Still negotiating with the Taliban?


Or got something even better in mind?

‘Negotiating with the Taliban’ was the buzz phrase around this time five years ago, in the lead up to the 2013 general elections. Being for or against it was not only a crucial component of the manifestos, it also decided who got to take out political rallies and who did not.

And so, considering everything gruesome that happened in the lead up to the National Action Plan (NAP) that was formalised in January 2015 – most notably the APS attack – it appeared that, if nothing else, the Taliban would at the very least cease to be a factor in voting come next elections.

That, however, is not quite true for a wide array of Taliban.

Starting with the ‘foreign’ Afghan Taliban; Pakistan is still trying to drag them to a negotiation table that does not exist – and not because it is significant for peace in the western neighbourhood, but simply because they do not want India to have anything to do with stability, or anything else for that matter, in Afghanistan.

To understand how fruitful this imaginary round of talks would be one only needs to know the stance of the Afghan Taliban leadership, who have no issues interacting with the Americans, but have simply refused to have anything to do with the elected Afghan government. And yet, somehow they are an integral part of the democratic process in Afghanistan.

But, of course, what’s more critical for our neck of the woods is the fact that they, and their brethren, appear to be an integral part of the democratic process in Pakistan as well.

Chaudhry Nisar, Interior Minister at the time and a major proponent of talks with the Taliban famously invited them to play cricket back in 2013.

The involuntary reaction that blaming each other has become in Kabul and Islamabad has meant that not only are allegations thrown at each other before virtually anything is known about any given attack, this narrative – which has usurped the mainstream – will also be among the rhetoric in the lead up to the elections next year.

Also, who would’ve thought that the PTI – notorious (or famous) for its apologia for the Taliban ahead of 2013 – would be doing the same five years later?

KP CM Pervez Khattak said on Monday that Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S) chief Samiul Haq “should lead the way for Islamic reforms in the country” and actually thanked the Father of the Taliban for his decisive support in the NA-4 by-election in Peshawar.

This comes a year after the PTI led KP government gave a grant worth Rs300 million to Darul Uloom Haqqania from the provincial budget, which the party chairman Imran Khan said was in exchange for “madrassa reforms”.

It would be interesting to note if the curricula in the Taliban alma mater now denounces armed jihad – or at least makes it the state’s prerogative – and if there’s any tangible decrease in murderous fatwas on kufr.

Imran Khan with Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, chief of JUI-S and more commonly known as the ‘Father of Taliban’ who also lead an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate with the TTP in 2013.

Even so, what perhaps needs to be appreciated – even though it would become clearer in the months to come – is that the state might completely do away with the façade of marginalising the Taliban from the electoral process and formally allow them election campaigns. And it would make sense for justice and equality if nothing else – for, if Islamabad feels that the Taliban are bona fide players in Afghanistan, then why not Pakistan?

It is perhaps for the maintenance of this equality that jihadists are being mainstreamed and their influx into the Parliament being streamlined. After all, there is no better way of improving Af-Pak relations and keeping India at bay than having Taliban governments in both countries.

So, in addition to the Milli Muslim League and the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan – the latter already busy campaigning by blocking the Faizabad Interchange in the capital – we could expect other major political actors as well.

The floor of the auditorium drenched in the blood of students after the APS Peshawar massacre of 2014 that claimed 141 lives, 132 of them children at the hands of the TTP.

Among these could be representatives of ISIS, who after getting a battering in the Middle East are not only overlapping with the Pakistani Taliban through the Khorasan faction, but of course already have sympathisers in the capital.