· Describes as “absolute nonsense” the claim that he supports the Taliban
· Labels the Pakistani Taliban a ‘terrorist’ group: “Anyone who kills innocent people are terrorists”
· Denies that Darul Uloom Haqqania, a university his party has funded, is a breeding ground for extremism: “If it was a university for jihad it should have been shut down”
· Asked about anti-Ahmadi discrimination says, “Anyone who’s a Pakistani has an equal right”
· Says Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws “are not a problem” but Pakistani politicians “do have to tread a very thin line” on the issue
(Washington DC – 28th July, 2016) – In an interview with Al Jazeera English’s current affairs show, ‘UpFront’, the chairman and founder of Pakistan’s ‘Movement for Justice’ (PTI), Imran Khan, responded to questions about the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.
“The laws are not a problem,” Khan told ‘UpFront’ host Mehdi Hasan, explaining that the problem was with “militant groups in Pakistan.”
When asked if he supported a change to the laws, which carry a death sentence, he responded, “Extremism is not going to be fought by laws, extremism has to be fought first by disbanding those groups that are perpetuating this extremism.”
“Whatever you do with the laws people will be killed,” he added.
Yet, when asked by host Hasan if he feared for his life by speaking on the subject, the PTI leader conceded: “It is true you have to tread a very thin line. Anything perceived to be… sacrilegious, yes your life is in danger… It is a very difficult subject living in Pakistan.”
During the interview, Khan was also asked about his alleged relationship with the Pakistani Taliban and whether, as some have speculated, he supports the militant group.
“This is absolute nonsense. It’s just not true,” he said. “All you have to do is look at my statements for the past ten years.”
Within this context, Khan was also asked if he considers the Taliban a ‘terrorist’ group. “Yes they are,” he replied. “Anyone who kills innocent people are terrorists.”
Khan also responded to accusations from former president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, that his large financial donations to Darul Uloom Haqqania, a school known for educating Taliban fighters, was evidence he supported extremism.
“This is totally out of context,” he said, explaining that the purpose of the funding from his party was “to get the madrassa system into the mainstream”.
Khan added: “If it was a university for jihad it should have been shut down” by previous Pakistani governments.
He further added that Zardari’s comments were “like so many of the Muslim corrupt rulers, ex-rulers, trying to win western support by saying how liberal they are and how anti-Taliban they are.”
Also during the interview, Khan was asked by host Mehdi Hasan whether he believed Pakistani minority group, the Ahmadis, deserved equal rights.
“All human beings have equal rights. Anyone who’s a Pakistani has an equal right. The constitution should protect him, he’s an equal citizen,” he said.