PM says no double standards on drone strikes as interior minister criticises Sartaj Aziz.
While opposition parties are pressing the government to come clean on its policy vis-a-vis US drone strikes, the out-of-synch statements from government officials are only creating further ambiguities on the thorny issue.
On Wednesday, the prime minister’s top foreign policy aide, Sartaj Aziz, claimed that the US was ready to suspend drone strikes to facilitate Pakistan’s efforts to make peace with the Taliban. A day later a missile strike by an American pilot-less aircraft in Hangu district literally torpedoed his claim .
However, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sought to quash the impression that his government had double standards on US drone strikes. “The government has always taken a forthright and genuine stance in condemning the drone attacks. We condemn these acts from the core of our heart,” said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while addressing the National Consultation Conference, Pakistan Vision 2025.
He added that the government never took a casual stance on the issue of drone strikes and always termed them a violation of sovereignty and integrity. He also referred to his recent meeting with the US President Barack Obama in Washington where he clearly stated that drone strikes were unacceptable for Pakistan. “We are really upset by the strikes… this is injustice to Pakistan,” he added.
Though there was no mention of drone strikes in a joint statement issued after the meeting, Pakistani officials said the Obama administration agreed to consider Pakistan’s concerns on the controversial campaign.
A day earlier Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan accused the Nawaz government of having double standards on drone strikes. The premier, however, said all stakeholders must remain united on the issues of national security and should refrain from misguiding the nation about the government’s sincerity.
Interestingly, while the prime minister sought to defend his aide, his senior cabinet member, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, criticised Sartaj Aziz for falling for US claims. “I fail to understand how Sartaj Aziz believed in the US assurances,” he said, while giving his official reaction to Thursday’s drone attack.
“The United States does not want peace in Pakistan. [Then] how can we consider the US our friend [after the Hangu attack],” questioned Nisar. “As the interior minister, I never trusted US assurances as they have been telling me several stories of ‘Alif Laila’ (fictional tales). Now, the time has come that we’ll have to choose between dollars and honour.”
As the interior minister berated the US, the prime minister’s forceful response was more aimed at the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the ruling party in Khyber-Pakhtunkwa. The drone strike in Hangu marked the first attack outside the tribal belt.
The premier said his party had decided in 2007 that they would not destabilise a government in order to improve their chances of coming to power. “We never took to the streets to express our concerns,” he said, supposedly in relation to PTI’s protest being organised today (Saturday).
Nevertheless, Chaudhry Nisar censuring the US and Sartaj Aziz touting assurance from the US seems to reflect different schools of thought in the government.
But Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid told The Express Tribune that there was no rift between the ministers. He did not see any contradiction between the statements of the two ministers.
The opposition does not agree with Rasheed. Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed attributes the ‘conflicting statements’ of government officials to the absence of a permanent foreign minister. “Nawaz Sharif has no one left among his relatives who could be made foreign minister,” he added. “Had there been a regular foreign minister, Chaudhry Nisar would have not criticised Sartaj Aziz’s statement.”
In a sarcastic vein, PTI senior leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi appreciated Chaudhry Nisar’s tirade against the United States. “If the government has realised the double standards of the US, it should come forward and join PTI’s sit-in against drone strikes,” he said.
Jamaat-e-Islami leader Liaquat Baloch said that the US drone strike in Hangu has exposed the ‘confused policies’ of the PML-N government which claims to have a huge mandate.