Pakistan’s Imran Khan warns of ‘civil war’ in Afghanistan

Khan says his country is primarily concerned with the possibility of a humanitarian and refugee crisis if a civil war breaks out.

Imran Khan's government has repeatedly called for the world to engage with the Taliban [File: Saiyna Bashir/Reuters]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned of the risk of a “civil war” in Afghanistan if the Taliban is unable to form an inclusive government there.

“If they do not have an inclusive government, and gradually it descends into a civil war, which if they do not include all the factions sooner or later [will happen], that too will impact Pakistan,” Khan told the BBC network during an interview aired on Tuesday.

Khan said his country was primarily concerned about the possibility of a humanitarian and refugee crisis if a civil war breaks out, as well as the possibility of Afghan soil being used by armed groups that are fighting the Pakistani government.

“It will mean an unstable, a chaotic Afghanistan,” he said.

“[That is an] ideal place for terrorists, because if there is no control or if there is fighting going on. And that is our worry. So terrorism from Afghan soil, and secondly if there is a humanitarian crisis or a civil war, a refugee issue for us.”

The Taliban has previously rejected Khan’s calls for changes to the current interim Afghan government, with Mohammad Mobeen, a Taliban leader, saying the group does not “give anyone the right to call for an inclusive government”.

“We have got freedom. Like Pakistan, we reserve the right to have our own system,” Mobeen said told Afghanistan’s Ariana TV on Monday, adding the current system was “inclusive”.

Also on Monday, the Taliban’s deputy information minister Zabihullah Mujahid said the group would address international human rights concerns only after formal recognition by those countries.

“As long as we are not recognised, and they make criticisms [over rights violations], we think it is a one-sided approach. It would be good for them to treat us responsibly and recognise our current government as a responsible administration,” Mujahid told Afghanistan’s Tolo News.

Pakistan’s government led by Khan has repeatedly called for the world to engage with the Taliban’s interim government to stave off the possibility of a collapse of Afghan structures, in the absence of central bank funds.

An estimated $10bn in Afghan central bank funds remain frozen in foreign bank accounts, notably with the US Federal Reserve, following the Taliban’s takeover of the government a month ago.

On Monday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi reiterated a call for those funds to be unfrozen in order to allow the Afghan government’s institutions, including schools and hospitals, to function.

“On one hand, you’re raising fresh funds to avert a crisis, and on the other hand, money that is theirs – belongs to them – they cannot use,” Qureshi told reporters in New York, where he is attending the UN General Assembly.

“I think freezing the assets is not helping the situation. I would strongly urge the powers that be that they should revisit that policy and think of an unfreeze,” he said.

The recognition question

Pakistan was a key ally of the previous Taliban government in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, but has withheld recognition of the armed group’s new government in the country, with Pakistani leaders saying any decision on recognition would require regional consensus.

Khan, who recently attended a summit of regional countries as well as Russia and China under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), said that recognition would depend on three factors.

“All of us [in the SCO] decided that we would collectively take a decision to recognise Afghanistan, and that decision will depend on will they have an inclusive government, their assurance of human rights, and that Afghan soil should not be used for terrorism, and neighbours are the most worried about that,” he said in the BBC interview on Tuesday.

The Taliban has come under fire in recent days for the structure of their interim government, with no women included in their cabinet of ministers or deputy ministers.

Ethnic minorities have also not been represented adequately, rights groups say.

Khan said Pakistan would push the Taliban to form a politically and ethnically inclusive government, “because there will not be any long term sustainable peace or stability unless all the factions, all the ethnic groups, are represented”.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.

Source: Al Jazeera