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Pakistan Makes No Distinction Between 'Good,' 'Bad' Taliban

Sartaj Aziz
Sartaj Aziz

Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistani prime minister's adviser on national security, says Islamabad is taking action against all militants without any consideration about the "good" and "bad" Taliban or militants who launch attacks inside Pakistan or those who only target Afghanistan.

RFE/RL: You were recently quoted as saying Pakistan is not going to take action against militants who are not harming Pakistan and that Afghanistan should start peace talks with the Taliban. Does that mean Pakistan is still pursuing the policy of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban?

Sartaj Aziz: I was referring to the historical context that after 9/11, we could not take action against all of them but we took action against those who were targeting us. That was the past policy of previous governments. Now, as far as the present government is concerned, we take action against all groups in Zarb-e-Azb [the ongoing military operation in the North Waziristan tribal district]. We are also going to do whatever we can to facilitate the Afghan government’s reconciliation talks with the Taliban. What I said was that it is up to the Afghan government to take the initiative to talk to the Taliban.

RFE/RL: Can Pakistan use its influence to persuade the Afghan Taliban to sit down with the Afghan government for peace talks?

Aziz: Obviously, they (Taliban) don’t listen to our advice, but we will do our best to facilitate the talks. But I think the initiative has to come [from the Afghan government], and I think this was also agreed in the Heart of Asia meetings in Beijing and Istanbul, that it has to be an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process. And the other countries, including China and Pakistan and others, can facilitate them as much as possible. Some are persuading and others providing venue for the talks and trying to facilitate as much as possible.

RFE/RL: If there were such an initiative, would the Pakistani government, as is often reported in the media, stop the infiltration of the Taliban or the Haqqani network into Afghanistan?

Aziz: I think that’s an old story. After the start of Zarb-e-Azb, we’ve dismantled all the infrastructure, and action has been taken without any discrimination. I think Pakistan's present policy is against all groups, including the Haqqani network, and I think our commitment to [fight] against terrorism in all forms and manifestations remains on track.

RFE/RL: What prospects do you see from the recent peace overtures between Pakistan and Afghanistan, particularly after Ghani's two-day visit to Islamabad?

Aziz: Very positive. I think Ghani was very positive and clear that we want to move away from the blame game of the past, and we want a stable relationship based on trust and common interests, and therefore we discussed all the dimensions of this relationship. The economic package has been finalized. There were issues that were pending for a long time [but] have been sorted out and agreed upon [now]. I hope it will be implemented very promptly including transit trade, connectivity, joint projects and a number of other things. And then security-related interaction, including border security, [cooperation] at the intelligence and political levels.

One of the most important [missions] was that we will not allow our soil to be used against the other country, and similarly Afghanistan will not allow its territory to be used against Pakistan. And this will take time to be implemented because of the porous nature of the border.

RFE/RL: Specifically, did Islamabad and Kabul discuss the role or handing over of Pakistani Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah, whom your government believes to be hiding across the border in Afghanistan?

Aziz: Well, generally [it was discussed. The question is] that Afghan soil would not be allowed to be used against Pakistan, and obviously all the elements that are trying to take action against Pakistan from across the border have to be stopped somehow because we have to go after the attackers, and these then become attacks on Afghanistan ― and that is the kind of misunderstanding that happens across the border.