After Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said that his government would talk peace with the Taliban — ‘and if they don’t talk peace we will go ahead with military operations against them’ — the deputy chief of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Maulvi Faqir Muhammad issued a statement in which he said that the TTP welcomed the prime minister’s offer. However, this came with two preconditions for dialogue: the first, that the government should reconsider its relationship with the US and that Sharia be enforced in the country.
Maulvi Faqir, the most ferocious of the TTP commanders, has put paid to the All-Parties Conference (APC) resolution that mentioned the TTP as “our own people”. The fact of the matter is that the TTP deputy chief’s statement makes it all clear that what his organisation is saying is not really all that different from what Pakistan’s mainstream religious parties, as well as conservative sections of society in general, have been demanding all along. They want Pakistan to sever ties with the US and they want Sharia to be imposed. The latter is the demand of those who run and study in the country’s madrassa network. Of course, the Objectives Resolution is not enough for such elements and they want a more direct imposition. The question is that will the prime minister agree to these two conditions and if so, what would be the repercussions for Pakistan as a whole?
For better or for worse, the APC (which includes the parties that are in government) has handed over policy and its implementation to the military. Will the latter talk to the TTP from a position of weakness? It has just forced the US government to retreat; can it do the same thing with the TTP? Maulvi Faqir has already rejected the possibility, saying that the TTP will not straightaway side with Pakistan and stop killing innocent Pakistanis just because Pakistan has challenged the US through an APC and forced it to backtrack. The truth is that the APC has placed the TTP on a platform of strength in Pakistan from where, if the state negotiates, it will be tantamount to abject surrender.
Acts of high emotion — indulged in by politicians, and prompted in no small measure by sections of the the jingoist media — will not solve Pakistan’s economy and security-related problems. First reports from the captains of Pakistani industries who export to the West, don’t favour a break with the US. External friends like China are watching the scene carefully, reluctant to back Pakistan’s APC games because American presence shores up their own policy against Islamic fanaticism. Iran too prefers America to a repeat of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan backed by unthinking Pakistani soldiers of fortune; it is clearly seen as preferring India there as a make-weight against Pakistan.
As for the Haqqani network, it alone cannot ensure peace even if it responds to the APC’s resolution by acquiescing. Pakistan may not be able to repeat the example of disastrous Taliban government of 1996, which was funded by money from some Gulf states and had our solid backing. And, most importantly, it will not be able to talk to the TTP without losing its current identity as a moderate Islamic state.
The Pakistan Army got Bajaur back in 2010 by all signs after a military operation which turned violent and displaced a large portion of its residents. By June 2011, Maulvi Faqir had resurfaced, reportedly in hideouts just across the border in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, from where he was directing vicious attacks on Pakistani border posts and some villages. A FM radio station, according to several reports, was also back in operation, and this has spread fear among the local people, who may again be compelled to leave their homes. Recently, his men were the ones who had abducted several school children from Bajaur, a sign of how the TTP would rule if it were allowed to by the state: through intimidation and fear, and not via a social contract based on popular consent.
The Pakistan military has a much bigger challenge at home than it realises. It is falsely reassured by a purblind APC. A post-APC Pakistan is thrown into an unrealistic fever. It needs to wake up and tackle the problem of the Taliban, not talk to it from a position of weakness which it wishes to compensate with an illusory position of strength with America.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 5th, 2011.