Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s often-ambivalent opinion on terrorists took on a new dimension after Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen. Asim Munir recently told the National Security Committee (NSC) that “the recent spate of terrorism is a result of a soft corner for, and reckless policy vis-à-vis Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).” The Army chief’s remarks reflect the consensus of the ruling coalition, which has repeatedly asserted that there is no room for dialogue with militants unless they agree to submit to the Constitution.
This is in stark contrast with the views of Khan, who declared the Afghan Taliban as having “broken the shackles of slavery” after they returned to power in Kabul and has since stressed on the need to “resettle” TTP militants in Pakistan to achieve peace. Khan’s views on the Taliban led to him being dubbed ‘Taliban Khan’ by a section of the press, with international press stating he appeared to be “vindicated by the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.” U.K.-based Financial Times added: “The charismatic former cricket star and playboy had for years criticized the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, using anti-American messaging that found an audience beyond hardline Islamists in his own country.” Under Khan’s government, then-ISI chief Lt. Gen. (retd.) Faiz Hameed also aggressively pursued a policy of “reconciliation” with the TTP, to Pakistan’s ultimate detriment.
The PTI chief’s views on the TTP have been on display since 2001, and he has repeatedly criticized the “war on terror” as one of Islamabad’s “biggest blunders,” alleging that it pushed extremists in Pakistan to turn on the state. This rhetoric has proven popular within Pakistan, but has further pushed an impression that the country facilitates militancy, which our foreign policy can ill-afford. Khan’s worldview can best be described as heroic-isolationist, which is poison for a developing nation dependent on inter-state friendships. Unfortunately, the traditional concept of “heroism” continues to appeal to the general public in Pakistan, which has yet to appreciate the costs of isolationism.