Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan outraged the nation’s political opposition and baffled global observers Thursday with an impassioned speech in which he referred to late al-Qaeda boss Osama bin Laden as a “martyr.”
Khan was speaking to Parliament during a budget session, offering a bizarre context for his remarks.
Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks, took refuge for years in Pakistan before an American special operation eliminated him in 2011. Khan called that operation “embarrassing.”
“I don’t think there’s a country which supported the war on terror and had to face embarrassment for it. Pakistan was also openly blamed for U.S.’ failure in Afghanistan,” Khan asserted this week. “For Pakistanis across the globe, it was an embarrassing moment when the Americans came and killed Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad… martyred him.”
“The whole world started abusing us after that. Our ally came inside our country and killed someone without informing us. And, 70,000 Pakistanis died because of U.S.’ war on terror,” Khan affirmed. Khan reportedly used the word shaheed, meaning “martyr,” in reference to bin Laden. Radical Muslims regularly refer to those who die in jihad as “martyrs,” the implication being that their sacrifice in battle will be rewarded in the afterlife.
Opposition politicians rallied on Thursday to condemn Khan’s remarks. One senator referred to the prime minister himself as a “national security threat.”
The head of the opposition Pakistani Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) party, Khawaja Asif, asserted that bin Laden was a “terrorist” and that Khan had outraged decent Pakistanis.
“Imran Khan called Osama bin Laden shaheed. Bin Laden brought terrorism to our lands, he was a terrorist through and through and he [premier] calls him shaheed?” Asif asked during a National Assembly session, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported.
Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, the senator who branded Khan a “national security threat,” also recalled in a statement that Khan had publicly embraced helping find a role for the Taliban in Afghan politics.
“Today Imran Khan has proven himself to be ‘Taliban Khan’ in parliament. The Imran Khan-Taliban nexus was evident from the meetings between the two,” Khokhar said, adding, “Thousands of civilians and youth were martyred in attacks by al-Qaeda.”
“An unwarranted attempt is being made at home/abroad with a clear intent to make his remarks controversial unnecessarily,” Dawn relayed Gill as saying.
Khan’s outburst, apparently lamenting the demise of bin Laden, followed State Department condemnation of Pakistan this week for allowing the Taliban to operate freely in its territory. Global security observers have long branded Pakistan one of the world’s most active hotbeds of terrorism.
“Pakistan continued to serve as a safe haven for certain regionally focused terrorist groups. It allowed groups targeting Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban and affiliated HQN [Haqqani network], as well as groups targeting India … to operate from its territory,” the State Department said last week in its annual Country Reports on Terrorism. The Pakistan report gave the country some credit for taking “modest steps” to stop the financing of terrorism within its borders and for participating in the Afghanistan peace process.
“People in Afghanistan have suffered four decades of conflict. The last thing Afghanistan needs is more violence and it needs peace. The Taliban should become a part of the political process, so then you would have a government which will represent the people of Afghanistan,” Khan asserted.
While the United States ousted the Taliban for its cooperation with bin Laden following the September 11 attacks, in 2018 American officials declared that they had adjusted the definition of victory in the Afghan war from the defeat of the Taliban to a “political reconciliation” between the Afghan government and the Taliban, a goal with which Khan’s remarks are compatible.
Khan has made other statements arousing disagreement regarding jihadist groups. During his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in September, Khan declared that radical Islam simply does not exist: “There is no radical Islam. There is only one Islam. What message do they send to the world?”
His comment echoed a sentiment expressed previously by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “Islam cannot be either ‘moderate’ or ‘not moderate.’ Islam can only be one thing.”
In his U.N. speech, Khan compared India to “Nazi Germany” for its anti-jihadist policies in Kashmir, the sovereignty of which the two countries dispute.
In 2018, Khan launched a global campaign against blasphemy, allegedly in defense of Islam against the West.
“Pakistan will spearhead a campaign for an international declaration against the defamation of religions. I have appointed Ahmer Bilal Sufi, a law expert, to reach out to various countries and convince them to sign the declaration,” Khan asserted, adding that the campaign would “prevent people using freedom of speech as a cover for hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims.”