Perhaps the killing of a two-star general in Upper Dir district days after a unanimous call for dialogue from the platform of an All Parties Conference (APC) was not enough to obliterate the message of goodwill so the terrorists sent two human bombs to wreak havoc on the lives of more than 80 innocents at the All Saints Church, in Peshawar.
Apologists with ambiguous statements of condemnation termed the gruesome attack an act to scuttle the process of dialogue with militants; liberals such as the MQM, the ANP and the PPP straightforwardly called it a blatant act of terrorism; while those treading the middle path, such as the ruling PML-N, have yet to make up their mind on the next critical move.
The message from the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks is clear and loud: surrender to our demands, else we will not let you live in peace. Taking their lesson from the previous five-year rule of the ANP government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), the collective wisdom of certain political parties and groups deems it irrational for them to waste their term in fighting the Taliban and their affiliates. Hence, why not talks?
Of course, talks are the best option to avoid the loss of human lives and property and find a peaceful solution to a dispute. After all, and to the satisfaction of some Taliban apologists, the United States is holding talks with the ousted Taliban regime leaders after fighting a 12-year long war in Afghanistan.
The joint declaration of the September 9 APC suggests there is a consensus on peace talks with the Taliban, but are the killing of the GOC Swat in Upper Dir and the church attack in Peshawar not enough to ascertain that talks offered from a position of weakness are equal to surrender and further embolden the opposite side to enforce its demands with more vigour and strength? All previous efforts on peace talks with the Taliban not only proved futile, but also further strengthened the militants and further pressed the local population, who had shown an immense degree of resilience both in Fata and parts of K-P. Here are only a few examples:
On February 7, 2005, a peace accord was signed with the then Taliban chief, Baitullah Mehsud, at the Sararogha Fort in South Waziristan. The then Corps Commander Peshawar, Lt General Safdar Hussain, on the occasion, declared Baitullah Mehsud ‘a soldier of peace’.
Less than three years onward, Baitullah’s men, whose number doubled and even tripled after the Sararogha peace deal, captured 200 Pakistani soldiers on August 30, 2007. The same year on December 12, he was strengthened and emboldened enough to found the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.
Recently, the previous ANP-PPP government in K-P, after holding several rounds of fruitless talks with Mullah Fazlullah aka Mullah FM Radio, and his father-in-law Sufi Muhammad, finally struck a deal on May 21, 2008 to bring normalcy to Malakand.
Within a month, the deal was revoked and Swat Valley witnessed an unprecedented bloodshed. This was followed by another such deal, in February 2009, which culminated with the enforcement of Nizam-e-Adl Regulation. But once again, the deal failed to work and the Fazlullah-led Taliban advanced on the neighbouring districts of Buner and Dir, which forced the government to approve a massive army operation in May 2009.
Each of the deals struck with Fazlullah and Sufi Muhammad further strengthened their grip over the local population and further increased the reign of terror.
It was during this period that girl students and women teachers were forced to wear a veil; musicians and women dancers were forced to leave the valley, TV sets were burnt, barbers were stopped from shaving men’s beards and entry in markets was banned for women. All sane and patriotic Pakistanis would love to be at peace with the Taliban if the latter agree to lay down arms, accept the Constitution, and pledge not to target the government or civilian installations any more. But if the ultimate result of the much-hyped peace talks is going to be no different than the past experiences in Swat or Waziristan, then it is better to face the stark reality than to live in a fool’s paradise.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 24th, 2013.