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Imran Khan Comes Under Fire Following Peshawar Church Blasts


As the death toll from Sunday’s deadly suicide blasts at All Saints Church in Peshawar rises to 83, Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician, is coming under increasing criticism. After the parliamentary elections this past May, his party, the PTI (Movement for Justice) is now the third largest in Pakistan and the biggest in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital.

Imran Khan has been the most outspoken Pakistani politician against the American drone program in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, and he has consistently struck a conciliatory tone with the Taliban, referring to them as “our brothers from the Northwest.” This tone has become particularly clear ever since the civilian government proposed unconditional talks with the Taliban in an attempt to end the violence. His logic is simple: All terrorist attacks in Pakistan have been a backlash against the American war in Afghanistan and the subsequent U.S. drone program in Pakistan. If the American occupation in Afghanistan ends, he claims, so will terrorist attacks.

In light of Sunday’s massacre, this position is increasingly untenable, but he has persisted, despite the risk of sounding like exactly what his critics say he is: a Taliban apologist. Khan refused to put any blame on the militants who have slaughtered 50,000 Pakistanis in the past decade. Instead he has waxed conspiratorial: “Isn’t it strange that whenever peace talks are pursued, these attacks take place.” In another statement, he said that this attack was an attempt to “derail the peace talks.”

The problem is that the Taliban are not interested in peace talks. After the government’s proposal, the Taliban’s conditions for talks were the complete withdrawal of military forces from the tribal areas, and the release of 4,500 Taliban prisoners currently in Pakistani custody.

The attacks on Sunday widened the divide between Pakistan’s military and the civilian government. The military has long been skeptical of any peaceful overtures, especially after last week’s assassination of a major general. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has not been as myopic as Khan. He called off the talks while in London en route to the UN General Assembly in New York. “Terrorists have no religion and targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions,” he said.

It has been easy for Khan, in the opposition, to blame the government for Pakistan’s (many) ills. But with the recent church bombing, he has suddenly found himself answerable to the people of Peshawar, including its Christians. In protests throughout the country the following day, Christians showed their displeasure with Khan by burning his effigies and stomping on his posters.

Nevertheless, despite wave after wave of attacks that have terrorized Pakistani citizens, especially minorities, Imran Khan has managed only to muddle the debate, leaving Pakistan’s public and its politicians without any consensus on who the enemy is in the first place, or how to get a grip on the perennial challenge of Pakistan’s long-term stability.

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  • ljgude

    I was a great fan of Imran Khan in his cricketing days. He was what is called an all rounder in the sport. The rare individual who is both a great batsman and a good bowler plus he was a great captain of Pakistan’s national team. I first noticed his negative attitude to the US after 9/11. I have been aware of his political career but wasn’t aware he had become an apologist for the Taliban. I had hoped that his leadership qualities might one day bring Pakistan out of its doldrums because I have heard him say that the corrupt elite that runs Pakistan has to take more social responsibility if Pakistan is ever going to do well. That’s fine but when a politician finds himself sympathizing with what PM Sharif correctly named as people with no religion – then he revealed himself as something more than a populist.

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