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Pakistani Government Step Backs From Adviser's Comments

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (L) walks with Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani national security adviser, after arriving Islamabad on November 14, 2014.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (L) walks with Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani national security adviser, after arriving Islamabad on November 14, 2014.

Pakistan's civilian government has distanced itself from recent comments by the national security adviser, who had emphasized that Islamabad is only fighting the militants responsible for attacks inside the country.

Information Minister Pervez Rashid told RFE/RL’s Mashaal Radio on November 18 that Islamabad's policy is to not tolerate any terrorist group on its soil.

"This is our stated policy: that Pakistan will not tolerate any group which uses Pakistani soil against any other country," says Rashid, who is also the government's top spokesman.

Speaking to the BBC, Pakistani National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz asked, "Why should Pakistan act against those extremists who do not pose a threat to our security?"

In the interview, published on November 17, Aziz added that the Afghan Taliban ― including its lethal military arm, the Haqqani network ― are Afghanistan’s problem.

"We are not against the Afghan Taliban. We will try to persuade them to talk to the Afghan government, and we used to support them in the 1990s," he said. "It is now up to Afghanistan and the United States to deal with them."

The comments appear to back previous claims by Afghan and Western officials who had alleged that Islamabad harbored and even supported Afghan insurgents in order to pressure Kabul to meet Pakistani demands.

Rashid, however, said Pakistan "has targeted every militant group without discrimination during its ongoing military offensive" in the North Waziristan tribal district, which was considered a bastion of the Haqqani network, and Al-Qaeda's affiliated Arab and Central Asian militant networks.

"Under the new Pakistan Protection Law, we do not consider groups or individuals Pakistani who use our soil against other countries," he said. "[Regardless of] where they act, a terrorist is a terrorist. We consider ourselves a part of the international community, and we value every individual’s life as much as that of a Pakistani citizen."

Pakistan's foreign office also downplayed Aziz's comments. A November 18 statement said Islamabad is committed to fighting terrorism. "Pakistan’s policy and actions should be seen in the light of its commitment to fighting terrorism in all forms and manifestations," the statement noted.

In an interview with Voice of America on November 15, Pakistani military spokesman Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa had expressed a similar sentiment.

He said that the military is determined to target every militant group without exception.

The controversy surrounding Aziz’s comments surfaced after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani toured Islamabad last week in a sign of warming relations between the two neighbors, whose relations have been strained by mutual suspicion for decades.

Ghani and Pakistani leaders agreed on the need for enhanced security and economic cooperation between the two countries.

"Pakistan's security lies in the security of Afghanistan and vice versa. Ten years from now, we want to be in a France-Germany type of relationship with Pakistan," Ghani tweeted on November 15.


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    Pamir Sahill

    Pamir Sahill is a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal in Prague. He reports on politics and security in Afghanistan and Pakistan.