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DECIPHERING the foreign policy and national security statements of the PML-N government is becoming an increasingly odd affair. There is the known, but unacknowledged, gap between the priorities and preferences of the political government and the military leadership.

There is also the pressure that the civilian foreign policy advisers of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appear to be under from the military to publicly articulate and defend policies that are crafted in GHQ.

But vastly experienced civilians, like foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz, appear to be adding to the confusion rather than trying to find a consistent and defendable line on vital issues.

Consider Mr Aziz’s latest pronouncement: citing fears about so-called blowback from militant groups, the foreign affairs adviser appeared to defend the state’s lack of action against sanctuaries of the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban on Pakistani soil.

While Mr Aziz made familiar reference to the state’s decision that action against militant groups should follow some kind of sequence, he appeared to suggest that decisions have yet to be made regarding “how far” and on “what scale” the state will eventually act against some groups.

Has Mr Aziz backtracked on the state’s explicit commitment that there will no longer be a policy of differentiating between so-called good and bad Taliban?

That would be an alarming and astonishing reversal made all the worse by the casual — almost careless — manner in which the remarks were given. Perhaps Mr Aziz was hoping to pre-empt pressure from a delegation of US senators visiting Pakistan.

But the foreign adviser’s remarks to a wire agency require immediate and emphatic clarification — does the state of Pakistan adhere to a policy of not differentiating between so-called good and bad Taliban?

And, if so, what is the strategy to progressively act against all militant groups that have found sanctuary on or are operating from Pakistani soil?

Surely, the remarks of a senior official such as Mr Aziz cannot simply be dismissed as a misstatement or a bungled attempt at explaining existing policy.

The existing policy — reinforced time and again since the start of Operation Zarb-i-Azb and enshrined in the National Action Plan — is to treat all militant groups as a problem that must be solved by eventual elimination.

That policy clarity matters, even if operational and strategic choices so far do not immediately reflect that.

To reiterate, the security of Pakistan and the region lies in an unambiguous policy against militancy and terrorism in all their manifestations by all countries.

Pakistan’s pledge to try and deliver the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table should not be allowed to become a reason to differentiate between militant groups over the long term.

What threatens the stability of Afghanistan inevitably threatens the stability of Pakistan — the security establishment and political leadership here cannot lapse into old, damaging habits of denial and obfuscation.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2016

Comments (25) Closed

Mayuresh Jul 03, 2016 05:24am

He is at least being honest, that's a start

Sunil Jul 03, 2016 11:43am

Apprehensive to distinguish, otherwise there will be back lash by its own citizens.

sri Jul 03, 2016 12:00pm

There was no change in policy..just he is opening up a bit..

NOBODY Jul 03, 2016 12:18pm

So much for the very successful Zarb-e-azb. The target is offset to begin with and claiming to hit the bullseye.

Salman (Kashmir, INDIA) Jul 03, 2016 02:24pm

While the world has reached Mars, it is astonishing that some people are still busy arguing which are good and which are bad terrorist.

Desi Dimag Jul 03, 2016 02:24pm

If Pakistan changes her stance, the nation will change.

Well meaning Jul 03, 2016 02:51pm

shows that people in power do not care about Peshawar incident. they have learnt nothing and do not want to change .How many more deaths will make them sincere

Asif Ali Jul 03, 2016 03:27pm

You cant negotiate with terrorists and antisocial aliments.People not voted you for it.

Sania Jul 03, 2016 04:00pm

Definitely,the implementation lies on the strength of policies rather than rolling back one form to other.Prime task is to keep policies in front and implement according to it.

Asif Jul 03, 2016 04:10pm

All terrorists are sick and inhumane, no discussion needed on this point. Let's have a solution now get rid of this menace and to do that we need brave, honest leaders with vision, not people who should really be retiring now with limited vision.

Akram Jul 03, 2016 06:21pm

@Salman (Kashmir, INDIA) "While the world has reached Mars, it is astonishing that some people are still busy arguing which are good and which are bad terrorist." Trouble is the terrorists prefer earth, not Mars.

NDA Jul 03, 2016 10:12pm

It is national interest what matters. Not what is 'good' or 'bad' Taliban. As long as Pakistan's interests warrant selective strikes , they may go that way.

The political order in Afghanistan is untenable. Kabul government has to and must take Taliban into confidence and give political and social space to them. If that is not done and Taliban do not cease operations, Pakistan will be the biggest loser. Taliban will turn against Pakistan which they have not done so far .

MirKhan Jul 03, 2016 10:37pm

As always,bold and courageous editorial. It is high time to shun the policy of differeciating good or bad Talibans but to crush allto restore peace in country. This policy,since long time,has brought devastation to Pakistan. For peace in both countries,Aghanistan and Pakistan,terror groups on both sides should be treated as terrorists and be wiped out for welfare of both the nations.

NDA Jul 03, 2016 11:56pm

@MirKhan . At the end dialogue will decide things. It looks that US and Afghanistan have shunned dialogue and that is why Mullah Mansoor was killed. Was that the end of negotiated reconciliation. Was it done to help Afghan Govt to consolidate without accommodating Taliban.

Afghanistan is not willing and doing anything to take back refugees and not talking to Taliban. How come peace is going to come without these two things happening?.

Denial Khan Jul 04, 2016 10:37am

@Akram, I am sure, you are one of those who believe in the theory of good terrorists. You have missed the whole point Salman had made.

Mady Jul 04, 2016 01:30pm

@NDA How any country will give political space to terrorist-organization, when such extremists do not believe in democracy?

Saint Jul 04, 2016 04:06pm

Who is to say what is what, as one man's terrorist is an other man's freedom fighter.

Amit Jul 04, 2016 05:54pm

I am wondering if the regular Pak readers have nothing to say on this editorial.

niks Jul 04, 2016 06:56pm

It sums up reason for current state of pakistan.

Vorshal Jul 04, 2016 07:29pm

@Akram -- The problem is in fostering and perpetuating the terrorists rather than eliminating them.

sheroo Jul 05, 2016 02:08am

He is incompetent and thats the end

jsc Jul 05, 2016 05:17am

Terrorist are killing more people in the majority Muslim countries then else where. When will the people realize that for terrorist life means nothing. They kill Muslims and non Muslims without a thought.

N Jul 05, 2016 12:39pm

@sri O ! No ! He was well open giving an interview in Englandm where he used the the terms, good Taliban and Bad Taliban, years ago.

Angry Pitbull Jul 05, 2016 02:02pm

@Akram " Trouble is the terrorists prefer earth, not Mars"

Yes because of terrorists and and other troubles human is adventuring in to mars to live peacefully

LATIF KHAN Jul 05, 2016 05:39pm

You have taken a very bold step to produce this article and highlighted the incoming consequences at the right hour. I have a different approach to resolve the problem based on the ground realities. Declare terrorists as terrorists as long as they do not lay down arms. Both countries should take firm positions on this issue. We are hosting 3-4 millions refugees over three decades who have been blended into our society, working, studying, intermarriages and doing businesses there. They have become part of Pakistan and their return to Afghanistan should be made optional.Those you opt to go back or stay back should be facilitated with UN to live decent lives in both countries. Negotiation on porous border to be agreed and managed amicably.