Absolutely no rationale

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For a new round of talks

Nawaz Sharif has put the existence of the country in jeopardy by delaying action against the TTP. No talks can succeed without a practical demonstration of the coercive power of the state and a realisation by the TTP that it would be wiped out if it continued to be intransigent. The policy of talks alone has encouraged the Pakistani Taliban to escalate attacks on the civilian population and military personnel.

The critics of the talks with the TTP had argued that the terrorist network was committed to acquiring control over the country through violent means and subsequently use its soil to launch attacks on other countries. It was therefore futile to try to hold talks with the terrorist network. The PML-N leadership however disagreed. It maintained that the terrorists were in fact misguided people or a group of naughty pranksters who could be brought into the mainstream through persuasion.

Both the PML-N and the PTI, the other major proponent of talks, have seen the results of a policy of appeasement. The seven months of the pro-parleys PML-N government has seen some of the worst incidence of senseless carnage. This should have been enough to open any sane person’s eyes.

Nawaz Sharif has finally concluded that the TTP does not comprise misguided people but terrorists who have no regard for human lives. Further, killing school children, innocent citizens and security personnel to avenge the drone attacks was an unacceptable excuse for the attacks.

At a meeting of the PML-N’s parliamentary committee, the overwhelming majority was convinced that it was futile to hold talks with those who were out to destroy the state. The horrendous attacks launched after the APC gave government a mandate for talks were enough to make even Rana Sanaullah realise that time had finally come to ‘smash’ militant safe havens and to counter a surge in terrorism, the government is on a ‘war footing’.

The inhuman killings perpetrated and owned as if a badge of honour by the TTP put even Imran Khan on the defensive. Earlier, the PTI leader too had put all the blame for terrorism on drone attacks. He is at least double-minded now. The party now only demands that the government take it into confidence before taking recourse to force.

There is already a national consensus in support of an operation. This is reflected in the media as well as the thinking of the vast majority of parliamentarians.

What is the rationale for this fresh initiative to hold talks then?

If Nawaz Sharif wants unanimity instead of consensus, he is running after a mirage.

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Those sharing the views of terrorists can never be convinced of the justification, let aside the urgency, of the use of force even if the TTP were to launch even more deadly attacks, killing hundreds of other innocent people. Relying on their perverted logic they maintain that the TTP is fighting the Americans while the government and the army are on the side of the Americans. The people are only dying in the crossfire.

Can anyone change the stance of Jamaat e Islami, which has declared Hakimullah Mehsud a martyr while it has reservations about those who die safeguarding their country from the terrorists? Munawwar Hassan claims, “People like Osama bin Laden never die but remain alive in the hearts and ideologies of people.” Can anyone persuade him to support the use of force against the self-proclaimed followers of OBL’s policy of terrorism? The JI leader has called on the government to disassociate itself from the war on terror. In other words the government should do nothing to save its citizens other than making cringing appeals to the TTP. If it uses force to defend the Pakistanis, it amounts to joining the American war on terror.

Samiul Haq is yet another supporter of the war against the US which being fought, according to him, by the TTP. He has declared, ‘religious groups would never support action against the TTP.’ He has likened any use of force by the state as a suicide mission.

The JUI-F wants to extract political mileage out of talks, knowing full well that any attempt to persuade the TTP is bound to fail. Fazlur Rehman is keen to act as an arbiter between the TTP and the government and use the position to replace the PTI administration in KP with a PML-N-JUI-F coalition. He is selling himself as the sole politician holding the key for peace. He was therefore deadly opposed to Samiul Haq as a rival peace negotiator. While supporting the four member committee in the NA but bitter over having been left out of the loop, he told the media that someone else was still taking the decisions in the name of the government.

The use of force that makes the government a key player deprives the JUI-F leader of the crucial position he covets. Fazlur Rehman would support a military action only if he is made the Prime Minister.

There is simply no hope on creating unanimity of views on action against the TTP. Governments do not seek unanimity of views when taking decisions crucial for a nation’s life. Some of those supporting the prime minister maintain that the talks are in fact a ruse by the government to gain time. They maintain that the administration has yet to strengthen defences against attacks by the terrorists expected in case of a military operation. Also steps need to be taken to ensure that militants fleeing from the tribal areas do not set up centres in other parts of the country and are promptly arrested on arrival.

The way the negotiating committee was announced does not support the claims. No talks were held with at least two of the members about the precise nature of their mission and mandate. Rahimullah Yousufzai told the media that the prime minister made him the offer in the morning, while driving to the National Assembly for his rare appearance. Rustam Shah Mohmand claimed that he was not consulted by the prime minister before his nomination on the committee.

Everything about the negotiating committee announced on Wednesday was nebulous: no mention of terms of reference or the groups to be approached or the time for the conclusion of talks. The creation of a new negotiating team therefore looks like a brain wave rather than a well thought out plan. Apparently many in the PML-N hierarchy were not taken into confidence prior to Sharif’s sudden volte face. Had the party leaders even had a hint of Sharif’s willingness to give talks another try, Punjab Home Minister Rana Sanaullah would not have announced to The Guardian that the government was fed up with the killings and was going to ‘smash’ the TTP safe havens.

Why has Sharif hesitated ordering the military operation at the eleventh hour? A perception is bound to be created that a week-kneed prime minister chickened out at a time when he was expected to play the role of a leader.

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