|Qureshi’s interview with Al Jazeera came during a visit to Qatar, the last leg of his Gulf tour [EPA]
A day after the United States designated the Tehrik-e-Taliban or Taliban Movement in Pakistan (TTP) as a “foreign terrorist organisation,” elevating the group’s international profile, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told Al Jazeera that the group has lost “complete credibility” in his country.
Qureshi’s remarks on Thursday came less than 24 hours after a bombing targeted a procession of Shia Muslims in the Pakistani city of Lahore, killing at least 33 people and wounding 170 others.
Rehman Malik, the country’s interior minister, blamed the TTP for the attack.
Public opinion surveys show little support for the TTP, Qureshi said, and even residents of Pakistan’s tribal northwest – a home base for Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other armed groups – do not support them.
“You don’t need mass support to carry out a terrorist action,” he said.
Quest for help
Qureshi was on a visit to Qatar on Thursday as part of Gulf countries tour in an attempt to rally support and raise money to help Pakistan deal with the devastating floods that have wracked the country for more than a month.
Qatar has pledged around $1.6 million in aid to Pakistan.
Nearly 12 per cent of the country’s population, or around 20 million people, have been affected by the floods, Qureshi said, calling it the “largest displacement” of Pakistan’s population since the country’s founding in 1947, when India was partitioned to create Pakistan.
Pakistan’s three-phase recovery plan – rescue, recovery and rehabilitation – is proceeding, Qureshi said, but the damage done to Pakistan’s agricultural “breadbasket” likely heralds a coming mass migration of people from rural to urban areas.
Four million acres of agricultural land has been damaged or destroyed, Qureshi said, though a comprehensive damage assessment with a price tag attached won’t come until October.
Abdul Hafiz Shaikh, Pakistan’s finance minister, has been in Washington DC for a week to renegotiate the terms of an $11 billion loan provided by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) two years ago, in light of the flood disaster.
Qureshi told Al Jazeera he had yet to speak with Shaikh, but that he heard the IMF “understood the difficulties” faced by Pakistan and are “sympathetic”.
He said Pakistan will not be able to grow its economy by the targeted 4.5 per cent this year, that it will be “difficult” to reduce inflation by the amount the IMF desires, and that the size of Pakistan’s fiscal allowable deficit under the terms of the IMF loan “will have to be renegotiated”.
‘Insurgency flushed out’
Speaking about the possibility that the TTP or other insurgent groups will take advantage of the instability caused by the floods, Qureshi said Pakistan had “flushed out” anti-government fighters, who as a result no longer “consider Pakistan to be a safe haven anymore”.
He said that the United States’ use of unmanned aerial drones to conduct targeted missile strikes in the northwest – a tactic that has ramped up under US president Barack Obama, inflicting heavy casualties on insurgents but killing hundreds of civilians – was “important” because it was a method of attacking the Taliban and other groups in tough, mountainous terrain.
Echoing comments he has made previously, Qureshi said Pakistan has asked the United States for drone technology and wants to fly its own unmanned missions, but also said that the tactic raises the touchy issue of Pakistani sovereignty and allows the Taliban to “take advantage” when civilians are killed.
Reacting to UK prime minister David Cameron’s July statement that his country would “not tolerate … the export of terror” from Pakistan, Qureshi said Cameron had later qualified his words.
“I would say he was new in the job,” Qureshi said.
He said the Taliban and related groups are not solely his country’s problem, but rather a “monster” created by many nations that backed the mujahideen against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s and then left with no “exit strategy”.