A Conversation With Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan

Monday, September 23, 2019
Imran Khan

Prime Minister, Pakistan


President, Council on Foreign Relations; @RichardHaass

Prime Minister Imran Khan discusses the current state of U.S.-Pakistan relations, recent developments in the disputed region of Kashmir, and Pakistan’s relationship with India, Afghanistan, and other neighboring countries.

HAASS: Well, good morning. Welcome to U.N. week here in New York at here at the Council on Foreign Relations. And we are honored and thrilled to begin it with Prime Minister Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan. He has been prime minister for just over a year. Prior to that, he was a member of the National Assembly. Before politics he served as UNICEF’s special representative for sports, had a small career in the world of sports—(laughter)—where he is widely recognized as one of the great cricket players in history, and led Pakistan’s national team to victory at the World Cup, lot of other things. He was at Oxford in the early and mid-1970s, among with others, Tony Blair, Benazir Bhutto, and quite a few other distinguished people who went on to have extraordinary careers.

The way we’re going to do it is the prime minister and I will have a conversation for a few minutes. (Background noise.) Bless you, somebody. And then open it up to you, to the members, for questions. The prime minister also, I should say, has a packed schedule, so we are going to try to end this so he can brave the traffic by just under an hour from now. Ask you to remain seated when he goes.

I can’t resist, so one question—first of all, again, thank you and welcome, sir. One question about your previous life. Is there anything that you took from your previous life of cricket that has served you well—(laughter)—in the world of politics that you now find yourself?

KHAN: Well, Richard, thank you very much, first, for inviting me here and giving me an opportunity to talk about my country.

Cricket. Like any sport, I think it teaches you the most invaluable lesson of life. And basically that is that whenever you are aiming at some goal in life, it teaches you how to struggle, the ability to take the bad times, the setbacks. So the quality of success is not how you handle the good times, it’s how you handle the bad times. And how you cope with them, how you learn from the setbacks, not get demoralized. So that’s the only way I could struggle for twenty-two years before I got in this position.

HAASS: Well, speaking of struggle, let’s talk about your economy for a minute, if we may. Over the years I believe Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund have reached more than a dozen agreements. You’ve just reached one rather recently, I think on the scale of $6 billion. You, yourself, when you ran for this job, you were critical of it. Yet, you’ve now entered into it. Why is Pakistan having such difficulty economically that it has to repeatedly turn to the IMF?

KHAN: You see, it’s the moment you have a deficit, whether it is current account or fiscal deficit, means you’re not managing your own economy properly. And it’s just like a household; if the house is going into a deficit, you know, you have to raise your income, cut your expenditure. So this inability of successful governments to manage our economy is why we keep ending up with the IMF. We inherited, unfortunately, the biggest current account deficit in Pakistan’s history. And so the first year has been a real struggle to basically fix this deficit. And I’m very proud to say that we have really cut down this deficit almost by 70 percent. We now have an economy which is heading in the right direction.

Simple reason was that previously we had a 5 percent growth rate, but that was based on imports. This time what we’re doing is restructuring the economy so that it’s an export-based growth rate, which is, you know, really how an economy goes up. So that has been the main reason why, you know, we had to go to the IMF, because we had this huge current account deficit.

HAASS: I also want to talk about your relationship with China. Pakistan is on the short list of the countries that receives the most Belt and Road investment from China. So there’s really—two questions flow from it. Won’t this dramatically exacerbate your debt challenge, given the nature of Chinese support? And how does Pakistan make the claim that it’s going to retain its full sovereignty given that it’s allowing or inviting China in to do projects on such a scale?

KHAN: First let me just say that the situation which we found ourselves in when thirteen months ago we came into power was probably the worst economic situation. And so China really helped us when we were right at the rock bottom. They helped up, supported our—by giving us fund for our foreign exchange reserves—very important at that time. In fact, we were staring at a default. So China helped us, along with Saudi Arabia and UAE, to beef up our reserves. And what China offers us right now is an opportunity. They have a $2 trillion import market. And so China has given us a preferential trade agreement where we can export to China at the same terms as the ASEAN countries. So this is a great opportunity. Apart from that, we have this opportunity now to get Chinese industry to relocate in Pakistan, bring in technology. So China has given us a great opportunity to lift ourselves up from where we are right now.

HAASS: I want to talk, and I want to try to cover a lot of different subjects before we turn to the members here. They ask the tough questions, by the way. I’m just here—I’m here to lull you into a sense of complacency. (Laughter.) I want to talk about U.S.-Pakistani relations. And, full disclosure, I’ve been involved with them many times in the U.S. government. And, you know, each side has something of a narrative of frustration, even bitterness, with the other. But I want to quote a sentence or two from the memoir of Jim Mattis. James until recently was the U.S. secretary of defense. And I’m quoting here. “Of all the countries I’ve dealt with, I consider Pakistan to be the most dangerous because of the radicalization of its society and availability of nuclear weapons.” James Mattis is a respected, temperate man. So when you hear someone like that writing those words, what is your reaction?

KHAN: Just that I do not think James Mattis fully understands why Pakistan became radicalized. You know, there’s just a short history which, you know, everyone may or may not know. In 1980s, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan, along with the United States—helped by the United States, we organized the resistance to the Soviets. And the resistance was organized by Pakistani ISI training these militants, who were invited from all over the Muslim world to do jihad against the Soviet Union. And so we created these militant groups to fight the Soviets.

Then, of course, fighting the Soviets, jihad was glorified. And I never forget when Ronald Reagan invited the mujahedeen leaders to Washington and he said they reminded him, and I quote, “the moral equivalence of the Founding Fathers of the United States.” So jihad was—you know, jihadis were heroes then.

Come 1989, Soviets leave Afghanistan. The United States packs up and leaves Pakistan with a lot of those who would have reminded Ronald Reagan of the moral equivalence of Founding Fathers, and we were left with these groups. And then comes 9/11 and Pakistan again joined the U.S. in the war on terror. And now we are required to go after these groups as terrorists, who were now—now, they were indoctrinated that fighting foreign occupation is jihad. But now, when the U.S. arrived in Afghanistan, it was supposed to be terrorism. So Pakistan took a real battering in this.

I have to say, Richard, I opposed this from day one. I said we had first trained these guys to fight jihad and it was a great idea, and now we are telling the same groups it’s terrorism. So we should at least have stayed neutral. Pakistan, by joining the U.S. after 9/11, committed one of the biggest blunders. Seventy thousand Pakistanis died in this. We had some say over a hundred and fifty billion, say two hundred billion—some economists, Pakistanis—two hundred billion lost to the economy. And on top of it, we were blamed for the U.S. not winning in Afghanistan. I thought it was the worst period for Pakistan.

The lessons learned now, I think the Pakistan government should not have pledged what they could not deliver. How could they deliver? They were—there were—there were insider attacks in the Pakistan army. The groups that were close to the Pakistan army, the army was now trying to kill them. So in a nutshell, when Mattis—(audio break)—

HAASS: Isn’t, though, the criticism fair that you are partially responsible for our difficulties in Afghanistan because Pakistan continues to accord sanctuary—provide sanctuary to the Taliban? And even if you can’t always succeed against radicals who are on your territory, it seems to me it’s totally legitimate for the United States to expect 100 percent effort. And at times we would—we have argued and we would argue that the effort is anything but 100 percent.

KHAN: You know, look, here was someone who kept saying that there’s never going to be a military solution in Afghanistan. I kept telling Pakistan government, whenever I had a chance. I came here in 2008. President Obama had not taken office. I spoke to senior Democrats. I told them that there will never be a military solution in Afghanistan simply because I have read the history of Afghanistan. You just have to read the history. They fight each other; the moment a foreigner comes through, they all get together and the resistance starts. Started with the British. You know, three times the British tried. The Soviets killed one million Afghans. They were still—the resistance was stronger after a million Afghans had been killed. So I kept trying to tell this—I tried to explain to—I remember meeting Joe Biden, John Kerry, Harry Reid. I, you know, tried to explain. And I realized they hadn’t a clue. No one understood Afghanistan. The politicians didn’t understand what was going on, and this madness kept going on and on.

And Pakistan kept being blamed. Now, Pakistan had two right now—but it had even more—we have 2.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. There are camps of five hundred thousand refugees living there. How do we know who’s coming in and going out? Clearly, this was not—from Pakistan, the idea that there were these insurgents going from Pakistan, how were we—first of all, the tribal area bordering Afghanistan, there is no border there. The Durand Line is a line made by the British which—there is no border there. Now we are fencing the border because of the allegations that fighters are going from Pakistan. We are fencing the border. We’ve also time and time said that, look, if you want—if you want Pakistan to completely stop anyone going across, then, you know, take the refugees back, 2.7 million people. But it’s not possible that—you know, that 2.7 million refugees there and expect Pakistan to completely shut the border.

Having said that, I do not think that it’s because of Pakistan the U.S. has not been able to succeed in Afghanistan, simply because there is a history behind it. It was never going to happen. And fortunately—fortunately, President Trump has done, you know, by him forcing there to be a dialogue and then this peace deal, which was just about to be signed—this is painful for us. The peace deal was about to be signed and, you know, it’s—President Trump has—we read it in the papers. I mean, we should have—at least be discussed with us. But now I’m meeting President Trump later on and I will try and tell him that, look, there is—there’s not going to be a military solution. For nineteen years if you have not been able to succeed, you’re not going to be able to succeed in another nineteen years.

HAASS: I actually agree with you that there can’t be a military solution. What I doubt is that there could be a peace deal that holds. So even if there were an agreement with the Taliban, what is there about the DNA of the Taliban that leads you to believe that any peace they would sign would be anything more than tactical?

KHAN: I feel that this is not the Taliban which was there when—in 2001 who was displaced by the U.S. Things have changed. You know, they say that you only cross the river once. This is a—you know, realities have changed. They have learned. This is—Taliban realize that they cannot control the whole of Afghanistan. The Afghan government knows that they cannot—you know, there needs to be some sort of a peace deal. There has to be a political settlement.

Let’s just face it, you only have two choices. Either you fight or you have sort of a political settlement. There’s no point in fighting anymore. I wish that this deal had been signed. There would have been ceasefire and then we would have proceeded towards the only way there’s going to be—the U.S. is going to eventually take the troops out and there will be peace there.

So I agree with you, Richard; it’s going to be tough. I never for one minute assumed that this was going to be easy. But it is the only way.

HAASS: Actually, just for the—I actually think there is a slightly different way, which is one idea is we would fight for a military victory—I agree with you that’s not within reach. I am profoundly skeptical of a peace agreement. The third approach for as long as it takes is to support the government and basically preserve what you can in Afghanistan so it can’t again become a basis for terrorist attacks. It’s not a solution, but the United States has kept forces in other countries for more than half a century. We have—we have supported governments. It’s not a solution, but it might be preferable to a situation of Taliban control over the country.

KHAN: I don’t think Taliban will be able to control the whole country. I think there will be—there will be a settlement.

Look, people of Afghanistan have suffered for forty years. I mean, it is inhuman what they are going through. Anyone with any humane feelings would want there to be peace there. Every day there are bomb blasts going and people dying. So anything to actually stop this, I—you know, I—again, Richard, I agree with you that after seventeen years of bloodshed and the way things have gone, I agree that it’s not going to be easy. But I also don’t think that if we go the other way, you know, it’ll be just more of the same.

You know, if—Taliban today are stronger than they were for, you know, maybe in 2010, when last time there was chance for peace talks, when Holbrooke was there. They are much stronger than that now. And when they see that the U.S. is about to leave, you know, their morale is up.

HAASS: Exactly—(laughter)—which is why some of us are skeptical. But—

KHAN: No, so what I mean is that—(laughter)—military is not the solution. If they are now feeling stronger than before, they are not going to be able to give up if you kill or bomb more of them.

HAASS: I’m going to move on, but thank you. I think it’s an important exchange.

Osama bin Laden, when he was found and killed by American troops, he was just outside of your capital. Has there ever been a Pakistani investigation as to—a government investigation—as to how that could have happened, that he could have been living there for so long?

KHAN: There has been an investigation, but I don’t—I don’t know whether the—as far as I know, the Abbottabad Commission sat down and I don’t know what the conclusion was. But I can tell you one thing, you see, I again go back. The Pakistani Army, ISI, trained al-Qaida and all these troops to fight in Afghanistan. There were always links between—there had to be links, because they trained them. Now, as I said, after 9/11, when we did a 180-degree turn and went after those groups, you know, not everyone agreed with us. Within the army people didn’t agree with us. And so, as I said, there were more insider attacks in Pakistan. General Musharraf, there were two attacks on him—suicide attacks on him—which were insider from within the army.

So people—you know, so as far as I know, and I think there was a statement by President Obama, that Pakistani military—the army chief, the ISI chief, had no idea about this. Because I know because I think they were listening, you know, to their conversation the night the raid took place, and they said so. So if there was, it was probably at low levels, who already had contacts.

HAASS: Just wanted to follow up on something. And I don’t mean to be disrespectful. But in the history—the modern history of Pakistan, I would say most outsiders when they look at the prime minister as a position and they look at the strength of the chief of staff of the army and the head of the ISI, the intelligence directorate, they would say the preponderance of power is in the hands of the other two—the head of the army and the head of intelligence. Is that a fair characterization? So do you really feel limited in what you can do as prime minister?

KHAN: Look, in any democracy or any form of government, democracies function because of moral authority. If democracies lose their moral authority, then the physical strength and authority lies with the army. In our country because space was given, due to a lack of moral authority because of corrupt governments, the army—you know, naturally there’s no vacuum. So it moved in. I can tell you that since I have been thirteen months in power every policy of mine is in our manifesto. We wanted peace with all our neighbors. We opened the Kartarpur Corridor, you know, opening up—normally, this would have had security implications. Our security forces would have resisted. Our policy with Afghanistan, which we reached out immediately to Afghanistan, to President Ghani. I have invited him to Pakistan. We speak regularly if there’s any issue. Every policy of my government, which was peace with our neighbors, has been backed by the Pakistan army.

I would even go further. The only time the Pakistan army has cut its military budget is when we, my government, started an austerity campaign. And they followed it. And they actually took a cut in their military spending. It’s never happened before. I can tell you that all policies of my government have been completely backed by the army. When I spoke to Mr.—President—Prime Minister Narendra Modi, I told him—I said, look, every—my country stands with me because we want peace. We have decided. We have a new policy with Afghanistan, but with India we want a new beginning. You take two step towards us, we come two towards you. And he sort of said, are you sure? You know, meaning, that is the army behind you? The army completely stands with us, with our policies. So in past it may be true. And I repeat, it’s because governments lose—democratic governments don’t have militant wings. They have only moral authority. And that’s much more powerful than physical authority.

HAASS: Just two more questions from me. Since you raised India, I wanted to get to it. It may have been your hope to have improved relations with India. Needless to say, it hasn’t worked out that way. So and along the way you said some pretty brutal things about Prime Minister Modi and about the philosophy of the BJP, and so forth. So what is your realistic path? Because, you know, one analogy I often draw is at the height of the Cold War the U.S.-Soviet relationship had far more dimensions to it, far more substance to it, than the India-Pakistan relationship has now, in terms of diplomatic contacts, economic contacts, and the rest. So how do we take this relationship between two nuclear-armed rivals that have a history of conflict, how do we make sure we don’t—the future doesn’t resemble the past?

KHAN: Well, Richard, let me say one thing. This is a—this is very sad where we stand today. From day one I have written letters, I’ve spoken to Prime Minister Modi about we have common issues, we have poverty. Poverty is big in the subcontinent. Any government that should come, the number-one priority should be to deal with poverty. Climate change. We stand—the subcontinent, I mean, we are—our glaciers are melting at a rapid rate. We need to combine together, because there are hundreds and millions of people that are going to be affected.

So I called him up and I said: Look, let’s just have a new chapter. Let’s reset our relationship. And he talked about terrorism. And I said, look, I give you an assurity. It’s not because of pressure from India or anyone. It’s our policy that we will not allow any militant groups in Pakistan. We were dismantling from day one. And, again, I talk about the army. The army—had the army not helped us, we would not be able to dismantle these militant organizations and legacy of the ’80s. And they were helping us. So I told him, I said: Let’s base a relationship on mutual trust because, you know, the problem we have is, you know, the two countries didn’t trust each other.

But there—our foreign ministers were supposed to meet last year in the UNGA, and suddenly they are cancelled. And then we thought maybe, you know, they don’t want to get closer because of the Indian elections, because it’s a nationalist—BJP is a nationalist party. One of the agenda, of course, is, you know, they’re hard on Pakistan. So we stayed back. Then, of course, Pulwama happened, where this Kashmiri boy blew himself on an Indian convoy. Immediately, we were blamed. I went on air. I said: Look, you give us any indication that a Pakistani was involved, we’ll take action. They bombed us. Their jets came and they bombed us. And so we retaliated, no loss of life. But on the way two of the jets went down. One in Pakistan. The pilot, we captured. We immediately gave him back. Said we didn’t want any escalation.

But what did—in the election campaign it was all about how Pakistan was petrified, and that’s why they quickly returned the pilot, and how Pakistan will be taught a lesson. The whole election campaign. You just had to read, it was all about anti-Pakistan, and how Pakistan would be taught a lesson. We still thought, OK, let the elections be over. We’ll again resume. Elections are over. And we again resume, but nothing. And then we find India is pushing us in the blacklist of FATF to bankrupt us. That’s when we started thinking this is something—there’s some sort of an agenda going on. And then, of course, Kashmir took place on 5th August, unilaterally they cast aside the U.N. Security Council resolution, the Simla Accord, which was bilateral between us, their own constitution Article 370.

And that’s when—you said, you know, I said all those things. That’s when I have said that this is an agenda. This is an RSS agenda which they are following. And I’m afraid—I worry now where we are—where the two countries are. That’s why before that I asked President Trump to intervene and play a role in this, because whenever we ask for other countries, United Nations, to help, India says it’s a bilateral issue. When we try to talk to them, they said there’s nothing to talk about. So it’s very important. It’s two nuclear-armed countries facing each other, like this incident happened in February. I, as the prime minister of a country, am saying that anything can happen in such situations. You don’t know what can happen. We should never be in this situation. That’s why my—I will be speaking in U.N. And I would want the United Nations to play a role. This is why the United Nations came into being. This would have—this could have effects way beyond the subcontinent.

HAASS: Since India’s tradition—not just this government, but other governments—has been not to accept third-party mediation, it seems to me it’s beholden on India and Pakistan to essentially break this dynamic, which has obviously gotten worse after what’s happened in Kashmir. Might it not make sense for Pakistan—and given where we began our conversation, you’ve got economic priorities and the rest. The last thing you need is a worsening strategic situation on—in South Asia. Might it not make sense for Pakistan to think of a way of at least reestablishing some sort of an opening for diplomacy?

KHAN: Richard, look at the situation right now. There eight million Kashmiris for fifty days have been shut inside. Fifty days, nine hundred thousand Indian troops have shut in, in their homes, eight million Kashmiris. How am I going to talk to—talk about what? And unilaterally, they have—they have reneged on international laws.

This was a disputed territory, Kashmir, between Pakistan and India. The United Nations—the Security Council had given the people of Kashmir the right of self-determination, which was never given to them. Now how do we start talking to anyone? How can we speak to India? At least—and at least what I expect the international community to do is to ask them to lift the curfew. It’s inhuman. It’s a violation of every humanitarian right of the people of Kashmir.

HAASS: I should just tell the members here before I go to questions is that the Indian foreign minister will be here later this week, so I expect we will return to some of these—

KHAN: And I hope you’ll ask proper questions to him—(laughter)—not be too diplomatic.

HAASS: So we will have Ambassador—Foreign Minister Jaishankar here.

So it’s now the appointed hour. Remember, this is on the record. And please, the shorter the questions are and the more succinct, the more we can—we can get in. Minky, you had your hand up? Just wait for a microphone. Let us know who you are and your organizational affiliation.

Q: Hi. Good morning. I’m Minky Worden from Human Rights Watch.

Our discussion today has proceeded without any mention of rights for a hundred and fifty million women and girls in Pakistan. As Human Rights Watch has documented, there are serious problems with access to education, forced marriage, child marriage, and honor killings. What are your plans to deliver justice and accountability for women and girls? Thanks.

KHAN: Our main plank of our manifesto is rule of law. All the things you are saying is because we have weak enforcement of law. We have laws protecting women. We have laws protecting the weak, the minorities. And at times when these violations take place, it’s because our enforcement, our implementation is weak.

But I can tell you right now thirteen months we have taken steps to protect our minorities. We have taken steps to protect the worship places of our—of the minorities. The initiative which we have taken with the Sikh community, opening up the Kartarpur Corridor, is unprecedented. We are—we are now in the process of restoring places of worship because Pakistan was also the center of Buddhist civilization, and also the Hindu shrines.

So my concept of Pakistan is where our minorities are equal citizens, they have—all their rights are protected. All the women, the weaker sections, the poor people in our country—we have come up with the biggest-ever poverty-alleviation program despite our fiscal constraints. It is one of the—in our history, it’s the biggest poverty-alleviation campaign which we’ve started.

So, to sum it up, my idea of Pakistan is basically rule of law, and not just protecting the weaker sections of the society but also helping those areas of Pakistan that have stayed back, like FATA. FATA has merged with Pakistan for the first time with the—with KP. And it’s—we have spent funds to rehabilitate the people of FATA because of the war on terror.

HAASS: Just so I understand, you know, in the World Economic Forum report Pakistan comes in literally second to last in terms of the gender gap. So is it—is what you’re saying that the challenge is to enforce existing laws or do—actually, do you really need new laws and new programs to help girls and women have opportunity?

KHAN: You don’t need new laws, but you need special packages for those sections of the society which have been left behind, which includes—we have—this program we have is one of the biggest—the most comprehensive program for women in rural areas to lift them out of poverty.

HAASS: Sir. Jeffrey.

Q: Jeff Laurenti.

Mr. Prime Minister, following up on your answer just now, which broadened the aperture from women to the minorities in Pakistan, and Richard’s earlier question about radicalization there, you have seen bombings of Shiite mosques in Quetta and elsewhere; the assassination of Governor Salman Taseer by Islamic extremists; the capital penalty—capital death penalty case of Asia Bibi, who was finally allowed out of Pakistan, for being a Christian who didn’t entirely reverence the prophet Mohammed; and you have publishers who are fearful of Islamist attacks and such. Is there any progress to be made on reforming those blasphemy laws? And how pervasive is the sense of the tiny minority of fundamentalists being able to employ violence in order to enforce religious conformity? And do you get help from elsewhere in the Muslim, world, like Saudi Arabia, at being able to progress toward a more moderate Islam?

KHAN: OK. First, let me clear one thing: there is only one Islam. There’s no such thing as moderate Islam or radical Islam. I even heard yesterday that there was this radical Islam. There is only one Islam. Islam, like all human communities, has its radicals, majority moderates, and then of course some lunatics who—every human society has it. You might have your racists. When I first went to England there were these skinheads who would beat up people because of the color of their skin. So there is only one Islam, and the Islam we follow is the Islam of prophet Mohammed, sallalahu’alayhi wa sallam.

And that Islam, according to the prophet, all of us are children of Adam, so we are all equal regardless of our color of our skin. That Islam give complete rights to minorities. In the—in the state of Medina he created a Jewish citizen wins a case against the khalifa, the head of state. He loses a case against a Jewish citizen, which means that they were equal citizens if they could stand and win against the head of state. That’s the Islam we follow. In my vision of Islam, all human beings regardless of their religion are equal.

Now, if we have not been able to enforce our laws, it’s because, unfortunately—unfortunately, we have ruling elites that have kept themselves above law. And when that happens—and this is—Pakistan is not the only country like this. There are countries where you have sections of populations, elites, above the law. And when that happens, there is no rule of law. The might is right.

So my party is called Tehreek-e-Insaf Movement for Justice, and justice means justice for all human beings. In fact, for me justice means for animals too, because in the state of Medina, who we look up, for Muslims there is only one model, and that is the prophet created the state of Medina. That state of Medina gave rights to women first time, property rights. That state of Medina first introduced progressive taxation. First welfare state. State took responsibility of handicapped, widows, poor. That state of Medina had rule of law. No one was above law. And as I quote, a Jewish citizen could win a case against the head of state. That’s the state we—that’s the ideal we move to.

Unfortunate—close to that ideal, and this is why. Thirteen months down the line we have—at least what we have done is, no one would have touched the big—the criminals who plundered our country, and no one would have been able to put them in jail because there was one law for the powerful and the other for the weak. So it’s a process. It’s not going to happen overnight, but this is my ideal.

HAASS: Yes, ma’am.

Q: Thank you very much, and thank you for your comments. My name is Rina Amiri. I’m from NYU and I’m an Afghan American.

And you’re right that Afghans are tired of war. They desperately want peace. They supported Ambassador Khalilzad’s efforts, but it was a peace process that left them deeply anxious, and they felt it was imbalanced in favor of the Taliban, and that it emboldened the Taliban. They would seek the support of Pakistan for reigniting peace talks, but one in which a number of the issues that they are concerned about are on the table, including having talks with Afghan government either directly or through proximity talks. They want more explicit language from the Taliban on women’s rights and minority rights. And they want more explicit language denouncing terrorism or links to al-Qaida, none of which were there when this agreement was nearly signed. Thank you. I would just like your comments on if that peace process, if and hopefully when it’s reignited, what support can the Afghan people get from Pakistan in this regard. Thank you.

KHAN: Well, number one, what the people of Afghanistan have gone through—forget me as a Pakistani; as a human being we should all pray to have peace because, you know, I’ve watched—you hear every day on a daily basis, the sort of bloodshed that’s going on.

Now, I just repeat very quickly, there are only two ways right now. One is we keep going this way, which is military action, and I believe this will just keep going on. And because the Taliban, the moment they realize that the Americans, already they’ve cut the troops down, and if they think they’re leaving, I mean, they are not going to give up, you know, with more military action.

The other is peace talks. Now, peace talks, once they start, all this can be thrashed out. I honestly believe that this is not the Taliban of 2001. There’s a lot of things that have happened, and I believe that they will—they will be more accommodating.

I want—the Taliban delegation wanted to meet me. Problem was that the Afghan government did not want me to meet with Taliban delegation, so I did not meet them. But I told President Ghani, I said, look, if I met them—if I meet them, I would try and convince them about all the things you’re saying. And not only that, I would try and convince them that the Taliban must talk to the Afghan government. At the moment, they’re only talking to the Americans. They don’t—there are no direct talks between Taliban and the Afghan government

I would have tried my best because, finally, I mean, yes people have—they’ve looked back in 2001 and that period and they think that, you know, that the way the Taliban behaved at the time, you know, minorities and so on, with the attitude to women. But I think once the talk starts, I think all these things will eventually fall into place, because the people of Afghanistan, both sides, want peace right now.

HAASS: Jeffrey Rosen?

Q: Thank you. Jeffrey Rosen from Lazard.

You described earlier the relationship with China that’s been developing, an economic relationship. I’m curious how you reconcile that relationship with reports about the treatment by the Chinese of Muslim churches, Muslim mosques, the practice of Islam in China, whether you’re able to use this as a means—the relationship as a means of pressuring the Chinese to perhaps relax in that treatment, and if not whether you raise the risk of perhaps some of the more radical elements of Islam in Pakistan—acknowledging there’s not radical Islams, but there are radical Islami—people who practice Islam who are radical—whether you run the risk of a reaction from them domestically which could unsettle the country, your country.

HAASS: Particularly given what the Chinese are doing, you know, with the Uighurs.

KHAN: Look, with the Chinese, we have a special relationship. And any of—it’s the way China functions. Any of issues like these, we talk to them privately. We don’t make public statements, because that’s how China is. And I again repeat, I mean, China has come to help when we were right at the rock bottom. So I would not publicly talk about it. But just, you know, as someone who has taken over Pakistan thirteen months ago, faced the biggest economic crisis in dealing with that, we have problem in Afghanistan trying to settle that. We are worried about what would happen how with Iran and Saudi Arabia, the United States. That’s the other border. So one border Iran, the other Afghanistan, and now with India. I think I’ve got enough on my plate right now. (Laughter.) Wouldn’t you say, Richard? What would you do if you were in my position? You would have probably had a heart attack by now. (Laughter, applause.)

HAASS: Unlikely. Unlikely. I would welcome that conversation. (Laughter.)

KHAN: Listen, the only reason I can cope with these pressures is because, you know, when you walk out on the—I don’t know if you won’t understand cricket. (Laughter.) But imagine, you’re walking out on a cricket field, there are ninety thousand people in the stadium. You walk seventy yards down into the middle of the pitch. And the worry that you can be out first ball and you will have to walk all the way back with ninety thousand people. (Laughter.) So that takes character. It builds. So you are able to play under pressure once you cope with that. And that’s the only way I have coped. And Richard, you would not have been able to. I’m telling you. (Laughter.)

HAASS: Every golfer—every golfer knows what it’s like out there at the first tee, when the crowds are there.

KHAN: Golf is a piece of cake compared to this. (Laughter.)

HAASS: We could continue that, but I will show uncharacteristic discipline. Sure.

Q: Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, CNBC contributor.

Following on the conversation about China, Richard asked you very directly about maintaining your sovereignty in the face of so many Chinese loans and you didn’t answer it directly. I mean, you’ve talked about China coming in when you were rock bottom. But are you concerned about the tradeoffs that that level of investment presents to Pakistan?

KHAN: Absolutely not. I mean, we have—there’s—for instance, I mean, what would China—how would it impinge on our sovereignty? Maybe they would say, don’t have a good relationship with the U.S. But the Chinese have never, ever interfered in any of our foreign policy, in any of our domestic policy, for that matter. I think China sees Pakistan as the (seat back ?), this economic corridor, and the—and the Belt and Road Initiative. They see this as a great opportunity for them. I think China is one country which we can all learn from. Their main concentration has been on trade, and wealth creation, and lifting the standard of living off the people.

The most—what I admire about China the most, in thirty years they have taken seven hundred million people out of poverty. It’s never been down in human history. And when I came my main—if you asked me the one thing I wanted for Pakistan? Lift a hundred million Pakistanis out of poverty. This is our main thing. So that’s where we have learned a lot from how they—how they tackled poverty in these last thirty years. So the answer to the question, there’s no—there have been no demands by China which restrict our sovereignty.

HAASS: Are you not put off—China has accomplished what you said, but they’ve done it at a great price and cost in terms of democracy, human rights, and the rest. Not just for Muslim Chinese, but for all Chinese. Are you not put off by that aspect of the cost of their development model?

KHAN: Well, you know, who am I to comment on China? But the fact is that if they can—if any human society can accomplish this, you know, this humane. This is taking people out of poverty. I mean, I admire that the most. For me, if I can—well, if I had, but I don’t have unfortunately, the Chinese model. And if I could order people around and I could get—(laughter)—I could get people out of poverty. Not just that, the way they’ve tackled corruption, unfortunately I can’t do that in Pakistan. Four hundred and fifty ministerial level people in the last five years have been put into jail on corruption. I mean, I wish I could do that in my country. But, you know, we—so we have out limitations. But it has to be admired what they have done in terms of taking—what China is now. I mean, thirty years ago you wouldn’t believe what they’ve been able to achieve.

HAASS: Mary Boies.

Q: Mary Boies, Boies Schiller.

The attack on the Saudi oil last weekend, if the response were left entirely to you, what would the response be?

KHAN: You know, I’m very—I am—I am, and will always be, a pacifist. I am anti-war. I do not believe wars solve problems. You go to solve one problem; you give birth to five other problems. You go after al-Qaida, you create ISIS. I do not believe wars solve problems, unfortunately. I would do everything to resolve this issue through diplomacy. I would be trying my best, because if there is a conflict there, the consequences—I mean, just look at the poor countries. Do people care about poor countries? Imagine if oil prices go up, and we are struggling finally to sort of try and balance our budget. This will just immediately throw everything for us. And so we already have this—the war we had, war on terror. Seventy thousand Pakistanis died. And we just—it’s a lesson my government, people of Pakistan have learned. That we will avoid conflict at everything. And this is—we can’t afford another conflict going on in our neighborhood.

HAASS: Yes, ma’am. You’ve been very patient.

Q: Masuda Sultan, All in Peace, a coalition of Afghans and Americans looking to end the longest war in American history.

I wanted to thank you for your comments on Afghanistan and the war. And you’ve been supportive of U.S. efforts at peace negotiations and indicated your willingness to encourage Trump to continue negotiations. My question is, what steps do you intend to offer to take as the Pakistani prime minister to advance the dialogue? For example, you mentioned that you didn’t meet the Taliban when the Afghan government requested you not to. So what other steps do you intend to take? And how does the Kashmir issue complicate, or does it, the Afghan issue?

KHAN: What I was planning to do was—this deal was about to be signed. The moment this deal was going to be signed, I would have met the Taliban leaders and I would have immediately made them sit with the Afghan government. So that was the last thing left. You know, at the moment the Taliban were only talking to the Americans. And so once they had—the deal was signed, then we would have got them to talk to the Afghan government. I would have tried my best. And I feel that that was the way ahead. We just read the tweet about the talks breaking down. I wish we had been consulted, and we would have tried our best.

This was always—I mean, the fact that President Trump felt that because of, you know, the terrorist attack, because of that he had broken off talks. But, you know, when you are fighting and talking at the same time, this was always going to happen. But it—they have to stay the course. So I would be trying my best to convince President Trump to help us resume the talks.

HAASS: To what extent are you using Twitter as a tool of political persuasion, and reaching out to your own population, or to India’s? To what extent is Twitter a tool for you?

KHAN: I try my best to convey my feelings. I do feel—Richard, I honestly feel, I’m sitting in front of you, I have known India. I have had love and respect from Indian in fan form, because India loves cricket, more than any other Pakistani. I’m more worried about India right now than probably even Pakistan, because India is not heading in the right direction. If you see what has happened in India in the last six years, it is frightening for some of us. It’s not the India I know of Gandhi and Nehru. It is this ideology that has taken over India of Hindu supremacy.

And this—whenever such an ideology takes over, there is always something. They blame the other. There is—you have to hate someone to be, you know, supreme, an exclusive Hindu India. This is the ideology that assassinated Gandhi. This is the ideology that was banned in India for three times. And now, unfortunately, it is running India. And I fear, because I think you can—you can reason—as long as you can reason with people, the two nuclear-armed countries need not worry about anything. But unfortunately, with this ideology of racial supremacy I don’t think you can reason, and I’m genuinely worried.

And that’s why I’m going to speak—I’m speaking to the heads of state. I’ve just spoken to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. I will speak to Donald Trump. I will speak to other leaders. I will speak at the—I’ll try my best that the world must intervene before this goes too far.

HAASS: That is a sober place to stop. The prime minister has to get to a meeting with the Chinese delegation, so I promised we’d let him out.

Before I thank him, just a reminder we’ve got the president of Angola later this morning, at eleven. In Washington at 12:30 today we’ve got the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Tomorrow we have the Saudi foreign minister as well as a climate change symposium.

Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for coming here. Thank you for asking our questions. I look forward to continuing the conversation on what you might do, as well as cricket versus golf. (Laughter.) Thank you very much. (Applause.)

KHAN: Thank you, Richard. That was great. (Applause.)


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