SWEET is the taste of victory. We, the boys, had told them, the Americans, to forget about winning and listen to us: give Kandahar its due.
Hold your nose while you shake their hand if you must, we, the boys, said to them, the Americans, but it’s the only way out. And so it has come to pass.
Doha may yet become our Bonn circa 2001 but the boys swear it will be different: the Taliban aren’t the Taliban of ’96 and we get that 2013 isn’t 1996.
What does that mean?
It means, the boys claim, that they understand better than anyone else that a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan would be bad news for Pakistan’s stability. And if a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan is to re-emerge, the boys suggest, the Taliban now know and accept that they will have to play nice with the world this time.
Work through that again.
Taliban rule equals bad news for Pakistan — which is why we don’t want it. But Taliban rule, if it does reappear, may not be so bad after all — which is why we, and the rest of the world, could learn to live with it.
National security on a wing and a prayer — at least some things don’t change.
No, no, you civilians just don’t get the nuances, the boys say. A seat at the table, even the seat of honour, doesn’t mean the country is being handed over to the Taliban. They will have to learn to accept they can’t rule by themselves, and if they do end up ruling, they will have to behave themselves this time.
Says who, you, the irrelevant civilian, may wonder. Trust us, the boys will reply, we know what we’re doing.
Trust us — there’s another thing that hasn’t changed.
Push harder and the question is reversed: what’s the alternative?
It’s an excellent question actually, one with no obvious answer. No obvious answer, that is, until you revert to basics.
We, Pakistan, the boys essentially, know the problems the Afghan Taliban could create for us, but are willing to take that risk because we know the problems that India will create for us if the Taliban-Pakhtun are sidelined in the Afghan scheme of things.
On that duality turns everything.
Imagine if it were turned on its head: we, Pakistan, know the problems the Indians could create for us, but are willing to take that risk because we know the problems the Afghan Taliban will create for us if given a significant role in the Afghan scheme of things.
That would be a very different Pakistan, an imagined Pakistan, a Pakistan where national security and foreign policy are the purview and prerogative of the civilians.
Since we aren’t in that Pakistan, the only assumptions and fundamentals and basics that matter are of the boys, and that is that.
Except it isn’t because what happens in Afghanistan gets heard about in Pakistan, and so we’re back to that most confounding of questions: why, exactly, is it a good idea to talk to one but whack the other? The Afghan Taliban and Pakistan Taliban, that is.
No, no, no, that’s not the same thing, they’re entirely different, it’s apples and oranges, they’re entirely different, it’s not the same thing, no, no, no.
But, for an army long used to peddling simple, nay simplistic, narratives, this is a complicated sell.
The TTP are thugs and criminals, we are told. The TTP are just about violence and mayhem, we are reminded. The TTP has no political agenda, no ideology, we are educated.
Don’t they, though?
The TTP wants to overthrow the Pakistani state through violence and install themselves as rulers who will rule according to the Islamic rules they believe in.
Sounds pretty damn political.
Sure, the TTP may not have an economic policy and a shadow finance minister, but then, it’s not like our parliament is highly evolved on that front either.
And sure, the TTP may not have a spiritual leader or a group of advisers who know how to run a reasonably developed state like Pakistan, but, umm, did Mullah Omar and his buddies have much of that when they set out from Kandahar all those years ago?
The simple, nay simplistic, narrative really has more similarities than differences between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban.
Fighting in the name of Islam? Check. Fighting the godless West and its corrupt allies at home? Check. Peace and security and quick justice? Check. Fighting in the name of Islam? Check.
That bit — fighting in the name of Islam — is key. It’s why the Pakistani street will want petty thieves hanged but a Mumtaz Qadri released. It’s why Lal Masjid’s arms mattered little and the soldiers killed there forgotten, but the Lal Masjid victims venerated and mourned.
Cloak yourself in Islam and no one will want you dead, even if you’re busy killing a bunch of people. Which is why the fight against militancy, the war on the TTP, is such a hard sell here: ultimately, there’s the Islam argument and you just can’t win against it — especially if you’re supporting the Islam argument next door.
Talk to one but whack the other — the boys here know the contradictions and accept them as the price of protecting their core interests.
But those contradictions exact a price on all of us. Doha could be the new Bonn — and this time, it may not take a decade for its flawed logic to strike.
The writer is a member of staff.