How to negotiate with the Taliban

Published: February 14, 2013
The writer is a Karachi-based journalist who has previously worked at The Express Tribune and Newsline

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist who has previously worked at The Express Tribune and Newsline

Those who oppose negotiating with the Taliban, in a twisted reversal, put the onus to justify their stance on people who say talks are better than military operations. The standard has always, and should always be, that war is the option of last resort, when there is absolutely nothing else that can be done. The argument usually given to justify a military option is that we have tried talks before and these have been a conspicuous failure. This is true enough but ignores the very salient fact that we have also tried military operations before and indeed, are still employing military means on a daily basis to fight the Taliban and this has been equally fruitless in rooting out militancy. The onus, then, should be on those who favour the military option to give a good enough reason for continuing down this failed and bloody route.

There are good arguments against most of the complaints against negotiations. One, used by just about every government in the world, is that talking to terrorists gives them legitimacy. This rhetorical device is observed only in the breach. In most cases — be it Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers, Britain and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) or Spain and the Basque separatists — a combination of military and diplomatic tactics have been tried even though all these countries have spewed the we-do-not-negotiate-with-terrorists line. One way to evade the problem of legitimacy would be by sending a lower-level official, perhaps even tribesmen, to represent the government in negotiations. That would signal that while we are ready to negotiate, we are not willing to condone the behaviour of the Taliban.

Indeed, in 1991, Britain continued backchannel negotiations with the IRA even after a bomb attack on 10 Downing Street nearly took out the entire British cabinet. Which brings us to the next argument: that the Taliban are so unique an evil, with such unprecedented disdain for human life that they cannot possibly be negotiated with. Leave aside the fact that the US is currently negotiating with the Afghan Taliban, which may be operationally different from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan but share the same tactics, it is ahistorical to claim that there haven’t been equally wanton terrorist groups in the past.

The military would also have a role to play in the negotiations. Even if a temporary ceasefire or withdrawal is accepted, to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, the military would be stationed nearby to remind the Taliban that this is the next alternative to negotiations.

Of course, we will never be able to get everything we want during negotiations. Intellectual honesty compels us to admit that in order to gain in the short term, we will also have to give the Taliban something. This would likely mean accepting the reality that the Taliban control significant amounts of territory in the tribal areas. Reversing this has not been possible through military operations and it certainly won’t happen through talks either.

Taking back territory requires a much longer-term solution. Primarily, it means breaking the cycle of terrorist recruitment till the Taliban are unable to draw the forces necessary to hold their territory. Studies show that between 1987 and 2004, when Israel carried out measures to raise the standard of living in Palestine, it did far more to lower the number of attacks than punitive measures which hurt the entire population. Replicating this policy in the tribal areas may be the only shot we have left. Military operations will not get the job done; relying on talks coupled with humanitarian assistance may be the only chance we have left to reduce the power of the Taliban.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Ejaaz
    Feb 14, 2013 - 11:15PM

    Hasan Sahib, Your statements are truly breath taking. You cede that the Taliban are too strong to take back “the writ of the state” from the areas they control, and so we should effectively accept a parallel government till some how they are unable to draw forces to oppose us. And for that the closest comparison you could draw is how the zionists treat the palestinians? If what you write is anywhere close to true, then we have lost FATA just as we lost “east Pakistan”. Is Balochistan next?


  • Arijit Sharma
    Feb 14, 2013 - 11:30PM

    @author: ” … Even if a temporary ceasefire or withdrawal is accepted, to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, the military would be stationed nearby to remind the Taliban that this is the next alternative to negotiations. … “

    The author gets a A+ for naivety. The Taliban are an auxiliary force of the Pakistan Military/Intelligence Services. The only difference being – the Taliban do not get a pension.


  • faraz
    Feb 15, 2013 - 12:01AM

    The major flaw with this approach is the false assumption that Taliban won’t grab more territory and restrict their control to FATA. With a safe haven in FATA, they would spread. Naïve analysis


  • John B
    Feb 15, 2013 - 1:02AM

    All well and good if TTP terms are “food, shelter, clothing, developments, autonomy, and equality with the rest”

    But these are not in their negotiation agenda. There is only one thing in their request, and they are very clear on this and no one in PAK is ready to admit it.

    TTP wants autonomy as in the model of Nigeria. Are Punjab and Sind and Balochistan ready for it. If so, then there is an immediate truce, for awhile at least.

    The US negotiation with Afghan Taliban has no relevance to the conditions set by TTP on PAK. This is a lame excuse to seek justification for negotiation with TTP. The US cares only stable AFG. How they achieve is immaterial. But such is not the case with PAK.

    It is worth remembering that TTP enterprise may be strong in tribal area today, but they do have their functioning outfits in Punjab, Sind and elsewhere in the country. They will become strong one day. And may prefer a new terms of negotiation!

    Here is the moral and ethical dilemma. If PAK agrees for TTP demands in the tribal area, then why not agree for the same in the entire country, to avoid any further and future conflicts.

    What is good for tribal people of PAK is also good for Punjab and Sind. Are tribal people not citizens of PAK ?


  • RAW is WAR
    Feb 15, 2013 - 4:17AM

    shoot first and speak later.


  • MK
    Feb 15, 2013 - 4:19AM

    @Arijit Sharma:

    Pakistan Army lost few thousand soldiers fighting Taliban. Any thoughts (if you think at all before commenting).


  • gp65
    Feb 15, 2013 - 4:38AM

    “This would likely mean accepting the reality that the Taliban control significant amounts of territory in the tribal areas. Reversing this has not been possible through military operations”

    HAs the military sincerely tried? You think ceding territory is ok in FATA – so all that the BLA has to do is be as brutal as TTP and you will cede Balochistan also? I find your statement amazing.


  • Samad
    Feb 15, 2013 - 9:58AM

    Absolutely horrendous article. Suggesting that we cede large tracts of territory in the Northwest is a ridiculous statement. Such an act would set a dangerous precedent where militants throughout the country would step up their aggression unless we negotiated talks with them. Assuming the Afghani Taliban will have a strong stake in Afghanistan’s future post-2014, a militant controlled Northwest will further destabilise Pakistan. What astonishes me the most is that your lot cry ‘sovereignty’ with regards to drone strikes, but seem to be willing to hand over part of our country to militants who want to stop things like women’s education.


  • sabi
    Feb 15, 2013 - 10:18AM

    For your information military is not fightinh with taliban. Miltary will fight with taliban only when present mindeset of generals that ‘we are the saviour of idealogical boundaries of Pakistan’ is defeated by generals of opposit mindest that Pakistan is for the people of Pakistan and not for generals.Change of mindest is required to win this war.To defeat Taliban is to defeat deep state first which requires a big war.


  • Feb 15, 2013 - 11:11AM

    Finally, someone says “humanitarian”.


  • Chicagoan
    Feb 15, 2013 - 3:18PM

    The only thing to negotiate with the Taliban gun held to our collective head are the terms of our complete and abject surrender.


  • Diggvijay Singh
    Feb 15, 2013 - 4:15PM

    The author is right. In statesmanship you don’t always get to choose between ‘the good’ and ‘the bad’. Most times you choose between ‘the worse’ and ‘the worst’. Surely it would have been better if Pakistani security forces could crush all forces fomenting trouble in their country. However, since indiscriminate drone attacks from American military has only exacerbated the Taliban’s power and hold, Pakistan now has to look at the option of negotiating a peace deal with TTP. CIA is doing the same in Afghan land. This will create stability and arrest further bloodshed. It would give much needed time and space for reducing Taliban’s hold.


  • MSS
    Feb 15, 2013 - 5:22PM

    What is the last resort?
    When the Taliban reach Lahore or Rawalpindi?
    Or when they are knocking on the gates of aiwan-e-sadar?


  • mateen
    Feb 15, 2013 - 7:38PM

    @ MSS, we can look forward Talibans issuing directives from Aiwan-e-Sadar, Muslim Khan occupying the seat CJP, Hakeem ullah Masood Army Chief, etc. God forbid. After eliminating successfully all liberal one would see Taliban Apologist begging them for life, Hamid Gul, Hafiz Saeed and ilk in proneness for share in cake, industry and business in state of jeopardy.


  • ashish
    Feb 15, 2013 - 8:53PM

    @Diggvijay Singh

    your point is right and sensible . its a practical route which pak army is taking.


  • Sanity
    Feb 15, 2013 - 11:26PM

    @Diggvijay Singh
    I appreciate your point which only few can understand to achieve long term success and peace. Emotionalism and unthoughtfulness has led region to the present state of anarchy. War mongers want to continue with the same to the point of no return. While terms of negotiations can be worked out, no one advocates giving terrorists a free run or legitimacy. Final destination remains peace same but the path being treaded needs a relook and that’s what every sane mind is asking for.


  • Hafeez
    Feb 16, 2013 - 4:10AM

    OMG! What were you thinking while writing this article? or may be you were not thinking at all. Let’s extend your argument to rest of the Pakistan. Leave Baluchistan to BLA, and also cede some tracts of Karachi to TTP. And then we can all have great progressive development. But wait! Lashkar-e Jhangvi, Lashkar-e Taiba, Sipah-e Muhammad etc all want something. So lets listen to them as well. Any more great ideas, Sir!


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