By Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad, WEEKLY PULSE MAGAZINE, February 17, 2014
Government’s peace talks with TTP seem to be a non-starter—as the jihadi outfit has not budged from terrorist activities and presented demands that should be unacceptable to any government.
Explosions in a cinema in Peshawar last Tuesday killed over a dozen people. Many more were injured. The city witnessed the killing of civilian official of the US Consulate a day before. Four women also died the same day, as a suicide bomber being chased by mourners entered a house and blasted. The tale about remaining days of the week has been no different—and, if the same pattern persists, we are likely to see an unending terrorist spree orchestrated by TTP in the days ahead as well.
TTP has also unveiled the first of its demands from the government, including the release of all jailed fighters and the withdrawal of the army from tribal areas. It wants an estimated 4,000 prisoners freed, including those awaiting execution. Other demands include a nationwide implementation of a strict form of Islamic sharia law and Islamic-based education at all levels, an end to Pakistan’s military support for the US, a halt to drone strikes, and an end to interest-based banking.
TTP has conveyed these demands to the government through a three-member team of clerics, including Ibrahim Khan of Jamaat-e-Islami and clerics Yousuf Shah and Maulana Abdul Haseeb.
The team representing TTP in the peace talks is led by Maulana Samiul Haq, while the government team consists of Irfan Siddiqui‚ Rustam Shah Mohmand‚ Rahimullah Yousafzai and Major (retd) Muhammad Aamer. In their first meeting earlier this month, the two teams had agreed that ‘anti-peace’ activities should be stopped forthwith; the dialogue would be applicable to the troubled areas alone and not the entire country; and the peace process would be held within the parameters of the Constitution.
Despite this, the TTP has continued with acts of terrorism beyond the confines of tribal areas and comes up with demands which are not within the parameters of our Constitution.
In fact, Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid, one of the self-proclaimed Maulanas whom the TTP wanted to appoint on its representative the negotiating team, had even opposed the peace talks while pointing out the un-Islamic character of the Constitution. He recently tried to terrorize the nation by warning that TTP had some 500 female suicide bombers.
All of this clearly proves many of us right, who have all along maintained that by holding another round of talks with an organization or its affiliates who do not believe in peace and only know the language of terror, the government is basically delaying the inevitable. While doing so, inadvertently or otherwise, we may allow time for these terrorists to regroup and pose a greater threat to the country and its people.
In the case of Pakistan, there is hardly anything that the government or state entity can bargain over or prepared to give away through talks. The sovereignty, the territorial integrity, the constitution—name anything, there is virtually nothing to negotiate. If the rest of the country does not have a Sharia system, why should North or South Waziristan have it? Yes, the state may be ready for symbolic compromises, such as the ones that were made in the 90s to address the legal lacunas existing at the time. However, beyond this, there is nothing to negotiate, except to offer credible incentives of developing civilian infrastructure or economic base of the strife-torn Afghan border regions.
Thus, it is easier to say that dialogue is the best option with an entity that has violated the writ of the state and killed its citizens for years, with impunity; and much more difficult to actually hold talks while preserving everything that is sacred for statehood and nationhood.
Given that, those currently negotiating on behalf of the government must be clear about the consequences of compromising over anything that the sovereignty, territorial integrity and virtual existence of the state of Pakistan is grounded on.
While the dialogue may go on for a while, the government needs to come up with a comprehensive counter-terrorism policy and strategy, which, of course, should consider dialogue as a preferred option, in consonance with the conclusions of the APC. But what if the dialogue collapses eventually, as happened before many times during both civilian and military eras in the past over a decade?
The government’s counter-terrorism policy and strategy must have a clear-cut plan for such an eventuality. The State is the only entity that has the legal right to employ force under certain circumstances. Of course, some situations leave the State with no option but to negotiate with non-state actors who have employed force.
However, once the State finds that the latter are still unwilling to abandon their illegitimate course, there should be no further space for dialogue. What this essentially means is that the sort of ambiguity or ambivalence that we have practiced in the past, and been frequently accused by the world for counter-terrorism duality on this count, must be abandoned then. Such a course was unaffordable even before, and will be even more unaffordable in future.
We have seen this happening before in the case of Swat and South Waziristan, where we tempted to negotiate with these enemies of peace. Yet none of the government efforts succeeded. In fact, what happened was that the TNSM in Swat’s case and TTP in South Waziristan’s case took the state overtures as its weakness and started to wage their terrorist campaign more vigorously. We should not let this happen again.
Even otherwise, the events pertaining to peace process as they unfold, are leading us to believe that it is only a matter of time when the long-delayed military action against TTP and its affiliates in FATA starts. The sooner this happens the better it will be for Pakistan.
What is needed, therefore, in advance is the full government ownership of the military action and a strategy by the army that should take into consideration all the intricacies involved in such an operation, especially the fact that TTP militants might try to flee across the Durand Line into Afghanistan, where TTP enjoys the support of the intelligence apparatus. For peace in Pakistan beyond 2014 will very much depend upon the success of our Waziristan venture.