If Imran Khan boggled our senses last week by asking that Military Intelligence and Inter-services Intelligence representatives should sit on the judicial commission requested by the government to probe the 2013 elections, the prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz’s needless statement on the Taliban vis-a-vis Pakistan and Afghanistan’s security, boggles our senses this week. Indeed, the FO’s ‘clarification’ of Aziz’s statement has added further confusion to the whole affair.
Whilst the Afghan president said repeatedly that this was a great opportunity to mend ties and that “partnership with Pakistan is an important pillar (note the word) of Afghanistan’s foreign policy”, our prime minister said there was a need to build a “strong relationship based on mutual respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity”. He also said Pak-Afghan “cooperation was imperative for peace and prosperity in the region” and that “Pakistan is committed to upgrading cooperation in border security, defence, Afghan reconstruction, capacity building, parliamentary exchanges and cultural links”.
Indeed, the PM went on to say that both countries face formidable challenges, including terrorism and security. He said that we could only meet them by exploiting the full potential of cooperation collectively. And that while Pakistan reaffirmed that a “peaceful, prosperous and united Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s vital interest”, it also “supported the intra-Afghan reconciliation process”, adding that this should be fully “Afghan-led and Afghan owned”.
After all of these friendly and supportive exchanges, it was bewildering to see Mr Sartaj Aziz saying that “Pakistan should not target militants who do not threaten the country’s security”. “Why should America’s enemies unnecessarily become our enemies,” he is quoted as having told BBC Urdu, and that “When the United States attacked Afghanistan, all those that were trained and armed were pushed towards us”.
“Some of them were dangerous for us and some are not. Why must we make enemies out of them all?” he said when speaking about the Haqqani network. He further said that the Afghan Taliban are Afghanistan’s problem and the Haqqani network is a part of it. “It’s the job of the Afghan government to negotiate with them … We can try to convince them, however, things are not the same as they were in the nineties.” Curious, no?
And what does the FO say in its ‘clarification’? Press report: “The adviser made the statement in a historical context,” FO spokesperson Tasneem Aslam said in a statement. “As for [the] present, Pakistan has launched operation Zarb-e-Azb and (is) taking action against all groups without any distinction or discrimination.”
“She added that Sartaj Aziz’s interview with BBC’s Urdu service has created confusion in the official stance of the country. Pakistan’s policy and actions should be seen in the light of its commitment in fighting terrorism in all forms and manifestations, she added. The development comes at a time when Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif was on a visit to the US and Operation Zarb-e-Azb commander Major General Zafarullah Khan had recently stated that the military was targeting all local and foreign militants.” Curiouser, no?
So there you have it reader, confusion worse confounded. “Historical context”, says the FO. What historical context please? Is the FO saying that Mr Aziz is right? That since the Haqqanis did not threaten Pakistan, and were only the enemies of the United States (whose non-Nato ally we were, by the by), we looked away from their violence in Afghanistan that they openly owned and bragged about? Indeed, are he and the FO suggesting that since the Haqqanis are not a threat to us, Pakistan will not stop them spreading mayhem in Afghanistan in the future?
I mean, look at the conciliatory and supportive words of our prime minister, for Afghanistan, and look at the thoughts of the senior adviser on foreign affairs. The PM says a “peaceful Afghanistan” is in Pakistan’s vital interest and Mr Aziz says we should not “target militants” who openly threaten Afghanistan, because they do not threaten our security?
Let’s go elsewhere: Do the TTP threaten our security? I should have thought that they do, seeing the havoc they have wreaked in our country, killing more than 60,000 innocent Pakistanis and counting, and horribly maiming countless others. We should know, too, that more than 8,000 soldiers and paramilitary troops have been cruelly slaughtered, and hundreds most horrendously maimed by the savages. Most critically, we should know that the TTP and the Haqqanis are joined at the hip. Or does our innocence where the Haqqanis are concerned transcend all that we know about them?
There is no good ‘history’ here. If anything, this statement will reignite fears that we have favourites among the brutes, for that is what they are. We must join forces with our Afghan neighbours and together finish off the murdering terrorists. We must realise that it is only a matter of time before the IS sets up shop in this part of the world too, mark my words. The thing for Mr Sartaj Aziz to do is to call an immediate press conference and himself clarify what he meant, or did not mean.
Incidentally, time we made fresh overtures to our Iranian neighbours, too. They have a huge stake in the region and will be enormously helpful in fighting terror. They must be co-opted in a trilateral arrangement with Pakistan and Afghanistan before the balloon goes up in the coming spring and our country finds itself in the middle of it all. Mark my words.
P.S. Could the FO kindly stop using the term ‘in all its forms and manifestations’ when referring to terrorism? Please? It is now much hackneyed and worn-out.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2014.