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Charge of the talk-talk brigade

June 29, 2013

BY now, Imran Khan must have come to the conclusion that running a political party is a bit more complicated than captaining a cricket team.

When he was a successful skipper of the national squad, he was known as an autocratic, no-nonsense leader. But then a cricket team has 11 players, and if they want to play, they don’t cross the captain.

Welcome to the fractious world of politics where members of parties are not bound by the constraints of discipline, or even good sense. Of late, my email inbox has been filled with irate complaints about two Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) legislators who have made statements that have made a mockery of Imran Khan’s campaign slogan of building a new Pakistan.

First, we have Mujahid Ali Khan, MNA, demanding on the floor of the National Assembly that Mumtaz Qadri, Salmaan Taseer’s murderer be “honourably released”. Considering that this self-confessed killer was convicted for assassinating the Punjab governor two years ago, this demand is a new low for even one of our public representatives.

Then, following the deadly suicide bombing of a mosque in Peshawar a few days ago, the KP health minister, Shaukat Ali Yousafzai, saw a foreign hand behind the incident. According to him, “no Muslim could attack a mosque”.

This PTI stalwart is of the view that the Taliban are “against attacking places of worship.” Tell that to the thousands who have been killed in mosques over the years.

But in his conspiracy theory about the hidden hand, he is not alone. When a group of foreign trekkers were murdered at the base camp of Nanga Parbat recently, the prime minister said: “The attack is a conspiracy hatched against Pakistan at the behest of those who wanted to destroy her.”

Considering that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was swift in claiming that its new faction Junoodul Hifsa had carried out the attack, blaming the proverbial ‘hidden hand’ is to bury one’s head firmly in the sand. It is exactly this kind of ostrich-like behaviour that has prevented effective action against known militant groups.

Both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan are in the forefront of those demanding negotiations with the jihadi groups that have multiplied like a virulent cancer. Well, now they have an opportunity as they are in control of Punjab and KP provinces, as well as the central government.

But before they proceed down this dubious path, let me remind them of the kind of people they want to talk to. Here is a letter to this newspaper from a Dr K. Fiazuddin of Karachi in case Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan missed it:

“According to your news report (June 10), the Taliban beheaded two boys aged 10 and 16 on the suspicion of spying for the Afghan army. Last year also in the same district of Kandahar they beheaded and skinned a 16-year-old boy, a six-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy.

“The Taliban are ruthless, savage and brutal. How dare they behead small children? The civilised world should stand against them and eliminate them wherever they are. They deserve no mercy. They are barbarians.”

And if the prime minister and Imran Khan think that the Pakistani Taliban are any gentler than their Afghan brethren, they need to talk to the comrades of the hundreds of our security personnel who have been tortured and beheaded by the TTP and its offshoots.

In emails and on TV chat shows, I have heard one argument ad nauseam: if the Americans can talk to the Taliban, why shouldn’t we? This asinine argument misses the point that the Americans are negotiating their withdrawal. Pakistan does not have this luxury.

Our army has repeatedly reached truce agreements with various militant groups over the years; each time, the jihadis have used these pauses to regroup and then launch attacks at will.

This was demonstrated most famously when Swat was handed over to Mullah Fazlullah and his band of Taliban. They immediately set out to conquer the neighbouring area of Malakand, bringing them 100km from Islamabad.

It would be a mistake to think that just because they are poorly educated, the Taliban do not think strategically. By killing a group of foreigners in Gilgit-Baltistan, they have virtually ended the small trickle of intrepid mountaineers who came there to scale the spectacular peaks in the region.

This will affect thousands of Shias in the Baltistan valley who made a living from foreign visitors. They have also exposed the government’s pitiful security measures to the world yet again.

When I was there last October with seven English friends, I was happy to see how much they enjoyed the beauty and serenity of the place. All of them spoke of returning, and recommending the trip to other friends. But on the journey to Islamabad, we drove down the Karakoram Highway and when I saw the suspicion and hatred in the eyes of the locals near Chilas, I made a mental note not to bring foreign guests to these parts ever again.

I continue to be surprised by the attitude Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan have chosen to adopt towards the Taliban. Both have had ample exposure to normal countries that handle such security threats with a firm hand. No tolerance is shown in either Saudi Arabia or the UK towards terrorism of any kind. And yet, both our leaders treat these killers with kid gloves in Pakistan, a country that has suffered so much violence at the hands of religious extremists.

Another thing the talk-talk brigade forgets is that the Taliban’s demands are non-negotiable. What they want is the replacement of the constitution by their version of the Sharia. They view the offer of negotiations as a sign of the government’s weakness. Finally, how do you talk to people who behead and skin children?