Besides the recent dastardly attacks on policemen and Rangers in Karachi (Pakistan’s commercial hub), the TTP (the Pakistani Taliban terrorist umbrella organization) brutally beheaded 23 (paramilitary) Frontier Corps (FC) men in their custody in Afghanistan. Why are we (the Pakistani government) talking to these sadistic murderers when they are not going to stop their atrocities, and more importantly, does their negotiating committee really have the mandate to represent most of the terrorist factions?
One does not question TTP’s capability for sporadic violence, particularly against the defenseless, one does question their ability to exercise influence, let alone control, over all the terrorist factions, specially when those with criminal intent far outnumber those with ideological ambitions. They could be telling the truth when they denied the repeated bomb attacks killing and injuring many moviegoers in a Peshawar cinema.
The militants have increasingly targeted those opposing them over the past few weeks, in some cases entire families have been wiped out. Should the government be passive about protecting those tribal elders paying the ultimate price for their loyalty to the Constitution and the State? Terrorism in Pakistan is not confined for ideological or criminal motives, outside the parameters of the government-TTP talks loyalists (entire families) have been gunned down in Dera Bugti area after the return of a large contingent of internally displaced persons, moreover railway trains and gas pipelines have been sabotaged in or adjacent to Balochistan. We may have peace with one of the TTP factions, what about all the other terrorists of various ilk running amok? Will the ceasefire also apply to them? And how will we differentiate?
The Pakistan Army has been fairly successful in the counter-insurgency restoring peace in the militant-infested areas of the country, rendering grievous sacrifice in the process. This success has not been matched tackling counter-terrorism by our civilian law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in our urban areas. We will not be rid of terrorism in a 100 years unless we have a dedicated Counter-Terrorism Force (CTF) duly reinforced with actionable intelligence capability and mandated for action across the country. The TTP is talking to us because it is facing near extinction in the mountains of Swat and FATA that will emasculate (if not eliminate) their operations in cities and towns. After the severe drubbing they have got from the Army and the PAF (Pakistan Air Force), and desperate for time and space to relieve the pressure on their insurgency the TTP have speeded up their terror in the urban areas. Here they are fairly well entrenched. When the government’s “brain trust” figures out the nexus between corruption, organized crime and terrorism, and resign themselves to the CTF targeting all three, we will get results.
Hardening their stance after the spate of terrorist incidents in January the government suddenly changed tack. While it would be madness for the option of negotiations to be set aside, it has given the militants breathing space to regroup. What we have now is an ambiguous mandate, the government’s vacillation on making clear their intent about talks or taking decisive action adding to the confusion. Handsome Maj Jahanzeb Adnan Shaheed’s photograph in the media yesterday was haunting, a heartrending reminder about the 4500 soldiers killed and or 15000 severely injured in the last decade. Why is the army rank and file rendering this ultimate sacrifice on a daily basis? They need a clear declaration of intent.
The doubt is not about talks as an option, it is in it’s viability. Having genuine reservations given the sorry experience of previous peace agreements, particularly the one in Swat with the present head of TTP, Maulana Fazlullah, the Army still recognizes that negotiations for peace is an option. However, one cannot imagine the circumstances when the Pakistan Army would be ready to accept peace on what is likely to be militant-dictated terms. The disappointment lies in the government unilaterally starting down the path of appeasement. As everywhere and his uncle knows, as opposed to compromise appeasement has never succeeded in changing the mindset of a diehard opponent. Taken as a sign of weakness, appeasement is always counter-productive.
This appeasement encouraged the recent venomous fulminations of a member of the Taliban-named negotiating Committee, Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid notoriety. Has anyone forgotten the automatic rifles, machine guns, mortars, rocket launchers, landmines, grenades etc that he and his late brother had secreted in Lal Masjid? And for what purpose? People conveniently forgot SSG’s (the elite commando Special Services Group) Lt Col Haroon Shaheed being killed with a shot in the neck and another officer badly wounded by a sniper rifle using a night vision device, what was the need for such sophisticated weapons for those holed up inside Lal Masjid if their intentions peaceful? And why did nearly a dozen plus of our SSG boys died in clearing the mosque of the militants, not to count over 50 badly injured? Were those inside Lal Masjid throwing flowers at them? People (and the media) conveniently forget that anarchy was staring us in the face if the military operation to rid this armed menace from our capital city had not succeeded. And do listen to the “Mullah in a Burqa” when he threatens that 600 female bombers are ready in FATA, is that not a declaration of war on society and the state?
One must congratulate Bilawal Zardari Bhutto (the youthful new leader of Pakistan People’s Party) for having the courage to condemn the militants for trying to take us back to the “Stone Age”, will other politicians have the guts to emulate this young man’s resolve? Ms Benazir Bhutto, was truly an extraordinary person, the less said about her father the better. But give Asif Zardari credit for not being a hypocrite, not once during his Presidency he uttered the word “corruption”, he never does. Like his mother (and unlike his father) Bilawal is well read and bred, truly concerned about the poverty of the people of Pakistan he will target the feudalism that denies our citizens the basic freedom that democracy enjoins. Bilawal should address why Sindhi’s rural population is kept more or less in medieval times. Is the perception of the terrorists about injustice, inequality, oppression, lack of opportunity and education, etc wrong? Is that why his maternal grandfather made PPP as a poor man’s party, to keep Sindh in the stone age?
The recent Sindh Festival (notwithstanding the excess in Mohenjodaro) was Bilawal’s “coming out” party, hopefully the billions spent will be useful and not being selective about the “stone age” the PPP’s co-chairman will break the shackles of feudalism by encouraging genuine governance function at the grassroots level, the Local Bodies elected by a truly fair vote, without intimidation and without fraud.
Maybe Bilawal’s rhetoric is sincere and like most politicians he is not stretching the truth. The government’s negotiating committee should have conveyed enough about the terrorists’ intransigence and double talk to the PM for him to give a clear green signal to go after the militants no-holds barred. All armies go into battle with the ultimate objective of attaining peace, that is the purpose of any war. Even with or without a complete victory, peace is a viable proportion to avoid further bloodshed and destruction. Unfortunately that can only be achieved by declaring total war against the terrorists.
The writer is a Pakistan-based leading defense analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org