Taliban talks: lessons from the past

Published: September 24, 2013
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The writer is Senior Editor at RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal. The views expressed here are his own

The writer is Senior Editor at RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal. The views expressed here are his own

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.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Ali
    Sep 24, 2013 - 2:28AM

    So keep fighting as we have been? What has that achieved for us? The problem is that we have lost the war against these terrorists as our institutions are not capable of performing well. We have brought all institutions of the state to this poor level of performance through years of corruption. So why we think we can win it by force? We have not won it in last ten years and it has grown worst. So yes, terrorists have the strong hand but it will be even stronger tomorrow. So negotiations today are better than doing it tomorrow.

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  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks
    Sep 24, 2013 - 5:56AM

    I agree, it is time to eradicate this menace once for all, they don’t follow the teachings of Islam and what they believe is alien to the majority of Pakistanis.

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  • Junaid
    Sep 24, 2013 - 11:42AM

    @Ali Please read the article first then comment, it is clearly evident from your comment you did not read at all just came down here to comment. You will know what operations have done for us and where negotiations have failed.

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  • Gratgy
    Sep 24, 2013 - 12:19PM

    @Ali
    “problem is that we have lost the war against these terrorists as our institutions are not capable of performing well”

    The problem is that your army is incapable of winning any war other than againsts unarmed Bengalis. Your country seems to be surrendering without even attempting to fight. For all these years you have been saying “its not our war” while losing territory at the same time. Pretending that the problem does not exist does not make the problem go away.

    No wonder the current Pakistan has been the most invaded region in the history of the world.

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  • Sam
    Sep 24, 2013 - 1:39PM

    @ all of the above:
    The problem is not the army, and the problem is not the government either. We have to face it, in a democratic system all the parties have to agree upon things before army takes action or before peace talks. The problem is that there are factions in our army that do not want to fight Taliban because they are ‘assets’. Similarly some religious and right wing parties in our political system and some other civic religious organizations dont want a crackdown against the Taliban because for some it puts there own business into jeopardy. In conclusion we all need to think about what we want for Pakistan and how do we see pakistan in the future, and unanimously take action accordingly. For that we would have to sideline personal interests.

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  • Hella
    Sep 24, 2013 - 6:08PM

    Why not just surrender and give Taliban a chance to rule. All they will do is implement Sharia. What’s wrong with that?

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  • Noman
    Sep 25, 2013 - 2:20PM

    The problem with peace talks with Taliban is, we know what we want, but we are not sure what they want; or are we ready to concede what we fear they might be wanting? We want them to put the arms down, let us live with peace, stop sending suicide bombers to our cities and towns, and stop killing common people, foreigners and our men in the forces. The question is why would they do this? To free their prisoners from our prisons? Well given the recent jailbreaks, I don’t think they need our concessions for it; it’s easy for them to do it on their own. Or they want reimbursements similar to what they were getting during the 80’s? If that so, then how long can our fledgling economy keep supporting them before they rear up again? Or is it that they want to enforce Sharia, their brand of Sharia; or that they want the power to rule the masses? Then what?
    We know our cards, are we ready for the hand played by the opponent?

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