‘Strategic depth’ policy changed for Afghan peace: PM

Imran says ready for talks with India if it gives roadmap to restore IIOJK status


Reuters June 04, 2021
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan gestures during an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, Pakistan, June 4, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD:

Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that the ruling PTI had changed Pakistan's decades-long policy of pushing for "strategic depth" in Afghanistan to ensure that there was a friendly government there.

"Any Afghan government chosen by the people is who Pakistan should deal with," Premier Imran told Reuters at his official residence in Islamabad. 

PM Imran also said Pakistan "should not try to do any manipulation in Afghanistan".

Imran maintained that a lot depended on US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, with Pakistan's and Afghanistan's help, to carve out a settlement to avoid more bloodshed.

“Pakistan is pushing for a political settlement in Afghanistan before foreign troops leave later this year, to reduce the risk of civil war in its western neighbour,” Imran said. 

Read more: Taliban warn Afghanistan’s neighbours against hosting US military bases

The United States has said it will withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan on September 11 after a two-decade presence. More than 20 allied countries plan to follow suit.

"There is a lot of fear right now in Pakistan and I assure you that we are trying our level best that there is some sort of political settlement before the Americans leave," Imran said. 

Violence in Afghanistan has risen sharply after the troop withdrawal announcement, with the insurgent Taliban resisting pressure from Washington and its allies to agree to a political understanding leading to a peace deal. 

"Since the moment the Americans gave a date, of when they were going to leave Afghanistan ... the Taliban feel they have won the war," Imran said, adding that it was not going to be easy to get concessions from the Taliban after the US decision. 

The prime minister said Pakistan would suffer the most, after Afghanistan itself, if there was civil war and a refugee crisis. "And then there would be pressure on us to jump in and become a part of it," Imran said. 

‘Talks with India only if IIOJK roadmap given’

Prime Minister Imran Khan said that Pakistan is ready to restart talks with arch-rival India if Delhi provides a roadmap towards restoring the previous status of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).

Also read: US Congress deliberates Pakistan's key role in Afghanistan

In 2019, India withdrew IIOJK's autonomy in order to tighten its grip over the territory, sparking outrage in Pakistan, the downgrading of diplomatic ties and a suspension of bilateral trade.

"If there is a roadmap, then, yes, we will talk," Imran said.

Previously, the prime minister and his government have held that India would have to first reverse its 2019 steps for any normalisation process to begin.

"Even if they give us a roadmap that these are the steps that we will take to basically undo what they did, which is illegal, against international law and United Nations resolutions... then that is acceptable," the prime minister said.

India's Ministry of External Affairs did not immediately respond to Reuters' request for comment.

The prime minister said he has always wanted a "civilised" and "open" relationship with India. "It is common sense that if you want to reduce poverty in the subcontinent, the best way is to trade with each other," he said, referring to the example of the European Union.

Pakistan in March deferred a decision to restart trade with India until Delhi reviewed its moves in IIOJK.
He said India had crossed a "red line" by revoking the autonomy of its part of Kashmir. "They have to come back for us to resume dialogue," Imran said. "At the moment there is no response from India."

 

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