ISLAMABAD: Short of demanding Sartaj Aziz’s resignation, opposition parties on Wednesday asked the octogenarian technocrat, currently serving as adviser to the prime minister on national security and foreign affairs, to further explain what they called his “controversial” interview with BBC Urdu. Responding to a question during his Nov 17 interview, Mr Aziz had said, “Why should we antagonise all groups (of militants)? Why should America’s enemies unnecessarily become our enemies?” This is a far cry from what the government and, most notably, the military leadership has been saying since Operation Zarb-i-Azb was launched in June: that force was being used against all armed groups nestled in the tribal areas who had refused to surrender and accept the writ of the state.
Addressing a press conference, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi said, “With this interview, Mr Aziz has literally undermined (the) huge amount of sacrifices which the army and civilians affected by the operation have [made] for the safety of the country’s borders.”
Shah Mehmood Qureshi says such statements belittle sacrifices of those fighting terrorists
Mr Qureshi went on to say that the adviser’s words had caused embarrassment to army chief Gen Raheel Sharif, who was currently on his first official visit to the US and trying to highlight the country’s efforts to wipe out militants from the troubled tribal areas.
“The army chief is explaining to both top American military and civil leaders how Pakistan has taken on the Tehreek-i-Taliban and is seriously fighting the war against militants of all hues. But the adviser has taken an altogether different position,” he contended.
He argued that Mr Aziz owed an explanation for saying in the interview that, “some of them (militants) were dangerous for us and some are not. Why must we make enemies out of them all?”
The adviser’s argument has only strengthened the hands of Washington-based lobbyists, which have a strong Indian presence, Mr Qureshi said while recalling his experience as foreign minister under the PPP government.
Separately, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar sought a clarification from the adviser through a call-attention notice submitted in the Senate on Tuesday. The notice reads, “Attention is drawn to a matter of sufficient public importance, namely the adviser’s interview to the BBC on Nov 17, 2014 admitting ‘the selective nature of operation against militant groups, taking on some while leaving others’. The statement by the adviser on foreign affairs is a reversal of the stated policy of across-the-board action against all militants also reiterated recently by the security establishment.”
It goes on to say that disturbing distinction has been made in the interview between militants challenging the state of Pakistan and those who, using Pakistan’s soil, launch violent operations against other states in the region. “It exposes Pakistan to the charge that it is running with the hare and hunting with the hound in the fight against militants.”
This highly disturbing admission at the highest level of policy formulation of turning a blind eye to non-state actors bent upon destabilising foreign states through violent means is a matter of sufficient public importance and calls for urgent attention, Senator Babar concludes in the letter.
In a statement issued by the Foreign Office (FO) with regards to the interview, the its spokesperson maintained that the adviser had made the statement in “a historical context” and stressed that Pakistan was taking action against all groups without distinction or discrimination.
The timing of the interview, according to security analysts, with the army chief currently in the US, can’t just be a coincidence. Many, however, are waiting to see how the military will respond.