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Dialogue with the Taliban


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THE incoming prime minister has extended an olive branch to the terrorists who are responsible for the unprecedented electoral violence in the run-up to the May 11 polls.

May 11 can be termed a victory for the democratic forces against the extremists who had declared their intentions to disrupt the electoral process through bloodshed. However, the next chief executive may have revealed a defensive approach to tackling militancy.

The PML-N chief said: “Forty thousand precious lives have so far been lost and the national economy is suffering a loss of billions of dollars. Why should not we sit for a dialogue to restore peace? Is it a bad option?” Then he answered himself: “It is the best available option.”

The army chief has also spoken on militancy after the elections. “In these elections, the people of Pakistan not only courageously withstood the threat of terrorism, they also defied the unfounded dictates of an insignificant and misguided minority,” he said.

Does one not get the impression that the political hub in Lahore and GHQ are not on the same page on tackling militancy? Did the post-election three-hour tête-à-tête in Lahore not broach the issue of the civilian-military disconnect on national security issues?

Unlike diplomatic negotiations with an enemy on account of the threat of war or amidst active hostilities, the dialogue with the militants, who are your fellow citizens, resembles negotiations with hostage-takers or outlaws who must be brought within the bounds of the law.

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is a proscribed militant organisation that has unleashed suicide bombers on security and law enforcement agencies and is involved in the brutal killings of thousands of innocent citizens. Hundreds of schools have been bombed and educating young girls has been declared un-Islamic by these religious extremists. Thousands of inhabitants of terror-affected areas have fled and become homeless. The militants have even termed democracy un-Islamic.

So, under what rules of engagement will the democratic government explore avenues of negotiations with the utterly non-democratic, obscurantist and obdurate extremists? Will the battle-hardened warrior brigades of the Pakistani Taliban express remorse for the huge loss of life at their hands and agree to shun violence and to give peace a chance within the constitutional framework? Will the state security forces accept the responsibility for human rights violations during operations wherein innocent men, women and children were caught in the crossfire or displaced in the thousands and dumped in camps away from the comfort of their homes?

These are some of the questions that the Pakistani state and society must answer before hastily entering into negotiations with the extremists. This is not only a battle for hearts and minds; it is a matter that revolves around a comprehensive national approach to tackling militancy. The following course of action is suggested for a mature and concerted strategy before initiating a dialogue with the TTP.

The first step should be hard talk with the US on the drone attacks. This is a major point of national resentment and affects our self-respect and sovereignty. Despite a clandestine agreement by an earlier military regime and a look-the-other-way approach by the previous government, the new political government has to clearly redefine the red lines with the US administration. This firm and fair approach will surely soften the TTP resistance and the state will be seen as reasserting its authority on national security matters.

On the home front, a new parliamentary committee on national security should hold in-camera as well as open hearings in order to lay down a broad strategic framework to tackle militancy. The legislature’s taking the lead will reflect the political will and vision of the new government.

Another simultaneous step is for the executive to firm up the rules of engagement for dialogue with the insurgents and terrorists. The Defence Committee of the Cabinet under the prime minister, with key federal ministers, the military services chiefs and heads of the intelligence agencies must come up with a strategy and a plan of action that should be comprehensive and practical.

The political and military leadership must be on the same page and approval of the cabinet must be obtained on the rules of engagement and negotiations with the TTP.

A national security team of experts, with military, police, civil armed forces and intelligence backgrounds, should analyse all the previous operations undertaken by the military in the federally and provincially administered tribal areas (Fata and Pata) so that a professional counterinsurgency doctrine is followed that allows the military to undertake quick operations followed by police response in the middle and the military on the periphery. Within the bubble of military security, the police are meant to treat insurgents as criminals rather than as targets beyond the protection of the law.

The terrorism problem will not go away unless the civilian law enforcement approach is followed for legitimacy and justice. A strong-arm military strategy is not a sound approach to building up public resistance against the terrorists. The military commanders should enable the transition security activities from combat operations to law enforcement as quickly as possible. The great effectiveness multiplier in the use of state power against violence is the allegiance and support of the public.

Any use of force, military or police, must serve a political purpose, namely de-legitimising the terrorists and legitimising the government. A successful counterterrorism strategy is balancing the kind of force used, not foregoing force altogether. Getting the balance right between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ uses of force is the key strategic decision.

Finally, to talk or fight or to talk and fight; that is the question which requires to be answered with clarity by building a national consensus which is the essence of democracy. This will be the main challenge of the incoming PML-N government — to show whether it has the vision and will to forge a fresh security strategy in pursuit of our national objectives.

The writer is former DG, FIA.

Comments (10) Closed

muhammad May 27, 2013 08:22pm

I really surprised when people say dialogue with Taliban I ask them do Taliban know the meaning of dialogue had they knew the meaning of word dialogue they would have not committed such gross crimes against the humanity

Iqbal Carrim May 27, 2013 04:05am
A very sensible road map. The country must resolutely free itself from American assistance. It may be hard in the initial stages but it has the economic backbone and brain power to reorganise itself with the support of real patriots.Reconstruction of the national unity rests on reaffirming its sovereignty by disassociating itself with the drone attacks.
Syed Hussain Akbari May 27, 2013 08:14am
There is no use of writing such long articles which are mostly based on logic and historical facts. Our present and forthecoming government and the surrounding Mullahs and Maulanas are not the followers of any logic and are not against atrocities. Any bloodshed is childs game for them which they enjoy. Hopeless !!!
G.A. May 27, 2013 12:08pm
Onus is on the Taliban to accept peace. If the PML, JI and PTI turn to using military force then that would remove the ambiguity these 3 parties have created in the minds of Pakistanis whether the Taliban are the good guys or the bad guys. Let these parties see first hand whether they can negotiate with extremists or not.
Razzaq May 27, 2013 01:28pm
What a joke? An ex-president is being tried in anti terrorism court and the real terrorists are considered for negotiations.
aslam May 27, 2013 03:40pm
Well done Khosa Sahib...we just can not build a national consensus by saying, 'This is our war'...The Nation has to see it for themselve..'Delink it totally with the ISAF effort in Afghanistan'...Without a properly deliberated 'National Counter EXTREMISM (which is the strategic domain) and the Counter Terrorism (which though has some strategic strands too but mostly would comprise Tactical actions) Policy' with a total Political ownership and resolve...This menace is extremely difficult to eradicate...Lip service and half hearted attempts only strengthen the radical and extremists.
gul khan May 27, 2013 04:37pm
it is not hard its impassable if American starts sanction or help Bloch insurgency then pakistan will be in difficult satiation.
izhar May 27, 2013 06:36pm
there is no other thought that militancy is major challenge for Pakistan but the issue which needs even the more attention is lingering economy of the country. all energies may be utilized to address this issue first which may have positive implications in solving all other minor/major challenges. the econ strength can only provide relief to pak from intl powers which ultimately would allow our leadership to make independent decisions. talking about negotiations with militants ..... first we need to discreetly find out through our intelligence organizations that what factors are bringing them to a table and what are their exact requirements and what they want to listen from our side. second the important aspect is - incase the talks succeeds then what this portion of highly trained and dangerous pakistanies would be doing. ok lets listen to them what all they say - then they may be asked questions by bureaucrats , technocrats and national security experts - what all reservations v ve may be put a crossed to run a state successfully. lets prove them wrong on table and then make them to live their lives under national constitution. if they win on table then v need to allow them to steer this country but i m pretty sure that they wont be able to do it but lets not sit with pre occupied mind.
sherafgan May 27, 2013 08:37pm
Please don't talk to murderers who kill in the name of Islam.
NASAH (USA) May 28, 2013 01:33am
Waving the olive branch of 'talks' with the Talibans has saved Mr. Nawaz Sharif election from suicide bombings -- but what can possibly Mr. Sharif offer to the PTT that will let them stop murder and mayhem -- short of ceding the territories to them -- or a post in the cabinet -- or both --combined with letting them keep their weapons as well? Dont think Pakistan has given Mr. Sharif THAT heavy a mandate. Has It?