By observing that the army had no objection if the government decided to hold talks with the Taliban, Gen Kayani has put the ball in the civilian administration’s court. He has at the same time expressed concern over the inordinate delay in amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) to effectively deal with the terrorists who take advantage of weaknesses in the law of evidence and go scot-free. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has meanwhile said that any talks with the militants would be conditional upon them laying down their arms. This sends two messages to the terrorists, a stern one and a conciliatory one.
The observation has come amidst reports in US media about Secretary Clinton planning to visit Islamabad next week and that the schedule had not been announced in view of security concerns. The report has received wide publicity in the international media also. This confirms an earlier story quoting an unnamed Pakistani diplomat that the visit would help Pakistani officials know how serious the Obama administration is about holding peace talks with the Haqqani network and other Taliban groups. Side by side with placatory messages from Washington and from the NATO chief come the reports of an offensive codenamed Knife Edge aimed at the Haqqani network having been launched by the US and Afghan troops along the Pak-Afghan border. This is a far cry from the days when Pakistan and the US had, with mutual understanding, launched Operation Sledgehammer against the terrorists on their respective sides of the Durand Line.
There are indications that relations between the two countries stand on knife’s edge. Further, a time has come when they are to take the final decision on the matter. There is need to realise by both that the future of the worldwide fight against extremists, restoration of peace in Afghanistan and the future of Pakistan as a stable country practicing democracy depends on the nature the relations between Washington and Islamabad. As one watches with both hope and trepidation the turn the events take, one expects that both sides would adopt a conciliatory attitude while taking the ground realities of Pakistan and Afghanistan into account.