Pakistan’s national security and foreign policy adviser, Sartaj Aziz, has criticized the United States' Afghan strategy, saying it has failed to defeat terrorism, promote economic development or create political stability in neighboring Afghanistan. He reiterated Islamabad’s demand for an end to end U.S. drone strikes against suspected militants on the Pakistani side of the border.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government has promised to improve Pakistan’s strained relations with the United States and has rarely commented on Washington’s Afghan strategy since taking charge in June. Instead, it has stepped up efforts to promote peace talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban ahead of the withdrawal of most U.S.-led coalition forces from Afghanistan by the end of this year.
But Sharif’s adviser on national security and foreign policy, Sartaj Aziz, for the first time on Wednesday criticized the United States for failing to achieve its stated Afghan objectives and went on to blame the strategy for the rise in militancy in Pakistan.
“Did they [the U.S.] bring peace to Afghanistan? No. Did they end terrorism? No. Did they bring development to Afghanistan? No. Did they create a stable democracy? No," Aziz said. "So, they did not achieve any of their objectives but the problems they created for us are for all to see now.”
Islamist militants linked to the Afghan Taliban are waging a bloody insurgency in Pakistan and have killed thousands of people, including security force members, in recent years. The militants are entrenched in the northwestern tribal belt bordering Afghanistan and despite repeated offensives the Pakistan army has been unable to uproot their bases.
Aziz reiterated Islamabad’s concerns that in the absence of a sustained peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan, the withdrawal of foreign forces from that country will strengthen insurgents on both sides of the porous border.
“If there is large-scale fighting then obviously there will be spillover effects. So, we are working very hard to promote reconciliation and dialogue among Afghan factions," he said. "We do not want to interfere into Afghan matters but to facilitate reconciliation so that the political transition and the security transition go forward smoothly and there is no turmoil which would spillover into Pakistan.”
U.S. officials, however, have long accused operatives of the Pakistani spy agency (ISI) of sheltering fugitive Afghan insurgents and helping them carry out cross-border raids on local and international forces. These suspicions remain at the center of political debates in Washington.
These concerns were reiterated last month by the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ed Royce, during a congressional hearing on Afghanistan.
“Pakistan’s military and security service continue to complicate matters by supporting the Taliban," he said. "Pakistan is a double-dealer, paying lip service to cooperation with the U.S. unfortunately, while simultaneously undermining our primary objective for bringing Afghanistan under the control of a democratically elected government.”
Pakistani adviser Aziz, in his remarks on Wednesday, again demanded the United States end its drone strikes against suspected militants in the tribal areas near the Afghan border.
“I think by and large whatever targets they [U.S.] had, what they call high value targets, have been largely taken care of and now the time has come to stop them,” he said.
The CIA-run drone campaign has been at the center of recent tensions between Islamabad and Washington. Pakistani officials insist the missile attacks violate their country’s sovereignty and civilian deaths in these actions are fueling militancy in the region. American officials maintain the strikes are carefully planned to avoid collateral damage and describe drones as an effective weapon to fight terrorism.