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Pakistani Opposition Politician Imran Khan on US Drone Attacks, the “Massive Human Catastrophe” in the Swat Valley and the Escalation of War in Afghanistan

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At least sixty people have reportedly died in the South Waziristan region of western Pakistan after a US drone attack Tuesday. The attack came as the Pakistani army and air force expanded their military operations from Swat into South Waziristan. We speak with Pakistani opposition figure and cricketing legend Imran Khan, the leader of the political party known as the Movement for Justice. Khan has been an outspoken critic of both US drone attacks as well as the Pakistani military’s offensive against the Taliban. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryJan 30, 2008Pakistani Opposition Leader Imran Khan on Musharraf, Bhutto and How the US Has Undermined Pakistani Democracy
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: At least sixty people have reportedly died in the South Waziristan region of western Pakistan after a US drone attack on Tuesday. The vast majority were killed when missiles from an unmanned American drone struck the funeral of a suspected Taliban commander. The suspected commander and six others died in a previous drone attack earlier in the day.

Tuesday’s attacks came as the Pakistani army and air force expanded their military operations from Swat into South Waziristan. The Pakistani army was reportedly preparing an offensive against Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader who is blamed for several recent bombing attacks across Pakistan.

The Pentagon denied the attacks and told Al Jazeera English that, quote, “There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan.”

Well, last week I spoke to Pakistani opposition figure and cricketing legend Imran Khan. He’s been an outspoken critic of both US drone attacks as well as the Pakistani military’s offensive against the Taliban. Imran Khan is the leader of the political party known as the Movement for Justice. He was in the United States for a few days.

I began by asking him about the domestic reaction to Pakistan’s military operations along its western border with Afghanistan.

    IMRAN KHAN: The worst aspect of the way Pakistan is conducting these military operations is that there is no road map. There is no idea what we will do eventually to win this war. What we are seeing is just one operation after another. And all that is helping is fan extremism in our country.

    So what we are seeing is, in the last five years, when there were no militant Taliban in Pakistan five years back, today there are about thirty Taliban groups. The whole of the tribal area which is bordering Afghanistan has now — is Talibanized, whereas previously there was — we had the tribal structure there. So, that has been decimated. Every military operation has sprung up a new Taliban group. And these military operations which we are conducting right now, not only are they ineffective, but actually they’re having the opposite effect. They are radicalizing the society as a whole, especially the Pashtun who are affected by this. The Pashtun youth is being radicalized. And there is no end to it. This is the awful thing. We don’t know what’s going to happen to end this war.

    AMY GOODMAN: You have said Pakistan is on a suicidal course. Explain.

    IMRAN KHAN: Well, suicidal because we are heading towards anarchy, as opposed to Talibanization. You know, this term is being used, that Pakistan is going to be Talibanized. This is absolute nonsense, because this Taliban is not some ideology. This is a direct reaction to the US invasion of Afghanistan and the Pashtun nationalism kicking in. And on our side of the border, when the Pakistan army, under US pressure, went into the tribal areas, that’s when the Taliban — Pakistani Taliban emerged four-and-a-half years back. And so, with each operation, they have expanded.

    Now, Pakistan, what it’s facing, this anarchy-type situation where the police is being targeted by the militants. So each operation creates more fanatics, and the fanatics then target the police, the security forces, in the cities, and the cities are sort of descending into, especially in the frontier, descending into chaos. So this is unsustainable for Pakistan, which already faces an economic collapse.

    AMY GOODMAN: And yet, the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, who just recently came back from a trip to Pakistan, said, “What I saw in Pakistan on this trip was the slow emergence of a consensus behind the government’s actions. Everywhere, there was a dramatic change in attitudes from my previous trips because of the outrages of the Taliban and their supporters.”

    IMRAN KHAN: This is only true for Swat. Now, it’s very important to understand the situation. There are seven tribal agencies along the border with Afghanistan. So all of them have now Taliban groups. Swat was not part of the tribal area; it’s part of the settled area. In other words, it’s part of Pakistan. This group that emerged in Swat — three groups actually that emerged in Swat — this had more of a class element. The bottom tier of the society got up against the landlords, against the powerful, demanding their own previous system of justice back, which used to be there before 1974. And this particular area is not related to the Taliban movement, which is on the tribal area.

    And it is true that, for the first time, what these people were doing — and basically a lot of them were criminals — people actually turned against them, as opposed to the Taliban on the border, which basically affects the Afghanistan situation, because that’s really the problem the US faces, that the Pashtuns on this side of the border are going and helping Pashtuns on the other side of the border. So, it’s not going to affect that bit. This Taliban, this operation, which has been conducted in Swat, is only restricted to this area.

    And it is true that the people wanted some sort of an operation, but not actually what happened. To go after 5,000 Taliban, they have displaced three-and-a-half million people. To use artillery, helicopter gunships, F-16s on civilian population, they’ve caused this massive human catastrophe. And so, yes, people wanted an operation, but they didn’t want this, because this now, if anything, is going to fan militancy. How are they going to rehabilitate these people? Their crops are destroyed. These are subsistence farmers, most of them. Their fruit orchards, their animals. So what are they going to go back to? This is another problem we face now.

    AMY GOODMAN: This news just in: a US drone strike killing nine in Pakistan. US forces carried out another drone strike inside Pakistan. The strike occurred in South Waziristan, the region where the Pakistani military is engaged in this major offensive.

    IMRAN KHAN: Well, you know, the Swat is, as I said, is a huge crisis in Pakistan now. And you would have thought that first they would stabilize that area before going to Waziristan.

    Waziristan is completely different to Swat, in the sense that people don’t despise the Taliban like they did in Swat. People there consider them, as long as they’re fighting the US troops and they’re fighting the Pakistan army, which is considered a mercenary army for the US, being paid to fight a US war — these people are not considered outcasts like the Swat Taliban. So this is going to be, firstly, a different battle.

    Secondly, this is going to cause another exodus of people who will now come into the civilian areas. Already, thousands of refugees are pouring in.

    And then, there’s not much chance of success here, because this is not some pitched battle which is being fought. These people will slink into mountains and disappear amongst the people. And when the army goes back, they will again come back and take over the areas.

    So, so far, I have to say, they — all these operations make no sense. These drone attacks — I don’t know why they haven’t done an analysis that — what are the benefits of drone attacks, and what is the damage done in increased hatred against the US, anti-Americanism? There’s — according to the Pakistan government, the figures they released, of sixty drone attacks, only fourteen al-Qaeda were killed, 700 civilians died, not to mention the numbers injured. And so, this collateral damage, each time there’s collateral damage, militancy increases in that area. So this is counterproductive.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll come back to our conversation with Pakistani opposition figure and cricketing legend Imran Khan in a moment.


AMY GOODMAN: We continue my conversation with the Pakistani opposition candidate, or rather, figure, Imran Khan, a cricketing legend in Pakistan. I asked him his thoughts on President Obama and whether he thought the US strategy has changed at all.

    IMRAN KHAN: It hasn’t changed, and this is what we were all praying for, that there would be a different strategy. Unfortunately, also, Pakistan did not have a government capable of being proactive and approaching the Obama administration to tell them that this is madness, what we are doing. Not only is the US losing the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, as I said, is committing suicide. I mean, we are descending into chaos.

    And there is no end in sight. I mean, no one can tell us what will happen for this war to be won. No one has this answer. So what I was hoping was — and I tried to explain to, you know, Senator John Kerry, who I met, and Congressman Gary Ackerman —-

    AMY GOODMAN: Of New York.

    IMRAN KHAN: Of New -— just trying to explain to them that, look, you’ve got to have other opinions, because the government at the moment, as long as it’s getting dollars from the US, is quite happy to take orders and whatever the US wants it to do. But is this in the interest of anyone that Pakistan descends into sort of slow chaos, economic collapse, and US stuck in a quagmire in Afghanistan? Is this — is there any likelihood of success? Is the surge going to do anything?

    AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to be done, Imran Khan?

    IMRAN KHAN: Well, I think immediately what needs to be done is a completely different strategy, which is, they’ve got to start talking to these various groups of Taliban. They’ve got to try and win them over. They must stop these military activities, give a breathing space, and then use this money, this aid that is coming. It can only be effectively — it can have a positive impact if it can be spent in those areas where the hostilities are going on. But if these are war zones, how is this money going to be spent? I don’t understand when they talk about winning the hearts and minds of the people by spending this money on the people of the area, but how are they going to spend it? No one can go in the tribal areas, which is where the whole conflict is. I mean, I, who have a political party connections there, I would not be going into the tribal area. It’s so difficult right now.

    AMY GOODMAN: Are you speaking to the Taliban groups?

    IMRAN KHAN: No, I — you know, I mean, on what basis would I speak? Because I am in the opposition. The government has to speak to them. Really, the combatants have to sit together. And this is going to be — I never think that it’s an easy solution, but it is the way forward.

    This current strategy is a case of, you know, when you’re in a hole, stop digging. There is no — there is no chance of success, what is happening right now.

    AMY GOODMAN: And what do you say to those, especially in the United States, in the media and the lawmakers who say we don’t want nukes, nuclear weapons, to get in the hands of the Taliban, because, of course, Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons now?

    IMRAN KHAN: There is absolutely no chance of these nuclear weapons to fall into Taliban hands. I mean, these are, as I said, thirty groups. Every group is different. The maximum, the group in Swat, were 5,000 Taliban. Pakistan has a standing army of 700,000 troops. How are they going to take over Pakistan nukes? This is not the problem people in Pakistan think. Our main problem is that this — if this war goes on or if the sort of terrorist activities keep going on, Pakistan does a military operation, suicide attacks in our cities. But given the economic situation, we will eventually have an economic collapse.

    AMY GOODMAN: The situation of sharia law being imposed in Swat, what does this mean for the women of Pakistan?

    IMRAN KHAN: Well, it has to be — the Taliban on the tribal belt are not asking for sharia. It’s only Taliban in Swat.

    Now, there is a history behind it. In 1974, it became part of Pakistan, in the sense that Pakistani laws were applied in Swat. Before that, Swat was run by their semi-tribal, semi-sharia system, which actually was in all over India before the British came. The system was based on sharia. So in Swat, the system was, their old system, half-tribal, half-sharia. In 1974, when Pakistan laws came into — which were basically British — were imposed on the people of Swat, the whole system collapsed. They did not the infrastructure. They didn’t have lawyers. They didn’t have judges. So the people — three years later, in ’77, there was an uprising, people wanting their own system back, calling it the system of sharia.

    So this — when you hear about sharia, it is their demanding their old system back, which protected the poorer people or sections of the society. That’s why the poor sections joined this movement which eventually called themselves Taliban. So, the moment the Pakistani system came, you needed lawyers, you needed money. Poor people suddenly had no access to justice. So there was a movement in 1977. The Pakistan government conceded, but it was a — a system didn’t work.

    In the ’90s again, the people rose up, demanding the sharia. In 1994, Benazir Bhutto’s government signed a deal with the people of Swat, with the Sufi Muhammed, who was representing this movement. And so, they signed this deal. It again didn’t work. In ’98, then Sharif government signed a deal. And recently what you saw was a continuation of the same deal recently signed, what was called the Swat deal, which they had so much criticism. But it is not as you perceive here. It is their people demanding their own system back.

    AMY GOODMAN: Imran Khan, you were in Washington at the time that US lawmakers voted for funding the expanded war in Afghanistan. The US is planning a massive diplomatic presence in Pakistan. I think President Obama asked something like three-quarters of a billion dollars, $736 million, to build a new US embassy, as well as permanent housing for US officials in Islamabad. What is the effect of this? And what is the effect of the expanded war in Afghanistan on Pakistan?

    IMRAN KHAN: Well, there was no terrorism in Pakistan, we had no suicide bombing in Pakistan, ’til Pakistan sent its troops on — under pressure from the US. Musharraf, General Musharraf, capitulated under the pressure and sent Pakistani troops into the tribal area and Waziristan. So it was that that resulted in what was the new phenomenon: the Pakistani Taliban. We had no militant Taliban in Pakistan, until we got in — we were forced into this US war on terror by a military dictator, not by the people of Pakistan. And people never owned this war. People always thought that this is not our war, and quite rightly, because we did not have any terrorism in Pakistan, as subsequently grew.

    The more operations we did, the more reaction came. And suddenly, as now, we have thirty Taliban groups. I mean, these groups call themselves Taliban, but basically these are radicalized people, these are extremists. And extremism is growing in Pakistan, the more we are being engulfed in this war, which is based in, basically, Afghanistan. So, as long as the US troops are in Afghanistan, I’m afraid there’s no peace in Pakistan either, because the tribal areas are basically — there’s no border there, so the Pashtuns are split between — on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and we have, you know, this movement across the border. And, you know, to send a — think that the Pakistan army is going to stop it — I think Pakistan army itself is going to be stuck in this quagmire, the same as the US in Afghanistan.

    AMY GOODMAN: You’re very critical of the US government and the US military in Pakistan. How do you feel about the Taliban? Do you have criticism of the Taliban?

    IMRAN KHAN: The Taliban are a result. This is like extremism is an illness in a society. You know, it’s people who want to force their worldview or their religious view on other people. It’s an illness. Normal societies always sideline extremists. So it’s spreading all over Pakistan.

    So, if you want to curtail this thing, you have to go to the cause. Why is this happening? And I’m afraid this is being sparked off by military action. Each military action produces more extremists.

    So if my — so when I criticize the US foreign policy and the US policy in Afghanistan and in Iraq, the reason is not because someone is anti-US. I mean, I criticize Pakistani policies much more than the US policies. In fact, I blame our government much more than the US, because we should not have sent our own army against our own people. It doesn’t mean I am anti-Pakistan. I do not agree with the government policies. And time has proven that these policies are deeply flawed.

    AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the US military should just get out of Afghanistan and Pakistan?

    IMRAN KHAN: Well, they can’t immediately get out of Afghanistan. The real issue is Afghanistan. Pakistan will settle once the US military leaves Afghanistan. But the problem is, they can’t just leave straightaway.

    What they have to do is, first, talks. The real enemy was always al-Qaeda. And al-Qaeda has — are those terrorists who have the capacity to strike Western targets, not Taliban. These are semi-literate people. I mean, if you look at the Taliban, they have no — they basically don’t have any understanding of anything. They don’t have any capability of actually doing anything out of this Afghanistan-Pakistan area, and there has been no Pashtun involved in international terrorism. So, therefore, if al-Qaeda is the enemy, surely the policy should be to isolate them, rather than pushing these tribal Pashtuns towards al-Qaeda, which is what is happening right now.

    So if you resume talks with the various groups, get them on the table, try and form a government of consensus. And then they should either — in the meantime, some troops from the Muslim countries could come into Afghanistan, while these talks are going on, so the provocation of a foreign — of US, which is perceived also to be anti-Islam. So, if that provocation goes, so hostilities cease, you have a government of consensus. I would think that’s the way to go, but I don’t think there are any easy solutions left.

AMY GOODMAN: Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan, also world famous for being a legendary cricketer. The latest news again out of Pakistan, at least sixty people have been killed in a US drone attack in Southern Waziristan.

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