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Pakistani Imran Khan says world should give Taliban ‘time’ on human rights but fears unassisted ‘chaos’

Speaking to CNN from his private Bani Gala residence in Islamabad on Wednesday, Khan spoke about the duration of what he perceived to be a “terrible” relationship with the United States that has been disastrous for Pakistan and how he is now seeking a more pragmatic approach to deal with the new Afghan leadership.

It was the prime minister’s first interview with an international news organization since the Taliban took control of neighboring Afghanistan last month, following the complete withdrawal of US troops.

“The Taliban hold all of Afghanistan and if they can somehow work towards an inclusive government, bring all factions together, Afghanistan could have peace after 40 years. But if it turns out badly and that’s what we are doing. Really worried it could turn into chaos The biggest humanitarian crisis, a huge refugee problem, “Khan said.

Khan said the Taliban were looking for international help to avert a crisis, which could be used to push the group in “the right direction towards legitimacy.” However, he warned that Afghanistan could not be controlled by outside forces.

“No puppet government in Afghanistan is supported by the people,” he said. “So rather than just sit here and think we can control them, we should be pushing them. Because Afghanistan, this current government, clearly feels that without international aid and aid, they cannot will not be able to stop this crisis. We should therefore push them in the right direction. “

Even before the Taliban returned to power, protracted conflicts, poverty, consecutive droughts, economic decline and the coronavirus pandemic had exacerbated an already dire situation in which 18 million Afghans – nearly half the population – needed help, according to UN agencies.

To critics who say the Taliban will destabilize the country, Khan pointed to the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, which resulted in a “bloodbath”. Khan said he expected a similar bloodbath to occur after US forces left.

“Our intelligence services told us that the Taliban would not be able to take over all of Afghanistan, and if they tried to take over Afghanistan militarily, there would be a protracted civil war. that we were afraid of because we are the ones who would suffer the most, “Khan said. Now, he said, the world should” give them time “to form a legitimate government and keep their promises.

Women in government

Since coming to power, the militant group has attempted to restore its international reputation, promising to respect human rights, especially with regard to women and girls, and to allow journalists to continue their work.

However, women have been excluded from the Taliban’s intransigent interim government, ordered to stay at home in some areas, and their education restricted. Demonstrations against the Taliban regime and for civil rights have been violently suppressed, with reports of journalists arrested and severely beaten.

“It is a mistake to think that someone from the outside will give rights to Afghan women. Afghan women are strong. Give them time. They will get their rights,” Khan said.

“Women should have the capacity in a society to realize their potential in life,” Khan said. “In Pakistan, what we have done is we have given grants to poor families to get girls to study in school because we think that if the girls, if the girl studies, if they have a education, they will have their own rights, “he said.

However, many members of the international community do not hope that the Taliban will make progress in respecting women’s rights. The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 but were ousted from power after the US-led invasion, have historically treated women as second-class citizens, subjecting them to violence, forced marriages and an almost invisible presence in the country.

The group prohibited the women from working, prevented them from leaving the house unaccompanied, and forced them to cover their entire bodies.

In recent days, the Taliban has made gender segregation mandatory in classrooms and has declared that female students, teachers and employees must wear the hijab in accordance with the group’s interpretation of Sharia law. A Taliban official announced that women would not be allowed to play cricket and other sports. And Taliban fighters have used whips and sticks against female protesters, who have taken to the streets in sporadic protests across the country to demand equal rights.
“Contrary to assurances that the Taliban would defend women’s rights, over the past three weeks, women have been gradually excluded from the public sphere,” UN human rights chief Michèle Bachelet said in Geneva on Monday. .

American withdrawal

Khan has previously criticized the US exit from Afghanistan and said he has not spoken with US President Joe Biden since the Taliban takeover, although Pakistan is a major non-member ally. ‘NATO.

“I imagine he’s very busy, but our relationship with the United States doesn’t just depend on a phone call, it has to be a multidimensional relationship,” Khan said.

This is something Khan doesn’t think Pakistan enjoyed during America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan. “We (Pakistan) were like a mercenary,” Khan said. “We were supposed to make them (the United States) win the war in Afghanistan, which we never could.”

Khan said he had repeatedly warned US officials that America could not achieve its goals militarily and would “get stuck there.” He said the United States should have attempted a political settlement with the Taliban in “a position of strength” at the height of its presence in Afghanistan, not when it was withdrawing.

As a neighboring country with deep cultural ties, Pakistan’s fate is intertwined with that of Afghanistan. Violence, political turmoil and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan inevitably spill over the border. For Khan, the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was disastrous for Pakistan.

According to Khan, thousands of Pakistanis have lost their lives in terrorist attacks by militant groups due to his country’s support for the United States. “Just because we sided with the United States, we became an ally of the United States after September 11 and the war in Afghanistan. this, they should also know that there were 480 drone attacks by the United States in Pakistan, ”he added.

“The only time a country has been attacked by its ally,” he said of the US strikes.

The United States has repeatedly accused Pakistan of harboring terrorists and giving them safe haven, a claim Khan denies.

“What are these shelters? Khan asked. “The area of ​​Pakistan along the Afghan border was the most heavily watched by US drones … surely they would have known if there had been shelters?”

By not standing up to the United States, former Pakistani heads of state have opened up to accusations of collaboration, Khan said.

“The question is whether Pakistan was in a position to carry out military action against the Afghan Taliban when it was already attacked from within, by the Pakistani Taliban who were attacking the state of Pakistan? he said.

Khan said he “cannot destroy my country for someone else’s war.”

“The Afghan Taliban were not attacking us. I would have liked to have been in government. I would have told the United States that we were not going to confront them militarily because we have to serve the people first. My responsibility would have been to the people of my country, ”Khan said.

CNN’s Becky Anderson, Alireza Haji Hosseini and Zeena Saifi have reported from Islamabad, and Helen Regan has written from Hong Kong.