Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has said his country’s alliance with the U.S. in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 was one of its biggest “blunders,” citing the huge death toll and economic cost inflicted on the nation as part of the ongoing War on Terror.
Speaking at a Council on Foreign Relations event in New York on Monday, Khan also admitted his country’s role in funding and training Al-Qaeda militants to fight in Afghanistan, the Hindustan Times reported.
“Pakistan, by joining the U.S. after 9/11, committed one of the biggest blunders,” Khan told the event. “Seventy thousand Pakistanis died in this. Some economists say we had $150 billion, some say $200 billion loss to the economy. On top of it, we were blamed for the U.S. not winning in Afghanistan.”
Pakistan has a long history of arming and training militant groups—including Islamic extremists—to use as proxy forces in the region. Along with the U.S., the country provided vital support to Afghan mujahideen fighting against Soviet forces in the 1980s.
But Khan said that when U.S. forces returned to topple the Taliban in 2001, the very fighters the country helped create became the enemy. The prime minister explained that the fighters “were indoctrinated that fighting foreign occupation is ‘jihad’. But now when the U.S. arrived in Afghanistan, it was supposed to be terrorism.”
Pakistan was one of three nations to recognize the Taliban government in Afghanistan as legitimate. But after the 9/11 attacks, Islamabad sided with the Americans. “Pakistan took a real battering in this,” Khan added, suggesting the country should instead have remained neutral.
Pakistan shares a porous and mountainous border with Afghanistan, over which both Islamabad and Kabul have limited control. The border is spanned by Tribal communities, in which militants of various factions have been able to take refuge from the international anti-terror coalition.
Meanwhile, the nation’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency operates with considerable autonomy, maintaining relationships with militants deemed useful to its goals. It has been alleged that elements within the ISI even knew the whereabouts of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before U.S. forces found and killed him at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011.
Al-Qaeda, like many other militant groups, was based out of the Pakistani city of Peshawar during the war against the Soviet Union. It was there, while Soviet forces were already on the way out of Afghanistan, that bin Laden founded the organization in 1988 and received recruits and donations to wage his nascent jihad.
Khan acknowledged the links between the ISI and militants in Afghanistan, admitting that the agency trained Al-Qaeda forces to fight in Afghanistan. “There were always links,” Khan explained, “there had to be links because they trained them.”
Successive Pakistani governments have struggled to root out support for extremist militants from within the country’s own military and intelligence communities. The country has regularly suffered major terrorist attacks—including the assassination of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007—and prosecuted a bloody war in its northwestern tribal regions with limited success.
“When we did a 180 degree turn and went after those groups, not everyone agreed with us,” Khan explained. “Within the army people did not agree with us, so there were insider attacks in Pakistan,” he said.
Khan made the comments before meeting President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. Before the two men met, Khan told reporters he would ask the president to resume failed peace talks in Afghanistan, arguing that there can be no military solution to the war there.
“For 19 years if you have not been able to succeed, you are not going to be able to succeed in another 19 years,” he said, according to NDTV.