By Imtiaz Gul, Weekly Pulse Magazine, October 07, 2013
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s desire for an openly accessible Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) office to facilitate peace talks shocked most of us like a bolt from the blue. He also recalled that “at the All Parties Conference all the political parties decided to talk to the Taliban because……in the past nine years Taliban groups have grown from one to 35 or so.” For him, the three dozen militant groups are all well-meaning Taliban, and hence legitimate interlocutors.
Without calling his intentions into questions, let us judge Imran Khan’s statement, first in the light of Pakistan’s constitution, and then measured against some pressing ground realities.
Article 256 of the constitution of Pakistan prohibits raising of private armies and militias in the territories of Pakistan. It obligates the state to disband private armies and eliminate threats to the interests of state and its people.
The TTP is clearly a private army, a declared enemy that is waging a war against the state – the way it did in Swat and South Waziristan in 2008-2009 when it ransacked and occupied police stations and FC Installations, forced the civilian administration to flee, and caused an administrative breakdown. By carrying out indiscriminate attacks against the interests of the state of Pakistan, the TTP – meanwhile operating under different pseudonyms as a tools of deception to confuse the intelligence, – remains the most vocal opposition to the interests of Pakistan – as much as the Al-Qaeda chief Dr.Aimanul Zawahiri, who has been urging Pakistanis to rise against the government and the army for its cooperation with the US-led West.
And here is an inescapable quandary for the present civilian and military elites of Pakistan. It represents the classical dilemma “damned if you do and damned if you don’t. “ How?
By supporting and encouraging non-state actors (NSA), first during the anti-Soviet-Russian jihad with the US-led international support, and then in (Indian) Kashmir on their own, state institutions clearly breached this constitutional obligation. The ensuing State-NSAs nexus led to Pakistan’s condemnation, isolation and divisions within.
This condemnation for acquiescence to and accommodation of NSAs continues to date. This skewed policy has led Pakistan down a disastrous path, confronting it with certain nearly irreparable losses.
Now, how will most of us react if, by accepting TTP as a legitimate interlocutor, the government and the military again breach the Article 256 only to open talks with a band of criminals, who at best are facilitators for Al-Qaeda’s cross-border operations?
Al-Qaeda beyond a shadow of doubt represents a world view that remains diagonally opposed to the way the dominant majority of us want to live. And according legitimacy to such a group, or its facilitators, the state of Pakistan will be clearly jeopardizing the interests of the people that constitute Pakistan.
Who wants the state institutions to again violate the constitution of Pakistan?
And this brings us to the issue of ground realities, marked by two pressing factors.
Firstly, regardless of the numbers of the militant outfits, the biggest challenge confronting the government and the military is which group to talk to. Even if we go by Imran Khan’s statement (quoted above), did the All Parties Conference favor talking to terrorists or Taliban? Imran Khan and others owe a public explanation on this count because an assumption that terrorist groups – proxies, hired assassins with vague and amorphous identities and supplemented by organized crime too – are amenable to peace talks defies logic. If they are on a paid-out mission to destroy and destabilize, peace talks would only mean granting them even greater space.
Secondly, let us assume the talks open and lead into some semblance of success, what next? Do we have enough, up-to-date legislation and a corresponding implementation capacity to deal with all sorts of threat that are coming from non-state actors of all shades? The government and the security establishment have a formidable task at hand even if we open talks with all. The journey is extremely arduous and requires profound, dispassionate deliberation to avoid yet again compromising rule of law.