Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

February 8, 2014

Talk tamasha


February 8, 2014


The writer has taught international relations and public policy at Boston University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and was the vice chancellor of LUMS.
There is much talk about talks in Pakistan these days. Too much talk. So much, in fact, that even if you were not already convinced that talk of talks with the Taliban is an expression of the futile, you should now be convinced that it is an abject farce.
How I wish it were not so. Serious talk – even on challenges as serious as the ones we confront and even with enemies who pose as existential a threat as the Taliban do to Pakistan – can happen, do happen and sometimes should happen. But certainly not like this.
For its part, the government can at least feign sincerity even though it has botched every move it has made. Most damning of all was the nomination of a negotiation team that reeks of a desire to appease. The Taliban’s response, on the other hand, was insulting in its sheer audacity and arrogance: it demonstrates malice and impudence not only for the government of Pakistan, but for Pakistanis. In the announcement of ‘their’ so-called negotiating team it was as if one could actually see them wickedly snickering at all Pakistan. “You aren’t worth talking to,” they seem to be saying, “We won’t waste our time talking to you; go talk amongst yourself!”
There is certainly no surprise here, given the wanton abandon with which the Taliban and their extremist cohorts have spilled more Pakistani blood than has been shed in all the external wars Pakistan has ever fought. Adept at having others do the dying for them, the Taliban have done what they are best at: pushed others on a suicide mission to do their dirty work for them.
There is, however, deep embarrassment for those who in their well-intentioned naivety had believed in the possibility of dialogue. And there is outright humiliation for Imran Khan who has been publicly mocked by the Taliban who have

purposefully brought into question the Pakistaniness of the one politician who holds his Pakistaniness most dear. It is not simply that the Taliban asked Imran Khan to negotiate for them; in fact, they nominated him to negotiate against Pakistan.
The Taliban and their sympathisers seem to consider this entire talk tamasha to be some sort of a political victory. If the game is one-upmanship, then maybe they have scored points for pluck. Maybe even scored a tactical advantage in the immediate term – but mostly because of the government’s bumbling. However, the strategic fallout is yet to materialise; either for the government or for the Taliban. Those whose first allegiance lies with Pakistan and Pakistanis still have time and opportunity to wrest the advantage back; maybe even turn the tables on the Taliban.
Let me suggest at least three points that will determine the long-term fallout of the farce being enacted before us. On each of these it is the Pakistani state, polity and society that will determine how the discourse unfolds. Doing so will not be easy, it may not even be likely, but it is possible.
Pakistan vs the Taliban. In case the language above is not explicit enough, let us be totally clear: One can reasonably have all sort of views on how to deal with the Taliban – including whether to talk to them, whether to grant amnesty, whether to consider some demands, whether to incorporate them into civilian life, etc – but you cannot simultaneously be representing Pakistan and the Taliban.
Those who have chosen to speak for the Taliban – not just ‘with’ but ‘against’ Pakistan – need to understand the consequences of that choice. The ludicrousness of Samiul Haq questioning the “mandate,” “power” and “capability” of the government would have been funny had it not been so infuriating. Maybe he should seriously consider what and how much mandate, power and capability the Taliban have transferred to him, and with what effect?
If these talks fail – as they will – what will be the status then of Samiul Haq and his co-conspirators? In this season of treason trials someone should look into the legality of Pakistani politicians officially representing and speaking for the self-avowed serial murderers of scores of Pakistanis.
Those who have joined the team representing the Taliban have once again demonstrated their historically dubious allegiance to Pakistan. One is glad that Imran Khan has not joined them. Whatever one may think of his politics, no one should doubt his commitment to Pakistan. One only hopes that the sordid way in which the Taliban have tried to corner and incriminate him will give Imran occasion to rethink his position on this particular issue. If he did, as he should, it would be a non-trivial development for his own politics as well as for the social cover available to the Taliban in Pakistan.
The battle for the narrative. No one believes the talks we keep talking about are real. Least of all those indulging in the farce. Had they been at all real the mood would have been earnest, the tone hushed, maybe even secret. Certainly, the medium of communication would not have been television statements. Nor would we be privy to the type of on-camera attention-seeking antics that we are being entertained by.
However, there is another set of ‘talks’ that is the real context of this tamasha. Indeed, the entire purpose of the tamasha is to influence those discussions. And by that I mean the conversation going on in society about the present and future of Talibanisation in Pakistan. It is not clear whether the government fully grasps the importance of this societal conversation. The Taliban certainly do.
For now, the narrative is controlled by the Taliban. What they are trying to claim here is not territory, it is societal space and legitimacy; turning the implicit support they enjoy in certain segments of society into explicit recognition by the state. One only hopes that someone somewhere has a strategy to snatch the societal narrative back from the Taliban.
The day after the talks fail. A critical element of the battle for the narrative described above is about who will control the narrative when the talks officially fail. And fail they will. Like the children’s game of ‘pass the parcel’, whoever is left holding the blame for why the talks failed will emerge the loser.
Everything the Taliban have been and are saying is structured to lay the blame for that eventual failure on the government. The facts, however, are quite the opposite: The government’s efforts may be naïve but they have been mostly sincere. It has bent backwards to be accommodating. It has even convinced the US to place a hold on drone strikes. It has done so much more than it should have done to get the talks going.
The Taliban, on the other hand, have dragged their feet. They have not even named a negotiation delegation of their own. They have made one excuse after the other. They have been unwilling or unable to halt the violence. Whether it is recalcitrance or impotence, they have shown little evidence that they could help end the violence, even if they wanted to.
The real importance of who holds the blame when the talks do fail is that this narrative will define the space for action at that point; both for the government and for the Taliban. So, yes, the talks are a tamasha, but a most consequential tamasha. Maybe, an existential tamasha.
Twitter: @adilnajam




Topstory minus plus

Opinion minus plus

Newspost minus plus

Editorial minus plus

National minus plus

World minus plus

Sports minus plus

Business minus plus

Karachi minus plus

Lahore minus plus

Islamabad minus plus

Peshawar minus plus