Chairman and founder of Pakistan’s Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) Imran Khan, who is often accused of being a ‘Taliban sympathiser’, said on Wednesday he considers Taliban to be terrorists, while rubbishing speculation of him supporting extremism and militant groups.
“This is absolute nonsense. It’s just not true,” he said in an interview with Al Jazeera English’s current affairs show, UpFront. “All you have to do is look at my statements for the past 10 years.”
Within this context, Imran was also asked if he considers the Taliban a ‘terrorist’ group. “Yes they are,” he replied. “Anyone who kills innocent people are terrorists.”
Imran also responded to accusations by 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 that 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”.
He added, “If it was a university for jihad it should have been shut down” by previous Pakistani governments.
The PTI chief 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.”
During the interview, Imran also responded to questions about the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.
“The laws are not a problem,” Khan told 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 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.”
Also during the interview, Imran was asked whether he believed the Ahmadiyya community 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.