Forgive us, Nawaz Sharif, for we have wronged you. All that time we spent criticising you for your constant dithering between negotiations and military action, for your inertia and your pointless APCs – we just assumed procrastination was worse than making a decision, any decision.
We were wrong. Now that talks have begun, at least between proxies, we will be treated to a daily grotesque spectacle of the country’s future being negotiated by journalists, military adventurers and apologists for terrorism from ostensibly mainstream political parties, all with the bizarrely relevant-again Maulana Samiul Haq sandwiched in the middle.
The idea of forming a committee to talk to the Taliban is not a terrible one. Having a bunch of people with authority and stature, or say someone like Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who occupies an office which has authority and stature even if none of those qualities have been transferred to its occupant, would make sense. They would be briefed by the prime minister but by virtue of their position in government would also have the ability to negotiate concessions without having to refer to the political leadership after every new proposal is negotiated with their counterparts.
Instead Nawaz Sharif decided to give peace a last chance by ensuring that the last chance will fail. What two journalists, no matter how pedigreed and honourable they may be, a former military man famous for plotting to overthrow an elected government and a diplomat now with the PTI can discuss with the Taliban representatives is unclear. Do they have the authority to make concessions to the TTP? And if they do, who voted them into power and allowed them to barter over the future of the country?
The TTP outfoxed Nawaz Sharif, sadly and predictably, when it chose the leaders of the PTI and JUI-S and members of the JI and JUI-F along with the man who became a symbol of Islamic resistance to the hated Pervez Musharraf. What greater coup could a terrorist group ask for than to have elected leaders spouting their talking points and working on their behalf against the state?
The TTP has declared war on Pakistan and yet it can get Pakistani politicians to do their dirty work for them. It would be as if in the days after 9/11, Al-Qaeda said it was ready to discuss terms with the US government and would like the Congressman from Rhode Island to please represent its interests. Treason is a word being bandied about quite regularly these days so perhaps a judge or two might want to rule on whether elected politicians are guilty of subverting democracy when they represent a terror group and bestow legitimacy on them.
To their credit the PTI and the JUI-F decided not to hand the TTP this coup; the JI and the JUI-S should never be allowed to darken our legislatures for agreeing to become representatives for a banned group that has already killed thousands and will kill thousands more.
The aim for the TTP is clear; what the government hopes to achieve is baffling. The announcement of the respective committees was accompanied by the familiar sights of dead bodies and destroyed building. Terrorist attacks continue in Peshawar and elsewhere with the only difference this time being the TTP’s assurances that they are not behind the attacks. Of course, they don’t actually go as far as to condemn the attacks – doing so would require them to denounce what they have proudly boasted to do before and if there’s one thing we know about the TTP it is that they may be murderous, hateful, misogynists but the one crime they can’t be accused of is hypocrisy.
So this unknown force is carrying out the kind of attacks the TTP would, against targets that the TTP would go after in places where the TTP has struck before but we are going to pretend that the TTP has nothing to do with it just so that a bunch of people who are part of neither the TTP nor the government can sit around in Islamabad and wait for a time till they no longer want to talk to each other.
This is assuming, of course, that the committees ever end up meeting. Their first proposed meeting was cancelled because those representing the government wanted clearer instructions about their roles – further proof that these committees lack authority and credibility.
There is a theory floating around that the committee is a cunning ploy by Nawaz Sharif to show the country that negotiations can’t work so that he can garner that fabled consensus for a military operation. Over-analysing the thought process of our prime minister may be the least fruitful way to understand a man not known for his profound thinking but even if he were to grant him a certain Machiavellian genius in his planning, it would still make no sense.
The PTI, the JI and assorted right-wingers are always going to blame the government for the failure of talks. Giving credit to the party you hope to replace is not a wise electoral strategy. In our country, grabbing on to power is the primary goal even when they end up with a country where there is no power left to be attained.
If the government has decided on a military operation as the only viable course of action then it should announce it immediately. If it is genuine about peace talks then it should conduct those talks themselves and negotiate with the TTP rather than through powerless intermediaries. We are at war and the government needs to pick a side.
The writer is a journalist based in Karachi.