This newspaper of record reported on October 31st 2012 this mind-numbing news: “The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) released a video showing what appeared to be the severed heads of a dozen Pakistani soldiers. Pakistani security officials had already confirmed that 15 of their soldiers went missing three days ago after a clash with the militants.
“TTP Spokesman Sirajud Din sent AFP a video showing a militant commander posing with 12 heads arranged on the ground. ‘Praise be to God that the mujahideen in Bajaur Agency have managed to kill the infidel soldiers of Pakistan,’ he says. ‘Many of them were killed by bullets, 12 of them as you see have been beheaded, you see 12 heads here, and more heads are on the way.’
“The commander is flanked in the footage by armed men including one wielding a huge axe. Confirming the reports of missing soldiers, a senior security official told AFP, ‘At least 15 of our soldiers are still missing.’ Another security official said ‘more or less’ that number of soldiers were missing but declined to give the exact total.”
The Nation, a national newspaper, had the gory and revolting picture, in colour, on its front page. If I recall, I was one of the few who lauded the paper for printing that photograph showing the severed heads of our soldiers arranged on a slope with two terrorists brandishing Kalashnikovs and one, a huge axe, in the background. The soldier’s heads were lying at their feet so to say.
I had hoped that the apologists for the TTP, our various publicity-seeking ‘anchors’ and others of their ilk in the print media, would be shocked into fury, indeed grow spines at the treatment meted out to our soldiers at the hands of the savages. Note that this was not the only incident in which the murderers had cruelly killed our soldiers/militiamen: much more had happened but was never so widely published.
Yet, not a hair on the heads of those who were/are the apologists of the barbarians moved. They, as always, put their brutality on, variously, agents of the CIA/RAW/MOSSAD and went about repeating how all of this was the result of Pakistan joining the fight against terrorism.
Now, whilst this is old hat, one has to remind the reader that, as has oft been said in this space, particularly by Brigadier (retd) Asad Munir who has vast experience of the TTP and Fata, but also by yours truly, that the takeover of Swat/Dir-Bajaur/Fata began way back by Mullah Radio (Fazlullah) in 1994. Let us also recall that he was the son-in-law of Maulvi Sufi Muhammad who took truck-loads of young boys including his own grandsons/grand-nephews into Afghanistan to wage jihad against the Americans in 2002.
Let us recall too, that when it was found that Sufi Muhammad used to leave other’s children behind in Afghanistan to be daisy-cuttered while bringing his own back, the people of Malakand and Swat were looking for his blood as many reports suggested at the time. And what did the government of the Commando do? Lock him away in protective custody in jail: DI Khan, if I am not wrong!
But that is history and much water has flown down the Kabul River since. We ought now to be worried by the complete lack of restraint shown by the rampant TTP despite the offer of talks with them by the government, and who have most recently killed eight army-men and two Khassadars across Dir/Fata including the GOC Swat, Major General Sanaullah Niazi, Lt-Col Tauseef and their driver L/Nk Irfan. Niazi was reportedly an excellent officer who had done much good in the area under his command. Typically, the PTI couldn’t quite hold its horses and had announced the army’s pullout from Swat just a day before the General and his companions were blown up by an IED.
This, in my view, is a watershed moment in this ‘negotiation with the TTP’ thing. Even those unaffected by the beheading of our soldiers have sat up and opened their eyes somewhat at the General’s killing. If even now the state will not send a stern warning to the TTP that enough is quite enough, the TTP will do what most bullies do: mount more attacks on Pakistan and its armed forces giving more space to its supporters to further weaken the resolve of the government.
But, and there is a huge caveat here: General Kayani has said in a well-measured and stern message to the TTP that whilst the army is still willing to give peace a chance (God! How this term grates when dealing with the likes of the Taliban who do not even accept the State of Pakistan and its Constitution) it will not be “coerc(ed)” into “accepting their terms”, and that “the armed forces (have) the ability and the will to take the fight to the militants”.
The question is: have our strategists finally decided that there are no ‘good’ Taliban; that all of the many factions are joined at the hip, be they the Mehsuds or the Haqqanis or the Fazlullahs or the Punjabis or whatever’s? That all of them ultimately pay allegiance to Mullah Omar, that al Qaeda is the Mother of All Umbrellas and that strategic depth in Afghanistan is dead as a dodo? And, finally, that though most difficult it will be, North Waziristan must be cleansed come hell or high water?
I have to say again that while I have faith in the strength that Nawaz Sharif can bring to bear on difficult problems, we are fast running out of time, specially when faced by a hard and cold-hearted enemy who has carried out the most audacious attacks and now smells victory. They are already spitting into our collective face by their heinous and most impudent attacks.
However, the elephant in the room will always be Imran Khan, whose party simply does not understand the extent of the problem. As suggested by a talk show host the other day, is it not better to let him handle negotiations with the TTP, so he knows just what talking to hardened terrorists (many of their ideological and operational leaders foreigners) entails? He’ll either have to put-up or shut-up.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2013.