Our non sequiturs

Published: November 5, 2013
The writer is Editor, National Security Affairs at Capital TV and a visiting fellow at SDPI

The writer is Editor, National Security Affairs at Capital TV and a visiting fellow at SDPI

Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif, chairing the cabinet meeting on November 4, has said that the peace dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban will continue. “If there cannot be cooperation with the process we have initiated… it should at least not be damaged.”

However, he refrained from naming or directly condemning the United States, a nuanced improvement on the fulminations of his interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Khan, who, in the November 2 presser, accused the US of sabotaging the peace process and called for a review of relations.

Just days before the November 1 strike — the US has still to officially confirm the Mehsud kill — and Khan’s presser, Sartaj Aziz, adviser on Foreign Affairs, had briefed journalists on the PM’s US visit. His report card read differently.

There are then two challenges before the government: how to pursue peace with the TTP and, more significantly, how to define relations with the US.

The drone strike on Mehsud has created a nexus between the two issues. Deeply ironic though it is, the government will have to decide on what values it assigns to the two issues.

Going by the logic of what we have seen in the past three days, it would be safe to posit that if the government assigns a higher value to the peace process, and if it thinks that the US does not want the process to move forward, then Islamabad will have to assign a lesser value to relations with the US.

This is a simple model and assumes that both issues can be treated without reference to the broad range of variables that inform them. That is not the case. Relations with the US are multi-tiered. While there is friction at some levels, there is cooperation at others. Also, given the asymmetry of power between the two, there is greater need for Pakistan to be cognisant of this fact.

Ditto for talks with the Taliban. While Khan told us that contacts had been made, neither he nor anyone else could, or can, guarantee that the kicker in and of itself will mean the success of the process. Certainly, there is no empirical evidence yet, on the basis of past agreements, that the TTP could be made to stop its bloodshed short of the state capitulating to its demands.

Khan says the TTP franchise has some 33 groups under its umbrella and not all of them take orders from the franchise headquarters. This fact I have been agitating for long without the luxury of being the interior minister.

It has implications, one being that even if it were accepted that the franchise HQ was indeed serious about negotiating, there was and is no guarantee that it could pull in groups it doesn’t control and who may not be amenable to what it might agree to with the government.

In other words, if values have to be assigned, Islamabad will have to decide whether it wants to do that on the basis of what-is or on what it wishes to have. The first is about relations with the US; the second about talks with the TTP which may or may not succeed.

Imran Khan, speaking in the National Assembly, referred to those who want a military operation in North Waziristan and asked, “What if the operation doesn’t succeed?” The same logic also governs the idea of talking to the TTP — unless Khan wants to mix his is-assumptions and wish-assumptions in the case of talking while pointing to the difference between the two in the case of an operation.

There is yet another problem: the development monies the federal and, you guessed it, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governments use in the education and health sector, to name just two. They come from countries that are Nato members. I said countries, because, in case we forget, Nato is not just the US.

Let me put the question differently by reversing an idiom: in assigning values, should Islamabad be losing two birds in hand in search of one in the bush?

If it is accepted that US-Pakistan relations have areas of convergence and divergence, then Islamabad also has to see if the convergence part outweighs the divergence part, or the other way round.

Any review must be based on that. And if it can be determined that the strategic disadvantage of the current nature of relations is greater than any tactical advantage to be had by keeping things where they are, then things must change. Of course, it goes without saying that such a review must also include a clear understanding of what we can do ourselves to offset whatever advantage we may be foregoing in presumably downgrading relations.

Moreover, if we did decide to downgrade relations, would that automatically dissuade the US from conducting drone strikes? If not, and if we are convinced that the US, for some reason, doesn’t want us to talk to the TTP, then we have to formulate a policy to ensure that drones attacks don’t derail the process. But that can be done without downgrading relations with the US because such a policy has a standalone value.

Such a review must be based on something more than just a drone strike that took out Mehsud because the current resentment is not just over a strike. The US conducted seven strikes from July until October 30. This one took out the TTP chief and we fear that it will beget reprisals. Does fear make a good basis for negotiations?

History belies that. Fear only begets capitulation.

It is from this perspective that it is important to question a process that is clearly sans any structures and can be derailed because of a strike. The TTP mounted at least four high profile attacks after the APC resolution. Their logic: until something concrete happens, the war is on. Now, while half of Pakistan mourns the death of Saint Mehsud, the TTP spokesperson says they will not talk.

If the government wants to retain a modicum of state authority, it needs to signal to the TTP that while it is serious about negotiating, it will not accept TTP intransigence. My biggest fear since the APC was not about talking per se but that we were signalling weakness. The past few days have proved that. If the TTP is not committed to talks, why should the state be so desperate to talk? That is a question quite apart from any review of US-Pakistan relations.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2013.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (32)

  • shiraz
    Nov 5, 2013 - 10:14PM

    We are already facing immense confusion in all this mess, and your article(with no head or tail)is adding to it.


  • Toticalling
    Nov 5, 2013 - 10:52PM

    It looks good on paper to read: “If the government wants to retain a modicum of state authority, it needs to signal to the TTP that while it is serious about negotiating, it will not accept TTP intransigence” but many are asking this:TTP will negotiate from a position of strength, because it has something that government wants. TTP will demand break up of relationship with USA and more strict sharia laws. Both these options will not help Pakistan and Pakistan will look more like Afghanistan in under Taliban. Pakistan , if it wants to remain a modern state, should refrain from more conservative laws. As far as American relationship is concerned, Pakistan should know it has no friends. Relations with India, Afghanistan and Iran are not ideal and a half hearted friend(USA) is far better option than being friendless.


  • Last Word
    Nov 5, 2013 - 11:08PM

    The country can be named Jhootistan, Denialistan, Talibanistan, Confusionistan, or any other name than Pakistan.


  • unbelievable
    Nov 5, 2013 - 11:26PM

    Not that complicated. Duplicity has become the hallmark of Pakistan and I have no doubt that Pakistan is saying one thing to the Taliban and the opposite to the USA. Of course this duplicity isn’t going to fool the Taliban or the USA – but so long as the public posture has sufficient anti USA blather the public will be satisfied.


  • Rania
    Nov 6, 2013 - 12:13AM

    A wonderful analysis of the ground situation. It makes many things clear. There should also be no doubt that the federal government pursued the talks with the Taliban more through the media. I am talking of the period between the APC and Mehsud’s killing in the drone hit. Now it is quite ironical that it is the federal government which is making a loud cry over Mehsud’s killing. I would simply say that our politicians should stop playing politics with the people and future of this country.


  • Abbas
    Nov 6, 2013 - 12:25AM

    The simple truth is that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was clearly informed of possible things to come when he met President Obama. The elimination of a dangerous terrorist who was acting as a pawn for cross border terrorism, as well had caused the greatest number of deaths of CIA operatives in a single operation is cause for celebration for both Americans and Pakistanis.

    Obama has partially fulfilled his promise made to Nawaz Sharif of helping weaken the hand of cross border terrorism against Pakistan. Now it is Pakistan’s turn to deliver to the US the so called good Taliban to the negotiating table.

    America’s long term goals in the region cannot be met without the cooperation of Pakistan. A revised long term US strategy in which Pakistan is expected to play a vital role is about to come into play. Russia, India, China and Iran all need to be monitored closely from the 9 bases part of the SOFA agreement with Afghanistan. This monitoring requires Pakistani cooperation, and it is in Pakistan’s long term interest to supplement US strategy.

    Imran Khan is an immature politician who cannot understand what is needed here.


  • Rex Minor
    Nov 6, 2013 - 12:45AM

    The author’s article is an exercise in loud thinking following the line of the devil’s advocate, what if and because, which is not helpful since the Government of the people in a democracy must act and act in the interest of the people of the land. The facts are very clear, there is no cohesiveness of the people within the country and the foreign power refuses to recognise Pakistan’s sovereignty. The diplomacy with the USA and the dialogue for reconciliation within the country must not be abondoned since it could lead to the situation of what is occurring in other muslim countries in the middle east.
    Pakistan must degrade its diplomatic ties with the USA as well as prohibit the use of its infra structure for transport of lethal war materials. In addition it should make an offer to the Resistance from the autonomous tribal territories a political representation in the KPK parliament. There is no room for either deceit or violence or the military force in a democracy.

    Rex Minor


  • MSS
    Nov 6, 2013 - 1:23AM

    A logical approach. Good.
    Nobody is likely to follow it. Bad news.
    IK, NS, ch. Nisar, JUI have created a thick soup of divergent ideas and have jumped in the pot. Nobody knows where does the army stand.? Difficult days ahead for Pakistan.


  • Nadir
    Nov 6, 2013 - 1:28AM

    Let us hope that everyone who is outraged at how the US does not want peace in Pakistan will stop consuming US products, stop sending their kids to study in the US and shun US popular culture. Must bake cake and eat it to.


  • Arifq
    Nov 6, 2013 - 1:47AM

    Imran Khan represents Neville Chamberlain British Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from May 1937 to May 1940. Chamberlain is best known for his appeasement foreign policy, and in particular for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938, conceding the German-populated Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany. History tells us, there is negotiations with extremist/fanatics driven by their absolutist truths, Pakistan waits for its cigar puffing Winston Churchill, nowhere to be seen with current crop of opportunistic political charlatans.Recommend

  • x
    Nov 6, 2013 - 2:38AM

    because what other option is there? we are in a position of weakness. Even the United States failed at war, but it doesnt matter to them, theyre ging to exit post 2014 and issue some face saving statements. We are IN the mess, no escape. If the US failed to eradicate terrorism, what option do we have?


  • x
    Nov 6, 2013 - 2:41AM

    TTP are not ‘our people’ but the fact is, war has failed even by the world superpower United States. Talks were at least an option and maybe something could be achieved. The messenger was going to go THE VERY DAY hakeemullah was killed. Isn’t the timing suspicious? If the US has such precise information, couldnt they kill hakeemullah sooner? or halt drones as SPECIFICALLY requested by the government to give peace talks a chance. No one mourns hakeemullah but the timing is all wrong. What is your solution? war has failed. talks have never before been given a chance without a total ceasefire.


  • x
    Nov 6, 2013 - 2:44AM

    The million dollar question is, what now? The mighty United States has failed in this war, this s an indisputable fact despite its window dressing nd face saving rhetoric. Baitullah was killed, did peace come? Hakeemullah tooh his place. Hakeemullah killed, will peace come? Someone else to take his place. Their ranks and power are swelling and drones do in part contribute to that as illiterate, poor, vulnerable and young join them and their misplaced ideology which prvides succour in their miserable lives as they lose their loved ones, innocent civilians, in drones or as a desire for revenge which is Pakhtoon culture, ingrained in their DNA. Also, just when talks were commencing, Hakeemullah killed. Isn;t the timing suspicious? If the US had such precise information, why didn’t they get him earlier? Co-incidence seriously?
    Peace talks were at least a step. We are speaking from a position of weakness. Seriously it is easy to say ‘defeat them all, kill them all’ but HOW? We are bearing the brunt of the war and yet we are blamed. The US tried war, its been 12 years and it has FAILED. What position of strength? these are suicide bombers, ready to die for their cause How many of our people will we sacrifice? It is time to be prudent, to get off out high horse and face facts, for the future of this poor country and its unfortunate people.
    ET Please allow.


  • It Is (still) Economy Stupid
    Nov 6, 2013 - 4:44AM

    US did favor to Pakistan by weakening the TTP and strengthening the hand of State of Pakistan in their negotiation. Thankless politicians will always do what is best for them and not what is best for the country.Some call it a vote bank politics.


  • Anticorruption
    Nov 6, 2013 - 5:36AM

    Imran Khan is worse than Chamberlain. Chamberlain tried appeasing Hitler, but eventually at some stage also gave up this approach and declared war. Imran will not give up on appeasement no matter what happens. We saw this in case of Swat where even after the clear failure of the peace accord, Imran still kept on opposing the military operation. If Imran had been heard, today, Swat would still have been under Taliban control.


  • Sexton Blake
    Nov 6, 2013 - 5:52AM

    When Winston Churchill, a cigar smoking drunk, took charge of the UK in WWII the end result was that approximately 80 million people finished up dead. If you want that for Pakistan so be it, but there are better solutions. Nearly 13 years ago the Americans, under the low functioning President Bush, attacked and displaced the Taliban Government on very doubtful grounds. Because the Taliban resisted the US called them terrorists, and this type of nomenclature has persisted up to the present. People writing in can call the Taliban whatever they wish if it pleases them, but the bottom line is that the Taliban are not leaving so get used to it.


  • Go zardari go
    Nov 6, 2013 - 7:00AM

    Disagreement with US foreign policy doesn’t mean you hate the country. Quit getting so emotional over this stuff.


  • Ali Shah
    Nov 6, 2013 - 10:41AM

    The author’s article could have made the point much more succinctly. His article just seemed to drag on. And regarding his point on Imran Khan I find the author’s analysis quite silly. Imran’s point is valid when he questions if the military operation will be successful? There was an article in DAWN sometime back that argued that talks should be allowed to take place even if they will fail. Because once talks fail in full public view the calls for a decisive military operation will become much stronger and it will be easier to get a mistrusting public on the govt’s side.


  • shahid
    Nov 6, 2013 - 11:03AM

    History belies that. Fear only begets capitulation.

    Those who are old enough will immediately remember how similar arguments were given by the proponents of the military action who dominated the discourse in the West Pakistani elite circles, about East Pakistan. And we all know where it led to. It seems to be no different this time. May God help Pakistan. We never seem to learn.


  • Red Dawn
    Nov 6, 2013 - 3:31PM

    People in general are willing to take actions as long as they dont have to bear the burden. Regardless of the question that what is a better way to cope with taliban, Gun or Talks debate, one thing is clear. People on both sides dont recognize the costs that are involved. In case of talks, we have to recognize the costs in terms of aids and other such means and how it would effect delivery of basic services to people. In terms of fighting Taliban, the question is who is gonna fight them? Are we willing for a very long protracted war and its effect? Its not gonna be a one week shooting party for sure. And one other thing and most important: Are there elements in our security appratus that are sympathetic to taliban, their ideology, their wished ends? I will largely determine the success of any militaristic intervention…..And the answer to this question is what ye all know already by now…. So, whats the solution? Stalemate dear friends. Until these issues fizzle out till america’s withdrawal and new power setup is in place in Afghanstan. A long night, and a very long time till dawn….. It can get darker only….
    P.S: Some people read darker as better.


  • Parvez
    Nov 6, 2013 - 4:50PM

    When the government talks about talks but fails to talk…… it simply shows weakness and the TTP and their ilk are masters at twisting the narrative to their advantage.


  • Rex Minor
    Nov 6, 2013 - 5:22PM

    @Sexton Blake:

    Well said! And those who talk about churchill the Prime Ministr should also recall the young lieutentant Churchill, the lone survivor from the anglo-indian force of some 18,000 fighting men with 38,000 camp followers who parished in their adventure in the valleys of the Hindukush..
    From history we learn that man can never learn anything from history(Hegel)!

    Rex Minor


  • Rex Minor
    Nov 6, 2013 - 7:03PM


    Sir, when you talk about Chamberlain you should also know that his appeasment to Hitler also saved England from Hitler BlitzKrieg plans. Anglo saxons are closely related to the Germans, their language is a Germanic language, their monarchy is from the German royalty. There are always two sides of a coin. How the war was won or lost is ofcourse is another story.which is not relevant to the situation in Pakistan whch is termed in American lexicon a civil war without civility of course.

    Rex Minor


  • Gp65
    Nov 6, 2013 - 7:58PM


    The timing is not suspicious at all. This is not the first time the US droned Hakimullah. They had droned him earlier also but he escaped. He was constantly on the move , so when he visited his home and the information could be confirmed with local intelligence, US acted. It is Ch. Nisar whose claim that the very next day the peace jirga was to leave which is suspicious. Why did he not remove the 5 crore head money on Hakimullah’s head in that case? Secondly, just a day prior to the droning, TTP had said that no one had contacted them about the talks.

    You have bought IMran’s narrative that US. Lost against terrorism but does the evidence back ou! In the last 12 years has there been any AQ attack on US? Is OBL alive? Once OBL was killed, They are willing to talk to Afghan Taliban to ensure civil war does not break out after their departure but only on their terms. When Afghan Taliban tried to play over smart by labeling their office in Qatar as Emirate of Afghanistan, they stopped talks immediately. US announced a planned departure which is characterized by people as their defeat but US was not interested in occupying Pakistan – rather it was interested in Killing OBL and disrupting terrorism – which it has.

    There are many other countries hat have successfully dealt with terrorism e.g. India with the Khalistan movement as well as Bodo movement, Sri Lanka with LTTE, Britain with IRA and so on.

    The notion hat Pakistan has fought for 10 years and not succeeded is simply not true. The battle was joined just once this was when Nizam-e-Adl failed because TTP did not honor their word and there was the Swat operation. At that time, the army had successfully cleared Swat of terrorists.

    The point is when killing of major Sanaullah is not considered a deal breaker by Pakistan, why should killing of Hakimullah be considered deal breaker?

    Whether you go the. Route of counter terrorism or peace, you will have o do it from a position of strength if you want to succeed. Currently you are not in a position of strength.


  • Gp65
    Nov 6, 2013 - 8:03PM


    Comparing TTP to Awami league which was elected with a majority – eh? Did Awami League kill people in West Pakistan? Did it reject the Pakistani constition – no it actually contested elections under that constitution. Does TTP speak for majority of Pakistanis – as Awami League no doubt did?


  • x
    Nov 6, 2013 - 8:38PM

    What promise? To eliminate a few terrorists when there are many more to take their place? Us drones to kill innocents so many more become radicalized out of sheer desperation, illiterarcy, helplessnes and vulnerability. US HAS FAILED IN THIS WAR AFTER 12 YEARS. What can Pakistan, a so called failing state, do to win this war now?


  • observer
    Nov 6, 2013 - 9:15PM

    @Rex Minor:

    In addition it should make an offer to the Resistance from the autonomous tribal territories a political representation in the KPK parliament. There is no room for either deceit or violence or the military force in a democracy.

    And of course the ‘ Resistance from the autonomous tribal territories’ is innocent of any violence. The poor guys would not even know how to spell it.

    Are you ignoring your medicines again?


  • Vikas, Mumbai
    Nov 6, 2013 - 9:50PM

    Spot on Gauravi.


  • numbersnumbers
    Nov 6, 2013 - 10:34PM

    @Sexton Blake:
    WOW, so you say that Winston Churchill was responsible for the some 80 million deaths in WW 2!!!
    BTW, the expanding war in Europe and China had been going on for years before he became PM!
    Please tell us where we can ALL read references to support YOUR fantasy so typical of a low functioning brain!


  • numbersnumbers
    Nov 6, 2013 - 10:56PM

    @Rex Minor:
    So you say that “young lieutenant Churchill” was the sole survivor of the 1842 “Retreat from Kabul” (also known as the Massacre of Elphinstone’s Army)!!!
    FYI, the notable lone survivor was Assistant Surgon William Brydon!
    In any case, Winston Churchill was born in 1874 so please explain how he was alive in 1842????
    Those who don’t bother to look up the FACTS may end up looking foolish!


  • np
    Nov 7, 2013 - 1:25AM

    @x: Why is it that only those droned in FATA become terrorists and those HAzaras who have been relentlessly killed do not become terrorists and the Ahmadis who are persecuted unendingly do not become radicalised?


  • Rex Minor
    Nov 7, 2013 - 10:57PM


    Let me try again and see if the ET receives my input;
    Did I mention 1842 in my comments? Must you make up stories and then challenge them.

    Rex Minor


More in Opinion