How does an all parties conference (APC) on counter-terrorism policy look and smell like? Absolutely as colourless and odourless as the one concocted on Monday in the Prime Minister’s House in Islamabad. Nothing was settled that could not have been decided without these deliberations.
Indeed, the Taliban spokesperson welcomed the move. One hopes that the TTP will now not go around firing its spokesperson for welcoming the state’s gesture, as it had done a few weeks ago. But then they would welcome the offer of talks since it is accompanied by a condemnation of drone attacks.
Nevertheless, there are two critical questions that ought to be asked at the end of a long day of conferencing. First, how does the state of Pakistan hope to implement the broad political party agreement of condemning drone attacks? The APC should have used the time to also assess the pros and cons of using diplomatic and military means to discourage drone attacks.
Washington has often been asked to desist from drone attacks but the response is that this is the only method to put pressure on the Taliban. In fact, over the past few years, drones have killed most of the Taliban that targeted Pakistan such as Baitullah Mehsud, Ilyas Kashmiri and Rashid Rauf. Even the Pakistan officials admit in private gatherings that drones have proved to be an effective defence. Intriguingly, this is something that is never said publicly.
The other reason why this was a colourless affair was because the civilian stakeholders have no independent means of ascertaining what the military briefed them about. The media seemed pretty excited about the army briefing the parliamentarians. However, the fact of the matter is that the APC did not get any independent opinion or venture out to question the military’s assumptions. This from an institution that is both part of the solution and the problem as well.
One would have been happy had the APC arrived upon a consensus decision to delink the state from any kind of Taliban or jihadi elements. The reality is that there are no good jihadis. Furthermore, our state has no methodology to ensure that the good jihadis do not turn bad tomorrow. The best example is Jaish-e-Mohammad about which rumours are being spread through certain media persons that the security forces have delinked themselves from the JeM’s leader after his involvement in the second attack on General Pervez Musharraf.
The fact is that the state never severed its ties with this organisation due to its strategic significance like that of the LeT/JuD network. Hafiz Saeed and his JuD can hold a huge gathering in Rawalpindi/Islamabad on September 6th while the March 23rd parade continues to be postponed smells of linkages that ought to be questioned.
More importantly, such contradictory happenings reflect on lack of policy. One wishes the parliamentarians would have filled the gap today just as they should have answered a fundamental question as to what will they talk to the Taliban about. Of course, a country in war has to negotiate but is it possible to decide the limits of compromise? What if the Taliban ask for the moon? What if Pakistan cannot afford to accommodate the Taliban? What happens then? It is good that the APC happened but it is essential for it to answer these questions to bring an end to this seemingly never-ending war.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 10th, 2013.