NOW that the Taliban too have nominated their representatives for the negotiations, a state of shambles is unfolding. With both teams more or less standing on the same side of the divide, it is virtually a dialogue within outlawed militant outfits. The government has walked straight into a trap with the Taliban dictating the rules of the game. Now it will be extremely difficult to extricate the country from this intensely dangerous situation. It is a farce that has gone too far.
It is all the more theatrical since Nawaz Sharif has set up a four-member team to negotiate with the militants. The team he chose is an interesting mix of a highly controversial ex-intelligence officer, a retired diplomat, a senior journalist and one of his special assistants. Given the soft spot most of these members apparently have for the militant cause, it was not difficult to get the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) endorsement of the team. The militants could not have wished for a better committee packed with fellow travellers.
After all they speak the same language and share the same narrative. Apparently with nothing much to do, the team members spend most of their time projecting themselves on television talk shows. One marvels at the way Rustam Shah Mohmand, a nominee of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on the team, articulates the Taliban case. Everything will be fine if you give them control of the tribal areas and pull out troops from there, he tells us.
So, no big deal; allow the TTP to establish an Islamic emirate in the tribal territory. Never mind if the militants want to extend their rule further to the surrounding districts of KP. Absolutely no harm if Swat is handed back to Mullah Fazlullah and let the TTP control a part of Karachi as well; after all, they’re our brothers.
And why must we create problems for the militants if they are helping their Afghan brethren undertake ‘jihad’ against the foreign forces in Afghanistan and hosting holy warriors from other Muslim countries. After all, they are fulfilling their religious obligation. It doesn’t matter if suicide bombers kill some more women and children and continue to blow up schools. ‘Give peace a chance’, don’t we all agree? This argument goes on.
It is getting more preposterous after the TTP named its own five-member team for the talks. In a very shrewd move, it picked its representatives from the outside rather than from within its own ranks. It was a masterstroke to include Imran Khan in the team along with hard-core clerics known for their close ties with militant groups.
His nomination by the outlawed group may have come as a political embarrassment for the PTI chief, but the TTP’s decision was well calculated. Not only has Imran Khan been one of the most ardent supporters of talks, but to some extent he also owes his party’s victory in the general elections in KP to the militant group. Although he has declined to be part of the team, the TTP can always rely on his support.
It’s a politically clever move by the TTP to involve, on its behalf, clerics and leaders of Islamic parties. It not only broadens its support, but also allows the militants space to manipulate public opinion. The talks are to be monitored by a 10-member TTP shura comprising hardened militants with a bounty of millions of rupees on their head. There is a Rs50 million reward for the capture of Fazlullah, the new chief of the TTP.
That also raises questions about the legality of the whole process of negotiations. The TTP is a proscribed terrorist organisation, and it is in violation of the Constitution for the state to engage with it. The outfit has declared war on Pakistan and has claimed responsibility for attacking security installations and killing our soldiers. The government would be legitimising all those terrorist actions by unconditionally negotiating with them. There is no indication that the group is willing to give up violence and accept the nation’s Constitution.
What the militants really want is the rolling back of the state’s authority from the area of their operation. It has taken the lives of thousands of soldiers to re-establish the writ of the state in most of the tribal territories and pulling back will have disastrous consequences for the country and regional security.
One of the myths bought by many of our political leaders is that the TTP is fighting for the democratic and economic rights of the tribal areas. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The fact is that the tribal people have suffered much more through rising Taliban militancy. The militants have slaughtered hundreds of maliks and many more have been killed in suicide bombings on tribal jirgas. The atrocities have forced the people to flee their homes in the conflict areas.
It will be disastrous if the TTP is allowed to take control of the tribal belt and enforce its own version of the Sharia system there as is being suggested by members of the government’s negotiating team as well as some political leaders. The people of the tribal areas would be the biggest victims of any such deal.
Surrendering to terrorists never brings peace. Conceding to the TTP’s demands would lead to the unravelling of this state. And it will not just be the tribal areas when the entire country is under threat.
The writer is an author and journalist.