Imran Khan, a candidate to become Pakistan’s next prime minister, says it would be a “bitter pill” to swallow to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump but that he would reluctantly do it should he become victorious in national elections later this year.
"Yes, we would talk," the former cricket star told a press briefing on January 13, referring to Trump, who has accused Pakistan of aiding insurgent groups operating in neighboring Afghanistan.
"I will dread it, but I will have to swallow the bitter pill and meet him," Khan said.
"Whether we would be able to communicate, I am not so sure, but of course we, countries, have to work with the United States," he said.
Khan added that he feels the United States has dishonored the Pakistani soldiers who have been killed fighting insurgents in its volatile tribal regions and the thousands of Pakistanis who have died in terror attacks.
“The way the United States has treated Pakistan as a doormat is not fair,” he said.
Khan, who heads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, is a candidate to become prime minister in the country’s national elections, most likely to be held by July 2018.
Khan said he has been a strong opponent of Pakistan's participation in the war on terror since it began in 2001 following the September 11 attacks in the United States.
The United States led an invasion of Afghanistan to drive the Taliban from power after accusing the government of harboring Al Qaeda terrorists who had plotted the attacks.
U.S. troops have been in the country ever since, supporting the government in Kabul’s fight against the Taliban and other insurgents, including Islamic State (IS).
U.S. officials say Pakistan has provided a safe haven for insurgents operating across the border in Afghanistan, often attacking government, civilian, and religious sites, along with U.S. coaltion forces.
Khan said he supports cooperation with the United States but opposes getting Pakistan's military into a ground war with its own citizense in the tribal regions along the Afghan border.
Many Pakistanis were insulted after Trump on New Year's Day in a Twitter posting accused Islamabad of taking $33 billion in aid over the past 15 years while offering back "nothing but lies & deceit."
The White House later announced it was suspending some $2 billion in assistance to Pakistan’s military until it did more to fight terrorism.
Pakistan's army chief on January 12 told a top U.S. general that the "entire Pakistani nation felt betrayed over U.S. recent statements despite decades of cooperation."
General Qamar Javed Bajwa told U.S. Central Command chief General Joseph Votel that Islamabad expects "honorable recognition of our contributions, sacrifices, and unwavering resolve in the fight against terrorism."
Khan said Trump was using Pakistan as a scapegoat for the U.S.-led coalition's inability to defeat the Taliban and that his comments were "very insulting."
Pakistan's politics have been in turmoil since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resigned in July 2017 aftrer being hit with corruption charges.
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of Sharif's ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party was sworn in as prime minister until new elections are held. Sharif's brother, Shahbaz, is also a potential candidate for the prime minister job.
Based on reporting by AP, VOA, and Dawn