Despite daily bombings and deaths, the government is still insisting on negotiating with terrorists. Even though the government’s own team of negotiators is falling apart with members leaving, it is still bent on seeing these talks go through. Nothing was achieved from the first attempt to negotiate and the killing and violence rages on.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has stated: “It’s high time to make talks with the TTP successful or take it to some logical conclusion.” Since previous talks have not brought peace and the current negotiations are failing, we should consider the ‘logical conclusion’ that Chaudhry Nisar alluded to and other options for countering terrorism. Negotiations may be a part of the puzzle, but they should not be held until there has been a period of peace. Following the events of 9/11, the US commissioned a report to determine ‘what terrorists value’. One of their determinations was that ‘hope for terrorists is also kept alive by the prospect that minorities within enemy countries may constitute a political force favouring terrorism’. Carrying on discussions while the TTP continues to launch attacks gives their methods legitimacy and encourages more recruits to join their ranks. In order for the negotiations to achieve any results, the TTP needs to accept the constitution and put down their weapons. Instead of insisting that the TTP meet these conditions, the government agreed to their terms and freed at least 12 terrorist prisoners.
The intense rivalries within the Taliban factions further complicate effective negotiations. Talking with a few TTP leaders is unlikely to yield overarching peace between Pakistan and the TTP. A simple-minded view of the Taliban along with a willingness to tolerate ongoing attacks has the PML-N government already negotiating from behind.
Ultimately, the root motivations for terrorism need to be addressed for a lasting solution to ever materialise. Recruitment for extremist groups is aided by extreme social and economic disparity within Pakistan. The most recent estimate shows one-third of Pakistani households are now below the poverty line. As long at this trend continues, more people will be left vulnerable to violent and predatory extremist rhetoric. Families at the bottom rung are faced with the option of letting their children starve or turning to militant madrassas. Just this week, the World Bank had encouraging words for Pakistan and pledged $12 billion in low interest loans over the next five years. This money would be well spent on an aggressive attempt to reverse increasing poverty throughout the country.
Teaching every citizen to read and ensuring they have more than 200 rupees per day to live on won’t solve all the nation’s woes, however. It may actually cause new problems when they figure out for themselves how much corruption there is within their elected government. Fake degrees, bribery and nepotism need to be addressed so that people will gain confidence in their representation. A real solution will take considerable time and these premature talks are only delaying Pakistan’s long road to recovery. Call off the talks and make a concerted effort to improve living conditions for the next generation. Military action will clear the way but the government will also have to step up and address these challenges head-on, such as outlawing and dismantling terrorist charities and madrassas.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2014.