Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday admitted that a large number of militants are still based in his country.
“Until we came into power, the governments did not have the political will, because when you talk about militant groups, we still have about 30,000-40,000 armed people who have been trained and fought in some part of Afghanistan or Kashmir,” Khan said at the United States Institute of Peace, a US Congress think-tank, PTI reported. He is on a three-day visit to the US.
Khan also claimed that before his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government came to power, there was a lack of political will to fight militancy. “There was a watershed in Pakistani politics,” he said, according to ANI. “In 2014, the Pakistani Taliban slaughtered 150 school children at Army Public School. All the political parties signed the National Action Plan and we all decided after that, that we will not allow any militant groups to operate inside Pakistan.”
“We are the first government that has started disarming militant groups,” Khan said. “This is the first time it’s happening. We’ve taken over their institutes, their seminaries. We have administrators there.”
But Imran Khan also claimed that his country was unnecessarily blamed for the attack on Indian security personnel in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district in February that ratcheted up tensions between the two countries, Samaa TV reported.
Khan said the attack was “clearly an indigenous thing”. “It was a Kashmiri boy radicalised by the brutality of security forces, he blew himself up,” he alleged. “But because this group claimed responsibility, which was in India as well, Jaish-e-Mohammed was operating in India, but Pakistan suddenly came in the limelight.”
Khan’s comments were in response to a question on whether the latest crackdown on militants in Pakistan would continue and if Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed would remain in police custody.
The prime minister said he was being asked to predict what an independent justice system would do. “It is in the interest of Pakistan that we do not allow any armed militias in the country,” he added. “We have suffered, the country has suffered sectarian attacks, we have had the worst situation, it’s affected our investment, it has destabilised us.”
Khan said even before the Pulwama attack Pakistan had decided to disarm all militant groups in the country. “It is in Pakistan’s interest, because the country has had enough of militant groups..we had ethnic groups, militant groups...in Balochistan, we still have militant groups operating... the Army is helping us disarm all militant groups in the country.”
At another event on Capitol Hill, Khan said 40 different militant groups were operating in the country when the US was fighting the war on terror.
“We were fighting the US war on terror,” the prime minister said. “Pakistan has nothing to do with 9/11. Al-Qaeda was in Afghanistan. There were no militant Taliban in Pakistan. But we joined the US war. Unfortunately, when things went wrong, where I blame my government, we did not tell the US exactly the truth on the ground.” Khan was addressing a reception hosted by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who leads the Congressional Pakistan Caucus.
Khan said there was a proliferation of militant groups because the Pakstani government was not in control back then. “There were 40 different militant groups operating within Pakistan,” he said. “So Pakistan went through a period where people like us were worried about could we survive it. So while the US expected us to do more and help the US win the war, Pakistan at that time was fighting for its own existence.”