WASHINGTON: In his first appearance at a Washington-based think tank after the Lahore and Karachi rallies, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan said on Friday that there was support for his party within the army.
Addressing an audience via videoconference at the Atlantic Council, Imran first appeared on screen eating rice and sipping from a cup, perhaps unaware that the audience could see him.
About the war on terror, Imran said it was important to win the hearts and minds of the people in the tribal areas, adding that everyone carries a gun in the area. He said that earlier Pakistan did not have Taliban. “It took two years of military operations from 2004 to 2006 and collateral damage that created the Pakistani Taliban.”
The discussion, which lasted nearly 90 minutes, focused primarily on the war in the region, and Pakistan’s economic situation.
Regarding the subject of Pakistan-US relations, Imran said the US “should make friends with the people of Pakistan, not with a specific government”. Citing an example of Washington’s relationship with India, Imran said the US has a relationship with Indian democracy, not with any political party.
The Atlantic Council’s South Asia Centre Director Shuja Nawaz, quoting a question he had been asked to convey from someone on the Hill, asked why there was no outrage in Pakistan when militants attack and behead members of the military. In response, Imran said there was outrage, but, in terms of the war, there is also despondency.
Quoting Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani from his briefing at the all-party conference in September last year, Imran said the army chief had told them there were 5,000 to 8,000 Haqqani network fighters, however, the area had 350,000 residents, and if a military operation was carried out there, it would lead to collateral damage. Imran said Gen Kayani had also told political parties that the army had done its job and it was up to the politicians to work towards a political solution.
Imran added that the country had become increasingly polarised, and cited the example of Javed Ghamdi, who he called Pakistan’s most respected Islamic scholar, who had to leave the country as a result of threats.
Questions from the audience to the PTI leader focused mainly on Pakistan’s dismal economic situation. Imran said that his party would soon be holding a conference on Pakistan’s economy and coming out with policy papers.
Speaking on the subject of nuclear armaments, Imran said it was his personal wish to see a world free of nuclear arms, adding that in Pakistan’s case, they acted as deterrents, but suggested safeguards be implemented along the India-Pakistan border. Imran said he did not believe that the nuclear weapons would fall into the “wrong hands”.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2012.