Bashir Bilour’s death was a wake-up call for the nation. A leader, who reached out to terror victims at great personal risk, had finally succumbed to a terrorist attack. When the following day, the Awami National Party (ANP) announced that it intended to call an all parties conference (APC), simpletons like me thought that finally someone was ready to take political ownership of a war against a menace that has destroyed our social fabric. But alas, that was not to be. Now that the APC has concluded, we know that our political class continues to be consciously ambiguous on the matter and is ready to capitulate in a heartbeat.
The ANP cannot be blamed in this. It has endured the most grievous injuries in this prolonged fight. The attitude of the religious-political parties is understandable, too, even if not laudable. In this particular case, they identify themselves with the terrorists rather than the people and state of Pakistan. However, the apathy of political parties, primarily based in Punjab and, of course, the ruling PPP is saddening. They could have weighed in to build consensus against the terrorists. But in an election year, no one is ready to tell the truth to a nation trapped between faith and faithless barbaric acts of terrorists.
Perhaps, there is a demographic dimension to this attitude. The province least affected by the crimes of the terrorists is the least sensitised, too. But that does not reduce the gravity of the peril. The fact is that Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Karachi have become playgrounds of the terrorists. If a fight is still going on, it is to keep them away from the most populous province. If the people and the political parties of the province do not care, why would anybody else?
A nation in perpetual denial and fatigued by a prolonged war has bonded with the terrorists to an extent that it wants to forget its wounds and embrace the assailant. Reason? The terrorists, who go by the name of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), have reluctantly, conditionally, shown their readiness to talk. They needed assurance from three important right-leaning political figures and will not be disappointed. The TTP has always employed such tactics to buy more time and to regroup. Our strategy, meanwhile, has been capitulation, some reluctant fight and capitulation again.
The case being built in favour of dialogue is interesting. They say that the US brought this fight to the region and now it is planning to pull out. If it can hold talks with the Taliban, why can’t we? But sir, have you forgotten? You had earlier said that the Pakistani Taliban had nothing to do with the Afghan franchise. Have they suddenly become ‘Mujahideen-e-Islam’ again?
The US-led forces are leaving the region because they do not belong here. We do not have such luxury. The Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban and other banned outfits, all have been united by the doctrinal perversions of al Qaeda. In fact, in the aftermath of the US withdrawal, the fear is that Afghanistan will add strategic depth to al Qaeda’s presence in the region and make Pakistan its constant target. Our simple-minded pursuit of surrender has convinced us that perhaps, a Swat-like strategy will work this time, too. Alas, the enemy has fooled us again. If our policymakers, generals, intelligence community and intelligentsia are so convinced of the importance of talks, they should give it a try. But they should also be ready to brace for the impact of this folly and prepare a plan ‘B’ as well.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 19th, 2013.