Zac Goldsmith's relationship with 'Taliban apologist' Imran Khan raises big problems for the would-be Mayor

The Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician has endorsed Goldsmith, but he's not a figure the Richmond MP should want to be associated with at the ballot box

Sunny Hundal
Monday 11 April 2016 14:49 BST
Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, is close to the Pakistani politician Imran Khan
Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, is close to the Pakistani politician Imran Khan (Getty Images)

Imagine the furore if a candidate for Mayor of London praised someone who openly defends the Taliban. Imagine a candidate openly campaigning with a man who has been labelled an “apologist” for the Taliban because, after visiting Malala Yousafzai, in hospital, he said those who are fighting against foreign occupation in Afghanistan are fighting a holy war.

That candidate is Zac Goldsmith, and his alliance with Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, his former brother-in-law, should raise serious questions about his judgement ahead of May’s vote.

Goldsmith’s kinship with Khan shows the lengths he will go to pander to the Asian vote. More than that, it is an expression of deep hypocrisy given the attacks he has landed on Sadiq Khan, his opponent, as a “radical” and “divisive” figure.

A few weeks ago, on 23 March, Imran Khan sent out multiple tweets in support of Zac Goldsmith, urging Londoners to support him for Mayor. Goldsmith thanked Khan for his support on the same day. It was a public expression of a friendship and political alliance going back years, with both parties repeatedly endorsing and bestowing credibility on the other.

In 2010, it was reported that Imran Khan had visited Goldsmith’s Surrey constituency and told local voters gathered at the mosque that he was “he was supporting Mr Goldsmith’s campaign because he had all of the qualities to become an excellent MP.”

I doubted it was the first time Khan had visited the mosque and told Muslims to support the Richmond MP, but when I asked Goldsmith’s campaign for details of exactly how many times Khan had visited the constituency to lend his support, I got no reply.

I also asked whether the candidate for Mayor of London was aware of Khan’s views on the Taliban. They are very public views, after all. Again, I got no reply. But Khan’s approach to the Taliban is relevant to London and its communities, and raises questions about Goldsmith’s decision to align himself to the man.

Zac Goldsmith struggles to answer London trivia questions

On December 16th 2014, the Pakistani Taliban massacred more than 130 children at a school in Peshawar. It was neither the first time the group had targeted children, nor its first terror attack. On 28th March, just a fortnight ago, the suicide bomber attack in Lahore aimed at Christians and children was claimed by a Taliban splinter group.

Khan has been accused of mainstreaming the Taliban by continually pushing the government to talk to the terrorist group. As far back as 2012, one Pakistani commentator wrote: “Imran Khan truly believes that the Pakistani Taliban have a legitimate cause and that they are people with whom negotiation, dialogue and compromise is a possibility. … the Pakistani Taliban is the most backward, savage, cruel and downright despicable group of fighters in the world today.”

In the days after Malala Yousafzai was attacked, Khan reportedly refused to pin the blame on the terrorist group even though it had claimed responsibility.

Blaming Western intervention and American drone attacks has always been a convenient excuse for those in Pakistan who want to see the Taliban legitimised. But when the Taliban was eventually persuaded to peace talks, its first demand was that Pakistan shred its constitution and install a version of Shariah law across the country. It wanted its own Caliphate. This wasn’t about American intervention in Pakistan, it was a naked bid for power. And it also wanted Imran Khan to represent them during talks.

In the middle of all this is Zac Goldsmith, a keen follower of Pakistani politics. So keen, in fact, that he told a Pakistani newspaper – just months after the Taliban attack on the Peshawar school – that Imran Khan should be the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

“Zac Goldsmith says Imran is answer to Pakistan’s problems,” reports the Pakistani press. Khan is not the answer to Pakistan’s problems any more than Goldsmith is the answer to London’s. Goldsmith, after all, will say anything to say whatever his voters want to hear - whether Sikh, Hindu or Muslim - to get himself elected.

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