After years of relentless calls for peace talks with the Taliban, you would imagine that Imran Khan would be happy that the terrorist group nominated the cricketer-turned-politician as an intermediary between them and the government. But no. In a surprise move on Tuesday Khan declined the offer. The BBC reports:
His Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) says he is not needed at the talks as another party figure is on the government team.A preliminary meeting between the two sides gets under way in Islamabad on Tuesday after months of violence.Although the PTI party strongly favours negotiations, a statement on Sunday said that Mr Khan would probably prefer to assist the peace process in another role.
His selection and subsequent refusal reveal quite a few things about Khan’s evolution as a politician and the way he sees his future. His previous refusal to condemn terrorist attacks or name the Taliban as being responsible for them, his suggestions that the Taliban open an office in the regional capital of Peshawar (later disavowed by his own party), and his consistent anti-Americanism have all firmly placed his party on the (far) right-wing. That the Taliban saw him as a potential intermediary, then, is a compliment to his efforts to court them as well as a vindication of his critics, who call him a Taliban sympathizer.Now that his calls for peace talks have been taken seriously by the government (it remains to be seen whether the Taliban are equally serious), he seems to be changing tack. Given the downturn in popularity he has experienced in Khyber-Pakhtunwa, the northwestern province that the PTI won in May’s elections, he seems much more comfortable as a member of the opposition than in the government. If the peace talks fail, as they are widely expected to, then Khan can lay the blame squarely at the feet of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.At the same time, his association with the far-right may have gotten a bit too close for comfort. The other individuals the Taliban nominated alongside Khan included Maulana Sami-ul Haq—a man known as the “father of the Taliban”—and Maulana Abdul Aziz a former militant who occupied a mosque in Islamabad that was the center of an army-led siege in 2007.While it’s too early to say that this move definitively signals a move to the center, it does show that Imran Khan the strategist trumps Imran Khan the demagogue.