A senior aide to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday appeared to turn on its head the conventional wisdom of indiscriminately targeting all shades of militants in the ongoing military operations in the tribal regions, arguing in favour of a more selective approach.
“Why should Pakistan target those who do not pose any threat to its security?” asked Sartaj Aziz, the prime minister’s adviser on national security and foreign affairs, in an interview with BBC Urdu. The interview coincided with a seven-day trip of army chief General Raheel Sharif to the United States.
“The enemies of [the United States of] America have become enemies of Pakistan for no reason,” Aziz said.
Asked about the Haqqani Network, Aziz said: “When the United States attacked Afghanistan [in 2001], all those groups who we had collectively armed and trained were pushed into Pakistan. Some of them are a threat to Pakistan, while others pose no threat to Pakistan’s security. Why should we antagonise them all?”
Pakistan has long been accused of harbouring the Haqqani Network which, according to US officials, used its sanctuaries in North Waziristan Agency as a springboard for launching attacks on foreign forces fighting a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
Officially, Islamabad has said that Operation Zarb-e-Azb launched in North Waziristan in mid-June was targeting all shades of militants. Referring to the offensive, Aziz said Pakistan has taken a big step to stop militants from using its soil to attack US troops. “Their capability [to mount attacks] and their infrastructure has been decimated,” he added.
Asked about the leadership of these groups, the premier’s adviser conceded that some of them might have fled before the launch of Zarb-e-Azb. “However, indiscriminate action is being taken against those who are still on the ground,” he added.
Aziz said the Afghan Taliban were Kabul’s headache. And the Haqqani Network was a component of the Afghan Taliban. “Kabul should hold talks with them. Pakistan can facilitate in such a reconciliation process – but our ties are different from those of the 1990s,” he added.
About the recent visit of new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Aziz said the two sides agreed not allow their respective territories to be used by militants against each other. He added that the issue of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Mullah Fazlullah, who has found a safe haven in Afghanistan, was also taken up with the Afghan leader.
Aziz also said that his country’s soured relations with the United States were on the mend. He didn’t agree with the interviewer that there was a trust deficit between the two countries though.
“Last year, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Pakistan. Then Premier Nawaz Sharif met President Barack Obama in New York. Subsequently, the Strategic Dialogue was revived which was stalled since 2010,” he added. “Gen Raheel’s visit is important given that there had been no contact between the two militaries at this level.”
Five months after the start of Zarb-e-Azb, the military claims to have secured 90% of North Waziristan, killing nearly 1,200 militants in the process. Similarly, Operation Khyber-I is also ongoing in Tirah Valley and Bara regions of Khyber Agency.
Around 350 militants – including 20 top commanders – have surrendered to the security forces since the launch of Khyber-I in mid-October, according to the military. At least 10 militants laid down their weapons on Monday, the military’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement. All these militants hail from Khyber Agency and they surrendered to the security forces, forfeiting a huge cache of arms and ammunitions.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 18th, 2014.