Without setting the parameters for what exactly is the state willing to concede to the TTP in exchange for peace, the prime minister and his APC have left the door wide open for the terrorists to keep making highly perverse demands
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed the killing of Major General Sanaullah Khan, GOC Swat Division, along with Lt-Colonel Tauseef and Lance Naik Irfan Sattar in an IED bombing in Upper Dir on Sunday. In a statement released a day after the attack, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani said that while peace must be given a chance through the political process, no one should have any misgivings that “we would let terrorists coerce us into accepting their terms” and that “the military has the ability and the will to take the fight to the militants.” Frankly, there is little in the general’s almost decade-long track record at the helm, first as the ISI director and then as the army chief, to suggest that he would deliver on his pledge, especially with one foot out the door. General Kayani, like the politicians who signed the September 9 declaration of the All Parties Conference (APC), did not deem it necessary to even name the enemy that he intends to take the fight to.
Of late the Pakistani media is abuzz with the claims that the Pakistan army wishes to fight the Taliban while the politicians lack such resolve. The fact is that the army has been ceding territory to the jihadists of assorted varieties for about 10 years now. And wherever and whenever it has acted against the terrorists, it has done so reluctantly and after dragging its feet not for days or months but literally years. The Swat operation is often cited as a success story and also to show that the-then ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP) wanted to negotiate with the TTP while the army wanted to act decisively. The reality however is that the TTP takeover of Swat happened over at least two years while the mullahs governed the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa and the army chief General Pervez Musharraf ruled the country. The PPP-ANP coalition was forced into negotiating with the TTP when the army — the only fighting force they could rely on — was gun shy when it mattered the most.
Consider the much-trumpeted Rah-e-Nijat operation in South Waziristan Agency. The operation was announced some six months before the action actually started in October 2009. Stealth and caution were both thrown to the winds. As expected, the Taliban did not stay and fight pitched battles and simply melted away into their hideouts in the neighbouring North Waziristan Agency (NWA), Orakzai Agency and Balochistan. Media fanfare surrounding the Pakistan army’s incursion into and conquest of Kotkai — the hometown of the TTP head honcho, Hakimullah Mehsud — sounded then as if the Allies had descended upon the Führerbunker. Only there was no Hakimullah there. Fast forward four years almost to the date and the TTP chief is dictating terms to a nuclear-armed state! It is indeed somewhat surprising that almost all top TTP leaders from Nek Muhammad Wazir and Baitullah Mehsud to Wali-ur-Rehman escaped alive from the Pakistan army operations. They were all killed in the much-maligned drone attacks.
The simple point is that if the Pakistan army wished to build a case against the TTP it could have done much better than the six-monthly speeches that General Kayani delivers about the internal threat being the pre-eminent danger without naming names and ever pointing a finger. Sheer incompetence, of course, cannot be conclusively excluded but it is hard to believe that with its tremendous wherewithal, including a whole division of media men and women that virtually raised hell about the PPP’s attempt to bring the ISI under civilian control, the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act and the Memogate matter, the army failed to capture and mould the narrative to fight against the TTP. There is little doubt, at least in the minds of many in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, that the army did not wish to take on the Taliban for various reasons. The three primary reasons being: a) the military establishment’s plans for the ‘endgame’ in Afghanistan; b) concerns about the domestic terrorist fallout that might not be manageable, especially in Punjab province; and c) the army’s rank and file lacking the will to fight the jihadists they have supported for decades. Additionally, when the army-friendly media machine went into overdrive to build the image of the pro-Taliban/negotiation Imran Khan, many other leaders took it as their cue to hop onto the dialogue bandwagon.
Nonetheless, what Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has presided over in the name of an APC is nothing short of a humiliating collective capitulation to the TTP, which has been rechristened as ‘stakeholders’ in the declaration that reviles NATO, the United States and its drones as the cause of terrorist evil in Pakistan. It merely shows how delusional, hypocritical and cavalier the political leadership is. Mr Khan might be naïve about the TTP being amenable to unconditional talks but Mr Sharif is most certainly not. By letting Mr Khan and his ilk virtually hijack the APC and dictate its outcome, Mr Sharif has virtually offered the TTP a velvet fist in a velvet glove. States, especially those brandishing nukes at the drop of a hat, do not negotiate with terrorists. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) model cited by some is a false analogy. The IRA subscribed to everything that a modern state stands for while the TTP rejects everything that is modern.
Without setting the parameters for what exactly is the state willing to concede to the TTP in exchange for peace, the prime minister and his APC have left the door wide open for the terrorists to keep making highly perverse demands. Drone strikes and the US presence in Afghanistan may end soon but the TTP would certainly find another pretext to continue its violent campaign. The TTP’s negotiations ruse has always ended in more bloodshed and there is little reason to believe it would be different this time. Mr Sharif might have thought that sharing responsibility with other leaders would help build consensus for action if/when the talks fail. But chances are that like the TTP, its apologists too will come up with yet another justification for continued terrorism when drones and the US are out of the picture. After all, it previously was the Palestine and Kashmir problems that the jihadists used as a license to kill and their apologists for blaming the US and others.
The TTP has clearly brought the Pakistani state down to its knees. Unless the army and the political leadership stop deluding themselves, this learned helplessness will only get worse.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets @mazdaki