EVENTUALLY, the illogic of conspiracy will have to give way to reality. Waliur Rehman, a TTP leader mind-bogglingly referred to by Imran Khan as ‘pro-peace’, was killed by an American drone, so now the TTP has killed nine foreigners in remote Gilgit-Baltistan in revenge. And instead of the focus being on how to prevent Pakistan from slipping further towards international isolation and internal instability, the question that will likely be asked most frequently, in the media, by the political class, by large chunks of civil society, is what can be done to stop drones strikes. The problem with the drone debate is not that it is unimportant but that it tends to obscure a more fundamental and important question: what to do about the TTP? And that more important and fundamental question is itself wrapped up in another set of distractions, namely whether or not to negotiate over what is not negotiable.
Unhappily, the newly elected government appears to already be falling into the trap of rhetoric as a substitute for action. Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan has set an admirable new tone by speaking plainly and bluntly about all that ails Pakistan on the security front. That is good. But all the straight talk in the world will not substitute for a meaningful policy against militancy — and the necessary corollary of wresting national security policy from the army leadership. It is here that the PML-N already seems to be falling into the old trap of inaction through summits and all-party conferences and the like. Already, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appears aloof and disconnected, allowing his ministers to speak for his government instead of leading from the front himself.
For the army’s part, a pattern now seems obvious: everything but North Waziristan can be tackled. The reasons for that can only be guessed at, but could it have something to do with the impending transition in Afghanistan, after which the much-loved Haqqani network may be encouraged to move its operations to the other side of the Durand line and then the TTP will be taken on? If Pakistan’s internal security is in fact linked to an external agenda, then perhaps the TTP is only a symptom of the disease. Bringing about change, particularly in powerful, entrenched institutions, is always a difficult undertaking. But if the Pakistani state doesn’t change its approach, the TTP will change Pakistan for all of us.