THE NATION, 21st SEPTEMBER 2013:-
Opinion columns and editorials in most of our English newspapers have been consistently opposing the holding of talks with the Taliban despite a unanimous resolution adopted by All Parties Conference held on September 9 to opt for a dialogue.
As a response, the Taliban are reported to be discussing the offer of talks in a Jirga. The killing of the senior army officers in Upper Dir has, however, severely jolted the APC move and boosted the case of the naysayers. Look, they loudly assert: how can you talk to these marauders and merciless killers. They have drawn attention to the army chief’s sharp reaction which included the warning that “no one should have any misgiving that we would let terrorists coerce us into accepting their terms”.
While taking note of General Kayani’s warning to the aggressive Taliban and the expression of his resolve to fight them with full force, one has also to see that, he did not totally rule out the politicians’ bid for peace through a dialogue. Using his words, he was still willing to “give peace a chance”.
The matter has been heatedly and extensively debated in the TV talk shows. In one such discussion, the anti-dialogue participants went to the length of pinpointing a conspiracy aimed at letting the FATA Pakhtuns carve out a territory for themselves, independent from Pakistan, possibly with the support of the Afghan Taliban. They pooh-poohed the APC resolution as a document of appeasement and surrender.
In a statement, Ch. Nisar Ali Khan told the National Assembly on Tuesday that a move for a peace dialogue with the Taliban Rebels had “come to a standstill” because of Sunday’s attack that killed an army general. He further said that the military and the opposition would be consulted to review the process.
The bumping off of an army general and two other officers does raise a serious question about the mindset of the TTP. Both Nawaz and Imran however, are inclined to counsel restraint and patience. Into the current situation, has jumped a former member of the National Assembly Mr. Javed Ibrahim Piracha who claims to be in touch with the Taliban high command. In a Hamid Mir TV discussion, he said the Taliban’s Central Majlis-e-Shoora had been in session for the last many days on consultations for a ceasefire prior to the start of talks. One participant repeating Javed Piracha’s advice for awaiting the outcome of TTP shoora’s discussions referred to the past behavior of the militants and how one after another, they broke promises and used “ceasefire” for reorganizing and strengthening their hands. Perhaps a more balanced thinking came from a well known journalist and fiction-writer Muhammad Hanif who said that the Upper Dir incident was a big upset for the army. He posed the question: Should the army kill thousands of Talibans and their followers in retaliation for 40000 Pakistanis already killed? The solution to the problem according to him could only come through talks. Our misfortune, he added, was that there are Muslims on both sides and both consider that they are right. Ultimately he concluded we will have to choose between “Dead bodies or dialogue”.
It is well known that under the broad-banner set-up of Taliban, there are many groups consisting of religious extremists and even foreign elements. The situation is highly complicated. It is daunting and difficult. But, as Hanif says, we have to make a choice.
It is vital that the political leadership consensus approach for peace through talks is pursued with vigour and wisdom. Considering the almost disastrous economic and law and order situation in the country, with mayhem, disorder and disarray in Balochistan and Karachi, can we afford to continue a protracted fight with our own misguided people (although if you ask Imran Khan he would blame the last military dictator to have launched operations against our peaceful and patriotic people at the behest of a foreign power with the express purpose of boosting his own position and make hay while the sun was shining. According to him we are only reaping the whirlwind created by his wayward venture as the Taliban are only reacting to the unwarranted death of their people and destruction of their property).
Nawaz Sharif, overwhelmed as he has been, with horrendous economic and administrative challenges needs to pay more attention to this horrid menace of terrorism.
It is said that a week is a long time in politics. Almost 15 weeks have gone by since he took over. Conceded that it takes time for a new government to settle down and overcome the teething troubles. But considering the enormous damage that the ongoing fight and terrorism are doing (which has escalated into a clear and present danger of a direct threat to the very existence of the country) the degree of attention and the pace of performance have left much to be desired. It is high time he concentrated on this issue. He must with army’s cooperation, resolve this tangled web of violence and destabilization. He knows too well that it is not an isolated issue. All his dreams of rebuilding the economy and implementation of his dream projects will fall to the ground if this curse of terrorism is not obviated and what causes it, eliminated. How long will our army continue to fight and kill. These Pakhtuns make the toughest soldiers in the world. The Soviets and the Americans with all their might and state of the art military machines failed to subdue them. Again with a belligerent large eastern nieghbour who is in collusion with the land-locked western one, we just cannot afford fires to rage on and on, inside our dear country.
This time, fortunately unanimous as the politicians are in their stand on the policy towards the Taliban, with the army on the same page, Nawaz Sharif is duty bound to strain every nerve to ensure that the peace talks succeed and the conflict comes to an end.
There are many pitfalls, perils and road blocks on the way to achieve the goals. Strive he must with sagacity and support from the society and the military. He will soon be proceeding to USA to attend the UN General Assembly session to meet Manmohan and hopefully Obama. I wish him success in these encounters. (But please hurry back to fully devote yourself to the crucial task history has entrusted to you.) Complacency and dilly-dallying are out. Concentration, devotion to the task and urgency are very much in.
The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a political and international relations analyst.