There is so much that is unknown — or yet unrevealed — about the decision by the All Parties Conference (APC) that there is as much cause for concern as there is for the most cautious of optimism. In taking this collective decision that appears to have the support of all political parties though presumably with varying degrees of enthusiasm, the government has opted for a path oft-trod and in doing so, has made a tacit admission of having run out of original ideas when it comes to dealing with the Hydra that is the Taliban. Not only is the path well worn, it is also a path that has on every previous occasion been attempted and led to failure, mutual recrimination and renewed bloodshed. This is not the first time either that an APC has been convened in the last five years. In 2011, when the PPP government convened a committee to oversee the resolutions passed by an APC, it elected a chairman and never met again. The ANP convened an APC in February 2013 and the JUI-F organised another, also in February. Neither came to anything. This time it will be different, promises the PML-N.
What is different this time is that the military claims to be on the same page as the politicians. Being on the same page does not necessarily mean in lockstep and with a change in the army chief imminent, the army may be taking a neutral position pending other outcomes. The other difference is an acknowledgement by the army of the primacy of the civilian government. This is unlikely to be anything more than verbal wallpaper tailored to a sense of national and international comfort.
What is not different is a complete lack of openness about who is going to be talking to whom and about what. Talking to elements of the Taliban that can be ‘reconciled’ — presumably to an acceptance of constitutional democracy — by definition means that (a) there are elements that cannot and will not be ‘reconciled’ and (b) those elements are going to continue to seek the overthrow of the state by whatever means, but inevitably violent. Furthermore, it is a mistake to assume that those ‘good’ militants with whom the state will negotiate are going to remain ‘good’ in perpetuity and the likelihood given the shifting alliances within the Taliban is that they will not. There is no such thing as a ‘good militant’ as has been amply demonstrated in the past.
Then there is the question of just what is on the table, what is up for negotiation. No iteration of the Taliban either historically or in recent years has wanted anything other than the dismantling of the democratic process, the dissolution of legislatures at federal and provincial levels, and the imposition of their own narrow interpretation of religion. Is our hard-won fledgling democracy a bargaining chip? Our legal system for barter?
The TTP has for years conducted an explosive campaign aimed at the destruction of girls’ education in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The polio vaccination programme has repeatedly been attacked across the country. Musicians have been forced out of business, female NGO workers campaigning for women’s rights murdered. Shias have been butchered in their thousands by an organisation closely linked to the Taliban. Are we to see these activities rolled back or put on hold? Because if not, what is there to talk about, where are the points of commonality and how is the irreconcilable to be reconciled? There is not even a hint of an answer to any of these vital questions and until the people of Pakistan know precisely what is being negotiated on their behalf by their elected representatives, they are entirely correct in viewing this proposal with a degree of scepticism and concern. As the Taliban are fond of reminding us — you may have the watches but we have the time, and they are playing a long game.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2013.
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Ask no questions and you will be told no lies. Without an ounce of clarity, APC can only grope in the dark.
Talking to people who kill innocent souls is immoral and wrong. Only if they agree to stop this crime without any conditions. We know that they won't do that. So the efforts is as futile as the APC