By Mick Krever, CNN
Pakistan is charting a new future of non-interference with its neighbors, that country’s national security adviser and de facto foreign minister Sartaj Aziz told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.
“Our policy – Pakistan’s policy – is non-interference and no favorite,” Aziz told Amanpour in London.
Pakistan supported the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s, thinking that the radical group would serve as a bulwark against India, Pakistan’s long-time enemy.
“Afghan has been a theater of great power rivalries, great power games for a long time,” he said. “One of the apprehensions of the Afghan government and President Karzai was the Taliban have a better chance because Pakistan is supporting them, and we have convinced him that is not in our security interest.”
Because Aziz is not a member of parliament, he does not have the title of “foreign minister,” but in practice takes on that role.
There has been a rash of brazen attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan recently; attacks killed 19 people on Friday alone, according to Reuters.
The need to resolve the insurgency is made all the more urgent by the scheduled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of this year.
Both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there has been back-and-forth about whether the respective governments should fight or negotiate with insurgent groups, including the Taliban.
“The normal policy of talk, talk, fight, fight, is something which has been tried in the past, and has worked well.”
“There are elements in Taliban who know that there is no longer the situation of the nineties when they could all run Afghanistan,” he said. “So these pressures could persuade them to come to the negotiating table.”
The critical step will be for the Afghan government, which will be led by a new president in a matter of months, to offer some kind of power sharing to the Taliban, something “more than they can get in the battle field.”
“If you ask my objective assessment, I don’t see major reconciliation and I don’t see a very large scale civil war, but the middle alternative of the status quo continuing” – a simmering insurgency.
Going on a full-scale offensive in Pakistan, he said, requires being willing to accept the consequences of blowback “no just in the Tribal Areas,” but in the rest of the country.
“So you need a large political consensus that you have tried all options and now this is the way to do it. I think we have achieved now that large consensus, in the past few months.”
That does not necessarily mean that Pakistan is on the verge of a full-scale offensive, but it does mean that the government “will be able to distinguish those who want to talk versus those who don’t want to engage in dialogue.”
There may not be peace in the short run, he admitted.
“They have a lot of capacity to create mayhem in many cities, but that is…a price that we’ll have to pay to restore peace.”
Pakistan’s relations with the United States, a country that provides large financial support, have been strained over the past couple of years – over the incursion into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden, over an allegation that an American CIA agent shot and killed two armed men in Lahore, and over America’s use of drone strikes in Pakistan.
“The damage, the negative fallout of drone attacks far exceeds any advantage you may get in getting a high-value target,” Aziz said. “Our basic point to President Obama when Prime Minister [Nawaz Sharif] met him was that it is becoming counter-productive.”
The attacks have dramatically tapered off, he said, but admitted that the U.S. “will not formally say that we are ending drone strikes.”
America has, he told Amanpour, bought Pakistan’s, and the international community’s argument that the drone strikes are the wrong policy.
Pakistan of course has much longer-term tension with India, its Eastern neighbor and rival. In this area of foreign policy, too, Aziz said that Pakistan is putting high importance on peace with India.
“If your economy is weak you can’t achieve anything else – not unemployment can be solved, [politics] can’t be solved, your sovereignty can’t be protected and your position gets much weaker. And that requires, apart from energy crisis and so on and so forth, peaceful neighborhood.”
“That is why the policy of having peace with Afghanistan and peace with India are a critical priority.”