What’s behind all the Foreign Office blunders

Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokesperson Tasnim Aslam

One has to wonder just how many humiliations Tasneem Aslam can possibly endure. The Foreign Office Spokesperson was trotted out again to ‘clarify’ Pakistan’s positions after Foreign Minister Advisor Sartaj Aziz slipped and let the cat out of the bag in an interview with BBC Urdu when he said that Afghan Taliban and militant groups like Haqqani network are not against Pakistan and therefore why Pakistan should make enemies of them – a direct contradiction to the official line from ISPR that “action would be taken indiscriminately against each militant no matter which group he belongs to”.

FO Spokesperson Tasneem Aslam quickly clarified that the statements were ‘taken out of context’, but the cat was already out of the bag, and the FO has already ruined any last shred of credibility it might have once had with its blundered responses to other recent crises. It’s not just a general lack of credibility, however, that is the problem in this case. There are also some inconvenient facts.

US drone strikes stopped in December 2013, and did not resume until around the start of Zarb-e-Azb operations in 2014. When drone strikes resumed, no objection was given to them, giving the obvious appearance that they had resumed in support of Pakistan Army operations. No objections, that is, until a few weeks ago when a drone strike reportedly killed an important Haqqani leader. The Foreign Office immediately condemned this attack.

Army insists that Haqqani network is a target of anti-terrorist operations, but many independent researchers have reported that these statements amount to little more than a public relations campaign intended to protect the flow of Western military aid while the facts on the ground point to a continuation of old policies.

Similar evidence of double talk appeared when Punjabi Taliban Chief Ismatullah Muawiya announced that his group was ceasing operations against Pakistan in order to focus on Afghan jihad. This report was received with rejoicing that one of the largest anti-Pakistan militant groups had been effectively neutralised. This would only make sense if Army had agreed not to carry out operations against Muawiya’s group as long as he agreed to attack Afghanistan and not Pakistan, which is reported to be the case.

Insiders say Mehsud militants led by Khan Said alias Sajna persuaded Muawiya to lay down arms and abandon subversive activities in Pakistan. After separating from the TTP, Meshud militants decided that they will niether recruit any non-Mehsud fighter nor give shelter them. “It seems that Mehsud militants led by Sajna and Punjabi Taliban led by Muawiya are also becoming ’good Taliban’ and in the near future, they would be in an alliance with the Hafiz Gul Bahadur-led militants in North Waziristan and Bahawal Khan-led militants in Wana – who are operating under a non-aggression pact with Pakistani security forces and mainly focusing on Afghanistan,” said a Peshawar editor of an English daily.

The existence of so-called ‘Good Taliban’ groups in Pakistan is so well known that same day that Tasneem Aslam denies it, Gen Musharraf references the same in a warning about using militant proxies to limit Indian influence in Afghanistan.

All of this comes at a most inconvenient time as Chief of Army Staff is presently in America meeting with with his counterpart there whose interests lie in Army’s willingness to take action against all militants.

In 2005, Pakistan Army termed jihadi leader Baitullah Mehsud as ‘a soldier of peace‘. This is the ‘historical context’ that Tasneem Aslam is referring to in her statement. What she failed to account for, however, was that Army is once again taking secret meetings with Mehsud Taliban.

At the end of the day, this is what is behind all the Foreign Office blunders and Tasneem Aslam’s seemingly endless stream of public humiliations. The past is not really the past. Changing our story does not change the facts. It remains to be seen if ‘Good Taliban, Bad Taliban’ strategy plays out better than it had in the past. In the meantime, I just hope Tasneem Aslam is being paid a fair price for her dignity.

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