Both skeptics and chauvinists in Pakistan may perceive its government’s decision to suspend military operations and start negotiations with the Tehreek- e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as a shameful act of capitulation. Obviously, they do not appreciate the import of the old saying-‘Discretion is the better part of valour’ as this aphorism does bruise one’s ego. However, as this maxim also does make good practical sense, therefore before outrightly condemning this decision, one must not forget that Islamabad apparently has no other option but to broker (or even ‘buy’) peace with the TTP, especially after its military actions have failed to subdue this terrorist group. However, negotiations will certainly not be easy as there appears to be no meeting ground on which the edifice of enduring peace can be built. While the TTP strongly believes in the imposing laws and extracting concessions which would deprive the people of Pakistan their basic rights and make a mockery of the legislature, the government of Pakistan is duty-bound to uphold the Constitution and thus cannot make any ‘concessions’ that either violates the rights of its people or turns the country into an obscurant Caliphate!
However, since it has invited the TTP to the negotiating table, Islamabad must certainly be having good reasons to believe that despite their conflicting ideologies, reaching a settlement with the TTP would still be possible. Yet, like any other negotiation between warring sides, the outcome of this one too remains unpredictable as behind the façade of benevolence and ‘fair-play’, lies an ugly side which believes in the adage that ‘ends justify the means’ in which both sides secretly strives to use every trick in the book to undermine each other side and broker the most advantageous deal. Since it is also impossible to ‘bulldoze’ one’s way and reach a settlement without making any ‘concessions’ to the other side, it is also an age-old practice that before entering into any negotiations, the antagonists carry out a detailed internal analysis and decide how much to ‘yield’. These deliberations, for good reasons, are kept secret as neither side wishes the other to come to know its vulnerabilities which would weaken one’s negotiating capabilities. Surely, the government of Pakistan must have worked out its strategy for negotiation with the TTP in great detail, but like mentioned earlier, the worrying question relates to the ‘concessions’ Islamabad is willing to make.
Luckily, this time Islamabad seems to be in a stronger position to negotiate as it has been able to build up a broad consensus within the political parties. Moreover, the government also appears to have the full support of its powerful military which has been displaying considerable restraint in using force against the TTP. Readers would recall that after the unprovoked TTP attack of last year in which a Major General and a Lieutenant Colonel were killed, General Kayani had vowed to bring its perpetuators to justice. However, in a major departure from its known policy of immediate ‘retaliation’, the Pakistan army chose not strike back at the TTP at that time. Though, fighter jets, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery were subsequently used to attack TTP hideouts in North Waziristan during January this year, it was only an isolated retaliatory action against the TTP for its attack on a military convoy in which 20 soldiers were killed. However, contrary to popular expectations that the bombing campaign was the prelude to a large scale ‘punitive’ military operation by the Pakistan army to avenge the ongoing killing of its soldiers by the TTP, nothing like this happened.
Despite serious impediments like the US ‘droning’ of the TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud just a day before a Pakistani delegation was scheduled to meet him and a spate of TTP attacks on military personnel and civilians , the preliminary actions to facilitate conduct of negotiations have gone off well. The government has not only showered praise on the TTP for its decision to enter negotiations, but has even absolved it of any involvement in the latest wave of terrorist attacks. The TTP too on its part has responded positively by agreeing to observe a ‘ceasefire’. Though ‘well begun’, the task cannot be considered ‘half done’, as numerous hurdles lie ahead. It needs to be remembered that even though there may be complete synergy between the government, opposition parties and military in Pakistan, the TTP too is entering the negotiations from a ‘position of strength’. Infact, by coming up with a list of 15 demands, many of which are extremely difficult to implement – like introduction of Sharia laws and Islamic education in the country, withdrawal of criminal cases against TTP terrorists as well as release of its cadres charged for heinous acts of terrorism as also demanding withdrawal of the army from tribal areas, it has unambiguously conveyed that during the negotiations, it would be the TTP and not government of Pakistan calling the shots!
Thus, the Pakistani negotiators have an uphill task ahead of them – while they cannot enter into any agreement that violates the constitutional provisions and law of the land, the TTP is unlikely to settle for anything less than an unconditional acceptance of their demands. In the TTP scheme of things, the demands made have a ‘religious sanction’ and thus being ‘inviolable’ are ‘non-negotiable’. The TTP also considers the implementation of these demands as its ‘religious duty’, even if the same have to be enforced at gunpoint. How will the government negotiators ever be able to broker an agreement with the believers of an obscurant version of Islam, who have no consideration or value for human dignity, liberty and the rule of law, is indeed a worrying question? For the TTP, inflicting their religious ideology on the people is all that matters and logic or rationality means nothing, since anyone not following their radical brand of Islam is an apostate who deserves no mercy. To make matters worse, the very thought of making any ‘concessions’ towards apostates by diluting its demands would be unimaginable for the TTP, as this would tantamount to nothing less than sacrilege!
Ever since General Zia-ul- Haq was first fooled by the Americans into believing that the philosophy of ‘proxy wars’ was an infallible prescription to ‘defeat’ an enemy without the fear of any ‘reaction’ or ‘side-effects’, Islamabad has been blindly following the skewed concept of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists by keeping what US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton euphemistically referred to as ‘snakes in the backyard’. Consequently, the people of Pakistan are paying a heavy price, as taking a cue from Islamabad, both the neighbours on its east and west too have reared their own set of ‘snakes’ which are today wrecking havoc in Pakistan. The very fact that the TTP has been able to survive the onslaught of one of the most powerful armies in world just goes to prove that it is no ragtag group with limited means, but a formidable force enjoying the patronage of some very powerful entities that provide it lavishly with lethal weaponry and funds. With the Americans abandoning Afghanistan, the region will become even more volatile and with ‘snakes’ swarming all over, only add to the miseries of the people of Pakistan.
Even though one wishes Nawaz Sharif and the people of Pakistan well, a dispassionate analysis suggests that despite Islamabad’s sincere commitment to usher-in peace, the talks are bound to fail as the TTP knows that it can not only survive but also flourish despite challenging the writ of Islamabad. It also knows very well that by entering into any peace agreement with Islamabad, the TTP would only be presiding over its own demise, as it would lose the patronage of its benefactors. Even if the TTP does agree to smoke the peace- pipe, with Islamabad, its neighbours can always find new ‘snakes’ and so, this endless cycle of mayhem in Pakistan will continue. Thus, while negotiations must certainly be given a chance, other alternatives should also be explored and since the use of military force has proved to be ineffective, Islamabad needs to consider diplomatic measures. There is no harm in Islamabad exploring the possibility of taking the diplomatic initiative and setting an example by dismantling its own ‘terror infrastructure’. One can always argue that when India and Afghanistan are themselves promoting anti- Pakistan terror groups, why should Islamabad adopt a ‘defeatist’ attitude and take the first step to unilaterally rein-in the ‘good’ terror groups that it supports? A good question which every nationalist Pakistani would obviously ask. For them, there are two answers- the first, which is moralistic and meant for the idealists – because Pakistan started all this in the first place and the second, which is more practical and addresses the concern of chauvinists – since TTP is fast becoming a serious threat to its democratic fabric, Islamabad needs to something before it is too late!