Despite its fiery tone, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s press conference on February 20 regarding the status of talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was essentially an exercise in equivocation laden with hesitance when, on the contrary, the government should be talking in no uncertain terms.
Given the gravity of the matter, clarity — in words, actions and thought — is of utmost importance. The press conference was meant to communicate and clarify the collective stand of the state on continued attacks in different parts of the country even while negotiators met. Yet, the degree of ambiguity of his words is evidenced, among other things, by different interpretations by the media, and indeed its need to do so. While some took it to mean that he was communicating a sense of anger and frustration at the attacks and that talks were now off, others understood him to be optimistic that they would get back on track soon. Surely, it cannot be both. Stressing that the prime minister and the military leadership have agreed that continuing talks in the aftermath of terror attacks would be “unjust” and that the military has now been allowed to take action after a period of dormancy, effectively suggest that talks are over — if even only just for now. After all, Nisar himself admitted that fighting and talking cannot go on simultaneously. But then expressing hope that talks would be back on track soon indicates reluctance on the part of the government to retaliate. Will restarting the talks after a passage of time and/or when the TTP announces a unilateral ceasefire be more ‘just’? Is this the condition? If so, he should have communicated it plainly.
Nisar did well to recollect all the positive and proactive steps the government has taken thus far. Let us not forget that, instead of beating around the bush, the government took the initiative and formed a committee to talk to the TTP. Whether or not one agrees with this step, it was concrete headway thanks to clear-cut language and action by the prime minister. The government would do well to continue with this clarity.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2014.
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