Long night ahead

February 9, 2014

Long night ahead

Spare a thought for the state of Pakistan and the federal government -- the legitimacy of both is being mocked by the terrorists led by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). And there is no respite or answer in sight.

As killing and maiming of innocent civilians mounted in recent months, so did the rhetoric of negotiation from some in the government and the Imran-Khan-led PTI. The logic, ostensibly, was that the scourge of terrorism cannot be eliminated by force alone so we need to talk about things. The likes of Ch. Nisar and Imran Khan managed to tap into the Zia-ul-Haq infested recesses of the populace’s mind that as long as someone is raising the slogan of Islam, they deserve some respect from our side. So the strategy was constructed: we will negotiate.

Those three words "we will negotiate" represented the entire strategy. There was no thinking beyond this. It was as if a couple confessed their love to each other and assumed, as some do, that declarations of love (rather than actions) will control the future.

This was done without any thoughts being directed to the question of "what are our limits?". Even last week in this space I tried emphasising the importance of knowing what is "non-negotiable" for a state. Now the TTP has turned around and said that the imposition of Sharia law is a condition (precedent) for negotiations to take place. And till negotiations officially start, the TTP will merrily continue to kill and maim Pakistanis--in cinema houses, bazars and hotels.

Do the advocates of negotiations even have an answer now? What does it say about a state that seeks to talk to those who continue to kill? What does it say about the TTP’s allegedly bona fide intentions to negotiate? It is as if the government keeps stomping its feet after a bomb blast and says to the TTP, "okay, but this was the last time." Until it happens again of course.

The terrorists bought time from their sympathisers and, quite remarkably, a large number of people in this country started assuming that something actually could be achieved through negotiations. But how do you negotiate with a party that questions the very basis of your existence?

In this entire process, crucial questions remain unanswered. The most important for me is: what will happen to those Pakistanis who will live in the territories controlled by the TTP? Whose law will they live under? If the answer is the TTP’s, then we might as well just invite the TTP to Islamabad and hand over power in a grand ceremony. Maybe we could also squeeze in an under-pass’s inauguration in the same photo-op. No women should attend.

You also have to feel for the thousands of people rotting in jails for crimes such as murder. They must be ruing their luck; if only they had killed in the name of religion, the state of Pakistan would negotiate with them. My heart also goes out to the dacoits and looters who did not cite religion when committing crimes -- since those engaging in extortion and kidnapping in the name of religion deserve to sit across the table in dialogue with the state of Pakistan. Those of you planning heinous offences in the near future better be taking notes.

Some of this may sound remotely funny -- but in the lives of a state the funny and the tragic are often inter-linked. This is particularly true for Pakistan in present times.

Consider Imran Khan’s plight. The look on his face must have been priceless when informed of the TTP’s desire for him to play on their team. Maybe some of Mr Khan’s advisers and supporters even lauded this ‘achievement’ by saying that even the enemy trusts Khan sahib! One could imagine cries of joy -- maybe even tears. Few would win such coveted honour. That would be commendable -- except the enemy always trusted Khan sahib and he them. On a more serious note (assuming without conceding that there is any seriousness left to this whole exercise), Khan sahib took the right decision in turning down the offer. Some honours are not to be accepted -- mere nominations are enough to last a life-time.

So this is the Pakistan that we inhabit where the standard response to a crisis seems to be to look at the person next to you and ask, "what do we do now?". I imagine each person looking to the one next till the last one looks at the wall and then we keep staring at the wall.

The terrorists bought time and generosity from their sympathisers and, quite remarkably, a large number of people in this country started assuming that something actually could be achieved through negotiations. But how do you negotiate with a party that questions the very basis of your existence?

Pakistan’s history will most likely see this period as revealing of one particular fact: delusion about the benevolence of those who kill in the name of religion. It is quite staggering how so many have been fooled by so few and rendered indecisive. As far as negotiation strategy is concerned, TTP is giving us a real lesson.

The government’s inaction will not be without consequences. A sudden resort to military action "full speed ahead" will seem desperate and will most likely be without a clear view of what we want to achieve. Therefore, do not expect any real planning or foresight regarding the decisions to be taken in the near future on the problem of terrorism. Public opinion will be ambivalent until and unless the government takes it upon itself to show the people why enough is enough.

For now, the TTP is making the state dance like a puppet. As far as the terrorists are concerned, the party is just beginning and it will go on long into the night.

The state of Pakistan is in for a long night and it is not clear that there will be light any time soon.

Long night ahead