LONDON: Cricketer turned politician Imran Khan called Thursday for the army to withdraw from Pakistan’s tribal areas and for talks with the Taliban, warning that the country faced “catastrophe” otherwise.
Khan said the US-Pakistan military offensive in the areas bordering Afghanistan was turning locals massively against the United States and boosting support for the militants.
US drone strikes on militants were sparking “anger and hatred” in the area, said Khan, who leads the marginal Tehrik-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice).
“The solution is to hold a dialogue with the militants,” he told an audience at the Chatham House foreign policy thinktank in London.
“The solution is to win them onto our side, not to bomb them with airstrikes.” Otherwise, he warned: “If we continue with this military operation we are facing a catastrophe.”
The militants operating in the tribal areas did not share the beliefs of the Afghan Taliban, who wanted to create an Islamist state, he said.
“In my opinion, they are political Taliban, they are not religious Taliban.”
“They will fade away as soon as the Pakistan army moves back and dialogue is held,” he added.
Khan said that Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf once described him as “a terrorist without a beard” for suggesting talks with the militants, but now it was an idea being promoted by others.
“Now even (Afghan President) Hamid Karzai considers (Taliban supreme leader) Mullah Omar to be a brother,” Khan added, to laughter from the audience.
He also criticised the tactics of the US military surge in Afghanistan.
“The only way I see the surge being effective is if they use their muscle to get the Taliban to the negotiating table.”
“If they use the surge for more bloodshed, I can guarantee they will leave behind — because they will leave — a far more radical government than the one it replaced.”
A US drone strike in the lawless northwest border area Thursday targeted Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, officials said, although the militia denied reports that he was among 10 killed. –AFP