ISLAMABAD - Pakistani populist opposition politician Imran Khan, a harsh critic of the country's partnership in the U.S.-led anti-terrorism war, said Saturday that should he become prime minister, he would meet with President Donald Trump but that it would be a "bitter pill" to swallow.
Khan heads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party that has emerged as a major national political force in recent years. Observers think the cricket star-turned-politician could win the national election due later this year and become the country's chief executive.
In speaking to reporters about his views on Pakistani foreign policy, Khan was asked whether he would be willing to sit down with Trump to try to mend relations between the two countries, Khan said the United States is a super power and every country would want to work with it.
"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."
Pakistan's often troubled relations with the United States have plunged to new lows since Trump, in a New Year Day's tweet, accused Islamabad of knowingly harboring insurgents battling U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He also suspended nearly $2 billion in security assistance to Pakistan.
Islamabad denied Trump's assertions as "completely incomprehensible," saying it was fighting an anti-terrorism war largely with its own resources and was not in need of U.S. aid.
Treated like 'a doormat'
"You cannot insult a country of 200 million people by blaming, scapegoating them for the disaster in Afghanistan. It was very insulting of him [Trump], the way he treated Pakistan. ... He has treated Pakistan like a doormat. I just don't think that that was very fair," Khan said.
The opposition leader has always been critical of Pakistan's participation in the U.S.-led war against terrorism in neighboring Afghanistan. The politician reiterated Saturday the war was launched to punish the al-Qaida network for plotting 9/11 attacks on the U.S. from Afghan soil.
Khan said Pakistan had nothing to do with the violence. He insisted Pakistan should have supported the U.S. campaign against terrorism but it should not have deployed tens of thousands of troops to the country's tribal regions on the Afghan border to fight its own people.
He said the policy is to be blamed for terrorist attacks that have killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis over the past decade while the national economy has suffered billions of dollars in losses.
Pakistan's volatile tribal areas have long served as a hideout and training ground for Taliban insurgents battling international forces in Afghanistan. U.S. officials allege the lawlessness in the Pakistan border region is to be blamed for the Taliban resurgence, a charge that Pakistani officials deny.
Islamabad maintains Washington is scapegoating the country for U.S. failures in Afghanistan and dishonoring Pakistani sacrifices and contributions in the regional counterterrorism efforts.
Khan and his party spearheaded street protests and a subsequent legal battle that ousted Pakistan's thrice-elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, from office last July on corruption charges.