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Interview: Groups That Create Militias Are Not Acceptable To Pakistan

Husain Haqqani
Husain Haqqani
Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, says that Islamabad sees the Taliban as a threat to its security, both in Afghanistan and, increasingly, in Pakistan itself.

Visiting RFE/RL in Prague, Haqqani spoke to correspondent Charles Recknagel.

RFE/RL: There are three Talibans, to judge by media use of the terminology. One is outside Pakistan: the Afghanistan Taliban. The two others are inside Pakistan: the Pakistani Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and the Punjabi Taliban, in Pakistan's province of Punjab. How does Pakistan regard these groups and the challenges they pose for the country?

Husain Haqqani:
The government led by President Asif Ali Zardari has consistently maintained that we consider all Taliban, whether their sphere of operations is Afghanistan or Pakistan, and other militant groups that are affiliated with or associated with the Taliban, as a threat to our own security as well as to the security of our region and the world. So we make no distinction. We judge them by their actions. Those that are engaged in terrorist actions, those that pursue the course of militancy, those that attack our army or the armies of our neighbors, in Afghanistan, and our allies, we consider them all a threat.

The only question has been in what sequence should we deal with them militarily. Secondly, we also believe there is no purely military solution to the problem, that there also has to be a socioeconomic and a political dimension to the solution. There is no point in killing a few people and then those people being replaced by other new recruits. We have to make sure that the ability of the Taliban, in Afghanistan or Pakistan, to be able to continue to recruit people diminishes.

RFE/RL: "The New York Times" recently reported that Pakistan is looking ahead to a negotiated settlement to the Afghan conflict in order place one of its allies -- the militant group of Sirajuddin Haqqani -- in a position of influence in Kabul. If so, the move would be highly controversial because the group is an ally of Al-Qaeda and currently runs a major part of the insurgency in Afghanistan. What should we make of these reports?

The Haqqani network is an Afghan group and any Afghan group to be brought to the table is for the Afghan government to decide. Pakistan has made it very clear that we consider the stability of Afghanistan as crucial to our policy objectives, we do not want Afghanistan to be used as a terrorist safe haven against us or against any other country in the world, and we therefore defer to the government of Afghanistan in making decisions as to whom they engage in making reconciliation talks with.

Incorporating The Tribal Areas

RFE/RL: Let's turn to the Taliban Movement of Pakistan (TTP) led by Hakimullah Mehsud. Does Pakistan see it as a spillover from Afghan conflict, or something sui generis, of its own kind?

Well, the Taliban movement in Pakistan is a reflection of an ideological movement. They have a world view, they have been inspired by the Taliban in Afghanistan, but they have a world view of their own and their target has been Pakistan's own military, our own intelligence services, and our own law enforcement services. In fact, the very fact that these groups have attacked our military and our intelligence services with the vehemence with which they have conducted these attacks is evidence that the speculation about our military and our intelligence services as not being on board in fighting these people is totally erroneous and unfair.

As far as Pakistan's objectives in relation to the TTP are concerned, our objective is essentially to pursue a "clear, hold, and transfer" policy in which we clear the areas that these groups have created as their sort of mini-states with military means, then hold them and then transfer them to civilian control so that they are part of Pakistan's normal, social, political, and economic life.

RFE/RL: The TTP seems to be wholly, or largely Pashtun and the Pashtuns have a peculiar situation inside Pakistan. They represent the second-largest ethnic group in the armed forces, yet the FATA is semi-autonomous and political parties there say it is neglected by the federal government. The literacy rate 17 percent, there are more than 8,000 people per doctor compared to roughly 1,500 people per doctor in Pakistan overall, and only 102 high schools. What does Pakistan want for the FATA?

The government's declared policy is one of gradual inclusion of the tribal areas into what is now known as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, the Northwestern Frontier Province as it used to be called by the British, and the idea is that the people of the tribal areas should not be kept separate because that separateness has deprived them of schooling, of infrastructure, of economic opportunities. The government and the international community has allocated vast resources now and as soon as peace is restored to a tribal area, one of the first things that is done is to start building new infrastructure, bringing clean water, roads, schools.

The extremists in the form of the Taliban also oppose all of that because they see modernization as a means of "losing autonomy," but the truth is that any autonomy that is used primarily to deprive people of their fundamental rights and the fundamental opportunities that are available to a modern citizen of a country, that autonomy is not necessarily the best. They should have rights under the constitution, they should be part of the Pakistani populace as citizens and as equals.

Enemies Of Modernization

RFE/RL: What does the term "Punjabi Taliban" mean, the label we increasingly see used in the media to designate the militants behind the recent bombings in Lahore?

Basically, the term "Punjabi Taliban" is used for Taliban sympathizers from mainly the Punjab Province, and these are members of various groups that have been set up or have been created over the years inspired by the jihadist ideology that took root in our part of the world in the war against the Soviet Union from 1979 to 1989. During that period a lot of Pakistanis also served as facilitators and subsequently people inspired by the call for global jihad.

Many of these groups have turned against the government of Pakistan and they are targeting Pakistani ordinary citizens, they are trying to wage sectarian warfare in some parts of the country. There are all kinds of assorted groups, they have extremist groups like Laskar-e Jhangvi, which is a sectarian group that used to target Shi'as, there are other smaller groups, and all of these groups have now come to light and the government of Pakistan is determined to eliminate them in accordance with our legal framework and also to deprive them of the ability to wage the kind of terrorist attacks that they have done in the last few months.

RFE/RL: What is bringing militant groups from widely different areas of Pakistan together? How closely do they now work together and toward what goal?

I think that these groups are brought together by their obscurantist philosophy, they all have a shared world view. They think that modernization and modernity are un-Islamic. They think that Pakistan should not be part of the modern world. They also think that they somehow have a God-given right to determine how people will practice religion, they do not recognize the pluralism within Islam that has been practiced and recognized for centuries in our part of the world.

The second thing that is bringing these groups together is that they are all targets of the efforts by the state of Pakistan to regain control of Pakistan. The only legitimate group with a legitimate right to use force in Pakistan should be the state of Pakistan. All other groups that create militias, that want to act as an army of their own, they are not acceptable to the state of Pakistan. And that has enabled many of these groups to come together in a time of adversity because they are under attack.

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