Talks with the Taliban and sleeping with the enemy
The charged air of “change” in recent elections caused many political parties to promise an end to terrorism and a return to peace, albeit without a clear strategy as to how this would be achieved. The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), parties that have otherwise engaged in name-calling and bitter rivalry, appear to agree on the necessity for peace in the region; peace that they claim can be achieved through “peace talks” with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
As a common Pakistani citizen, I would vouch that nobody of sound mind and loyalty to the country would oppose a policy of peace. However, the manner in which the process has been approached has raised eyebrows among the citizenry. The recent negative response from the TTP has only strengthened its resolve and temerity, drawing even more scepticism for the policy from concerned citizens.
The first of these concerns is the attempt of parties such as the PTI to appease the TTP by making flagrantly immature statements to the tune of, “we are not at war” with the Taliban, never mind that they have killed and terrorised thousands in the province that elected the party. Such an invitation for peace talks reeks of desperation and is an insult to the lives that have been lost and continue to be affected.
The second of these concerns is the apparent lack of understanding of the issue of terrorism from both the federal government and the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). During the elections, actions of extremism were sometimes termed a result of the “military campaign” that has ensued over the past decade, in affect blaming the military for the exacerbation of the situation. The newly elected government of K-P has blamed the absence of a clear federal policy as a reason for delays in the peace process. All parties have “condemned” drone strikes, claiming that they challenge the sovereignty of Pakistan and are ineffective in brokering and sustaining peace in the region.
With the issue of drone strikes aside, since it is a valid concern but involves another country and the dynamics are extremely complex from an economic and foreign policy perspective, all other issues pertain to a severe lack of communication. There is a dearth of analysis at an internal, multi-stakeholder level - something that is extremely detrimental to the peace process as one side of the negotiating table does not stand united and would sooner blame institutions than take collective responsibility for protecting the citizens of the country.
Furthermore, the assumptions upon which the single-tactic “peace talks” policy is based are worrisome. Political rhetoric urges us to believe that a handful of targeted external variables are causing the problem.
Stop drone strikes and the TTP will stop attacking innocent civilians.
Stop a military offensive and the TTP will back off.
Offer the TTP an olive branch and they will happily reciprocate because clearly, nobody ever thought of that before.
The TTP is an organisation that has repeatedly challenged the sovereignty of Pakistan and the rights of its people, from launching an organised country-wide campaign declaring voting “un-Islamic” and lashing out against education by bombarding schools to openly opposing the “laws of the land” by alleging that Pakistan does not follow Shariah principles. While fear and violence are tools often used to communicate this ideology, the TTP also engages in community efforts to bolster extremist attitudes and exploit indigence, which in turn serve as the bases for recruitment and influence.
Any policy forged or any offer of peace that comes without a clear strategy to control both violence and influence is flawed and premature. Precisely what are we willing to negotiate for the prospect of peace?
Will we barter away some of our sovereignty for the illusion of peace and prosperity?
Will we allow the TTP to breed in silos before becoming an even larger nuisance in the future?
Will we allow past crimes of brutal assault against innocent Pakistani civilians to go unpunished?
It would serve the political establishment well to re-analyse their stance on negotiating peace before the offer of “peace talks” becomes more of a fatuous statement than a serious policy option. Our newly elected leaders must also recognise that “peace talks” are in fact, merely an option, not the end goal. The aim is peace.
For that, the concerned policy would include military force, a gradual socio-economic uplift of affected regions, targeted community campaigns against extremism, counter-terrorism training and resources for security forces, the effective implementation and comprehensive revision of the recently amended Anti-Terrorism Act and a genuine effort to strengthen policy by keeping all stakeholders on board including the military, provincial governments, non-profit organisations working in relevant regions, experts on terrorism, conflict resolution and post-conflict community rebuilding, the media and the larger citizenry.
The sheer size and seriousness of the issue, including the numerous shades and sub-issues that it comprises, demands that we move away from naïve presumptuous rhetoric and utopian cause-effect relationships, and more towards a long-term policy of eradicating extremism from our midst. Negotiation from a point of disadvantage is not negotiation; it is one-sided compromise; an agreement that rests on quick-sand, and a settlement that Pakistan simply cannot afford.
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