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To talk or not to talk?
Aasim Zafar Khan
Wednesday, January 02, 2013
From Print Edition
Whether one accepts it or not, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has gained higher ground in its conflict with the Pakistani state. I do not mean this militarily but in another sense. The TTP has recently put forth its preconditions for the cessation of violence against the state and its people. And as unrealistic and unmeetable as they are, they have finally put them on the table.
A recap of the TTP’s main demands: Pakistan to pull out of the Afghan war, refocus attention towards India and change its constitution as per the Quran and Sunnah.
We, on the other hand, have no idea what to do with these fellows.
In recent days, there has been some talk about ‘talking to the local Taliban’. First there was Qazi Hussain Ahmed who said that the Pakistani Taliban should be allowed to open a political office in the country to clear their position on terrorism. Then, Asfandyar Wali, who is probably still reeling from? the assassination of Bashir Bilour, says that he and his party are willing to ‘talk to the Taliban’. Even PPP ministers said that they are willing to negotiate, in accordance with the constitution.
One must agree that the days of armed conflict are over. The enemy may be bombed to kingdom come; thousands of troops may be moved into conflict areas, but everlasting peace cannot be achieved in this manner. Permanent peace can only happen when the two sides calmly talk it out. Each needs to be willing to reach an understanding, a middle ground acceptable to both.
There are at least two modern examples of the same: the MI6 talking to the IRA, and the US talking to the Afghan Taliban. Hamas, the PLO and Hezbollah would perhaps fall into the same category as well. In the same vein, regardless of whether we ought to talk to the Taliban or not, it’s something we will eventually have to do.
We don’t negotiate with terrorists, I hear someone say? A more apt response would be that ‘we won’t negotiate with terrorists from a position of weakness, which is where we currently stand’. Is militancy on the decrease in Pakistan? Are militants scurrying? I think not.
So first things first, a cohesive and aggressive counterterrorism policy is required. It must be clear in its objectives and in the time required to achieve the same. It must not be ad hoc (like it currently is), nor should it be ‘reactive’ (which it also currently is). Once this is achieved, and God knows when that’ll happen, you take the fight to the militants. Once they realise that this is a fight they cannot possibly win, that’s when you say okay, let’s talk.
When the two sides finally meet on the negotiating table, what will be Pakistan’s demands? First and foremost would be the laying down of arms and immediate cessation of violence. This would be followed by demanding respect for the constitution.
However, the Taliban have clearly said that they will not disarm. After all, that’s what brought them this far. Just like the state will not agree to various conditions of the Taliban, they too will not agree to various conditions of the state.
To middle ground then. For the state, the immediate cessation of violence should be the sole short-term aim, buying time to sort out a counterterrorism strategy. But what will the militants demand for the same? Or conversely, what can we offer them? A few agencies in Fata? Or a division or two? Sounds familiar?
We know from our past experiences of what ‘not to offer’ for peace. Our politicians will have to quickly figure out ‘what can be offered’.
Because the longer we engage them, both in talks and on the battlefield, we will not begin the long and painful journey that may one day wrest Pakistan out of the grip of terrorism.
As things stand today, we are a long way off from such a situation.
The writer is the chief operating officer of a private FM network. Email: aasimzk@ gmail.com; Twitter @aasimzkhan.
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