PTI Chairman Imran Khan, long derided for being a Taliban apologist for failing to condemn the banned group’s actions without naming them, has finally declared them as terrorists.
“Anyone who kills innocent people are terrorists,” Imran said in an interview on Al Jazeera English show ‘UpFront’.
During the show, host Mehdi Hasan asked about his alleged relationship with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and whether he supported the group.
“This is absolute nonsense. It’s just not true,” said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief.
“All you have to do is look at my statements for the past ten years.”
When Hasan pressed him whether he considers the TTP a ‘terrorist group’, Imran replied in the affirmative. “Yes, they are.”
The PTI, especially Imran, has long been perceived to be pro-Taliban since it initially refused to condemn the banned terror outfit outright for attacks and at one point had even suggested that the group open its offices in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa while pushing for talks with the banned outfit.
Imran also defended the Rs300 million that the PTI-led government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had recently allocated for the Taliban-linked seminary Darul Uloom Haqqania.
“This is totally out of context,” Imran said, explaining that the funding was “to get the madrassa system into the mainstream”.
Asked about allegations levelled by former president Asif Ali Zardari that the grant was evidence of Imran’s support for extremism, the former national cricket team captain dismissed them as western pandering.
“[Zardari’s comments were] like so many of the Muslim corrupt rulers, ex-rulers, trying to win western support by saying how liberal they are and how anti-Taliban they are.”
He also took a swipe at the Pakistan Peoples Party for not shutting down the seminary during the five years it was in power in the centre.
“If it was a university for jihad, it should have been shut down [by previous Pakistani governments].”
Blasphemy law: thin line
Discussing the controversial blasphemy laws, Imran said the problem was not in the legislature while conceding one had to walk a fine line on the matter.
“The laws are not a problem,” Imran told Hasan, pointing out that the root issue was with “militant groups in Pakistan.”
Asked if he backed moves to alter the laws, which carry a death sentence, Imran said demolishing extremist groups was a bigger priority.
“Extremism is not going to be fought by laws. Extremism has to be fought first by disbanding those groups that are perpetuating this extremism.”
“Whatever you do with the laws people will be killed,” he added. When asked if he fears for his life by speaking about the subject, Imran admitted that there was a threat.
“It is true you have to tread a very thin line. Anything perceived to be... sacrilegious, yes your life is in danger... It is a very difficult subject living in Pakistan.”
Hasan also pressed Imran on his views about the Ahmadis and whether they deserved equal rights.
“All human beings have equal rights. Anyone who is a Pakistani has an equal right. The constitution should protect him, he’s an equal citizen,” Imran said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2016.