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Stronger response needed

September 18, 2013

THE killing of army officers in the terrorist attack in Upper Dir was condemned in the most apt terms by someone who failed to curtail militancy during his stint as head of state and supreme commander of the armed forces.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari urged people to guard against the extremist mindset and appeasing the militants. While referring to the deaths of Maj Gen Sanaullah, Lt Col Tauseef Ahmed and Lance Naik Irfanullah, Mr Zardari warned: “If there has been any doubt about the futility of appeasing the militants, these must be removed by the incident in Upper Dir.”

It is ironic that just a day after the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government announced the phased withdrawal of troops from Malakand division, the Swat Taliban targeted and killed the general officer commanding of the very division that was to be the first to start withdrawal as part of the government’s peace negotiations strategy vis-à-vis the militants.

Maj Gen Sanaullah Niazi was instrumental in restoring peace and the writ of the state in the volatile region of Upper Dir. The son of a fearless superintendent of police in Quetta in the 1970s who had the courage to arrest a nawab chief minister, the major general and his family has done the nation proud. His sacrifice should not be in vain like that of inspector-general police Sibghat Ghayur, commandant, Frontier Constabulary, who was targeted in Peshawar by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in 2010. Both the police and the armed forces have borne the brunt of the terrorist attacks and continue to offer the supreme sacrifice.

The unconditional peace talks’ offer by the all-party conference has met with an inexplicably violent response by a motley crowd of militant forces operating in the tribal areas. Security personnel were killed and injured in two bomb blasts in North Waziristan. One Khasadar policeman was killed and four others were injured when militants fired rockets on them in Frontier Region Bannu.

In the midst of all this militancy mayhem, the government is reported to have paid a heavy ransom to secure the release of some Wapda employees working for the Gomal Zam dam project. The militants are filling their coffers at the expense of the state.

At the same time, the Taliban have extended two demands without calling them preconditions for talks: troops in the entire tribal area should go back to the barracks and prisoners from their ranks should be released. “The Pakistan government must take steps which can develop an atmosphere of trust. We cannot move forward unless the government accepts these two demands,” said the TTP spokesman. Imagine the possibility of confidence-building measures in the wake of brazen post-APC violence that resulted in the killing of a frontline army general.

On top of this aggression by the militants, what does not help are the pronouncements of the ‘vice chancellor of the University of Jihad’ at Akora Khattak, who has expressed confidence that the Afghan Taliban will soon be swept back to power in their country. The Taliban alma mater as the incubator of jihad industry is thriving and buoyant.

There has been a muted response by the main political and religious parties on the post-APC offensive by the militants. There has been no strong policy statement from the government in parliament. Only the army chief has responded firmly saying that the army could not be arm-twisted into accepting the terms set by the Taliban for a truce. He has vowed to bring the perpetrators of the attacks on the security forces to justice.

“No one should have any misgivings that we would let terrorists coerce us into accepting their terms,” said the army chief in a pointed reference to the government, hinting that unconditional peace talks without naming the adversaries or militants in this battle for the survival of the nation may not be the best way forward.

If the political leadership and the military establishment want to be on the same page regarding the post-APC developments, they will have to come up with a purposeful and well-planned response to the offensive launched by the TTP and its affiliates despite the offer of talks and the unanimous political will to give peace a chance. The following response of the government is important to show resolve to combat militancy and the aggressive actions of the militants.

The prime minister must convene the meeting of the newly reconstituted Cabinet Committee on National Security to discuss the two demands of the TTP for talks and determine a suitable response to the post-APC violence perpetrated by the Taliban who have declined to initiate parleys without the unilateral withdrawal of the armed forces from the tribal areas and release of their prisoners in the custody of the security agencies.

The government may consider issuing two demands itself. First, a ceasefire, the renouncing of arms, and stopping the infiltration of militants from across the border. Second, the militants should hand over all the prisoners that were whisked away by the TTP to safe havens in the tribal hinterlands from the D.I. Khan and Bannu jails as those convicts and undertrials were incarcerated as part of due process. The militants thus have to agree to negotiate within the constitutional and legal framework of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the state security stakeholders must prepare the framework of negotiations and if a sincere offer of talks is spurned by the militants, the government should be ready for a determined and long fight for the survival of this nation. Appeasement should not be perceived as capitulation. There comes a time in the history of a nation when its character is tested. Pakistan faces that moment today.

The writer is a retired police officer.