan saw a steady decline in cases, positivity and deaths across the country until late August and the country was now hoping to survive the second wave.

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

“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,” he said.

Imran Khan 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.”

On a lighter note, the premier expressed that his wife, Bushra Bibi, was his “soulmate.”

“Only a fool doesn’t talk about everything with his wife. She has great wisdom. I discuss everything with her,” he said. “She is my soulmate. She is my companion. I would not have survived without her.”

More on this story from The Nation