The much-trumpeted talks with the Taliban have ended, as expected, without even starting. These talks were a non-starter and the Taliban, the government and the army knew its fate. The All Parties Conference, which agreed to the talks with them, was based on each party’s own compulsions. The ANP took the brunt of the TTP’s attacks for years without respite and to top it, lost the 2013 elections. So, it found it convenient to go into the background and let the government do whatever it wants. The PPP, which lost its leader Benazir Bhutto, was not willing to render any more sacrifices, though during its five-year term, a lot of territory lost to the Taliban was recovered through military operations. The MQM was constantly being attacked in Karachi. The rest of the parties were pro-TTP and were never in favour of military action. The PTI had an unexplainable solution for the problem and thus, was exerting pressure on the federal government to get into the talks. The army was in the process of a change in command and was weary of the anti-operation narrative being advocated on the streets. It too gave consent to the government’s decision of talks.
However, the TTP attacks continued without any respite and events in January and February earlier this year resulted in forming a unanimous opinion for military action. Additional troops were dispatched to North Waziristan and a go-ahead was given. And yet, the prime minister ended his address in the National Assembly by offering to talk and giving peace yet another chance. If the rumours that he had received a direct threat from the TTP are correct, then that could have been one of the reasons.
It was a wrongly-timed decision. The nation was united against the terrorists. The TTP was facing a leadership crisis and infighting after the death of Hakeemullah Mehsud. Maulana Fazlullah, hailing from Swat and based out of Kunar, Afghanistan, was chosen as a compromise candidate. For the first time, the TTP leadership was selected from outside Fata. It was evident that he could not have exercised control over the loosely-knit TTP, which so far had been headed by the Mehsuds. That resulted in a deadly power struggle between the Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman factions. The infighting and the army’s policy to resort to aerial strikes in response to terror attacks forced the TTP to come to the table. They were just buying time. And the government fell into the trap thinking that it was buying time. This only wasted more time.
Maybe the government thought that by engaging the TTP into prolonged talks, at least a temporary peace could be achieved. And by 2015, maybe it thought that the situation in Afghanistan may deteriorate and that the TTP would move there — an assumption based on wishful thinking. The army is clear that the Taliban cannot come into power in Afghanistan. The concept of strategic depth is no more valid in the army’s planning. Using them for any future role in Afghanistan is not part of the army’s agenda. The concept of improving the economy first and then going after the TTP is also a wrong policy, however. Any economic achievement during the lull period will vanish once hostilities resume. Even the peace that the government was expecting to achieve from the ceasefire and talks could not materialise. Pakistani cities were constantly being attacked. The only difference this time was that the TTP refused to accept responsibility.
There is only one way forward. The prime minister should once again call an APC and apprise all leaders of the ground realities. Previously, the talks were without any pre-conditions. A new APC should lay down conditions, including the payment of diyat (blood money) by the TTP for those killed in their attacks. A time frame should also be specified. Failure on the TTP’s part to accept the condition should lead to the inevitable.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2014.
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The PM and his brother are interested in their own welfare, their families welfare, their businesses welfare and their inner cabal's welfare. And Punjab's welfare. They don't give a hoot, nor are worried about APC or the rest of the State.
The only winners in this bone headed venture were the TTP - who got respite from the govt/army ofensive, and were able to use this time to get legitimacy, regroup and re-strategize; as well create division between the govt, opposition and the public! The TTP seem to be the only ones with a clear head of what they want (however backward that is) and they seem to be getting it.