It’s arguable whether the main aim of the all-parties conference (APC) was to devise a strategy to negotiate with the Taliban, but what was fairly clear after the meeting is that both the Awami National Party (ANP) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) need time to recollect themselves.
While the ANP needs to step out from isolation and get more active in the political sphere, the TTP has to regroup its multiple splinter organisations.
When nearly 24 political parties came together on February 14 to discuss a counterterrorism strategy and endorse peace talks, 20 people, including law enforcement officials, were killed in three separate attacks in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and the tribal belt. The attacks were another reminder that any meeting will have little impact on the security conditions of the country.
Citing the absence of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the TTP has already termed the APC a futile exercise aimed at restoring peace in the country, thereby giving no value to mainstream political parties present at the talks.
Only time will tell the TTP’s future course of action in the wake of consensus on negotiations with the Taliban.
Will the ANP’s new strategy work out?
When the ANP took power in K-P in 2008, its leadership resorted to talks with militants that were then well-entrenched in Swat and Malakand.
This solo effort cost the ANP dearly as more than 700 party workers, including members of the party’s leadership, became victims of targeted attacks. The most recent and serious blow was the assassination of senior minister Bashir Bilour on December 22, 2012 in Peshawar.
In face of difficult times, the ANP realised it would be better to engage other political parties on the issue. Terrorism is everybody’s problem, and not participating in the APC will reveal “who is on whose side” ANP Chief Asfandyar Wali Khan had said.
A setback occurred in August last year when an all-parties conference on energy was boycotted by opposition parties, including the JUI-F, PPP-S and PML-N, who said the ANP was responsible for power outages in the region.
The ANP chose Islamabad for the anti-terrorism APC, maintaining that sustained terror activities in K-P would spell the end of Fata. This time, the presence of major political parties at the APC resulted in a repetition of statements and some parties dissenting altogether. The JUI-F, for example, expressed its interest in holding another meeting and sponsored the APC, whereas the JUI-S claimed that the meeting was unlikely to help because neither the government nor the Taliban were serious about peace talks.
Disagreement on the issue of terrorism across the political sphere and the time it will take for a new government to get elected and broker another APC mixed with the TTP’s ‘talk first, cease-fire later’ policy means that people will have to wait months if not years to get any respite from terrorism.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2013.