IT’S the trickiest of juggling acts the boys are trying to pull off right now: nudge along talks with the Afghan Taliban; reject talks with the TTP.

Why? Is it all a house of mirrors or just the convoluted logic of good Taliban/bad Taliban?

The so-called prisoner releases — are the Afghans prisoners or honoured guests or reluctant sanctuary-seekers or something else altogether? — seem to be the easier half of the riddle: the boys don’t want to be seen as spoilers.

Nobody really knows what will happen in Afghanistan post-2014, but everyone, including the boys here, are convinced that Pakistan will be blamed if reconciliation isn’t given a serious shot. And the boys don’t want to be blamed.

Not yet anyway, because ultimately the policy will be laid bare and if it’s the same ol’, same ol’ — control of Afghanistan via Taliban proxies to keep India out — blame will surely be heaped on. But that’s for some other year.

Right now, reconciliation is the game in town and the boys want to play too — or at least be seen to be playing.

TTP is trickier, the aversion to talks, that is. To understand it, down the rabbit hole we must go, exploring options and possibilities and why the boys may be thinking what they are thinking.

The take-it-at-face-value explanation: having fought the TTP for years, having understood what they stand for, having seen the damage they can wreak, having absorbed what they want to do to Pakistan, the boys know that talks are futile and force the only meaningful option.

The boys like this explanation. It casts them as the heroic defenders of the country, the men on the side of right in a time when everyone else is too weak to stand up and be counted. And after one of their own was taken out by an IED this week, the boys have been hawking their preferred explanation ever more urgently.

Could there be another, less noble, less charitable explanation though? After all, boys will be boys and few boys are like our boys, right?

One theory is time. Nudging talks along with the Afghan Taliban right now doesn’t mean that anyone expects anything to happen anytime soon. It seems impossible that any deal can be sealed before the Afghan presidential election next April.

What’s that got to do with talking or not talking to the TTP right now? Talks means more space for the TTP now and less space for the boys later.

Better to further degrade the under-pressure factions of the TTP now and go into the Afghan-settlement phase with the TTP problem under control than to allow the TTP to recover during a talks/deal phase and then have to deal with the double headache of coaxing the Afghan Taliban into an Afghan settlement while simultaneously pressuring them to distance themselves from their TTP friends.

The boys, according to this theory, have only so much capital — control, influence, take your pick — with the Afghan Taliban. That capital would be better spent on working out a post-2014 arrangement for Afghanistan than trying to keep the Afghan Taliban away and apart from a still-powerful TTP.

Wriggle a bit further down the rabbit hole, amp up the scepticism, and the no-to-talks theory becomes darker.

The boys, according to this dark theory, know that eventually a deal will have to be done with the TTP. There is no military solution, no final solution, just some hope that a lid can be kept on the militancy box.

But to cut a deal now with the TTP would force into the open what the world has long suspected of the boys, that whether it be out of cowardice, fear or sympathy, the boys love the Taliban. And that would look terrible, especially with an Afghan settlement yet to be achieved.

The boys a) don’t want to look bad and b) still believe the real prize is Afghanistan. So no to talks with the TTP, not now at least.

Beyond a point though, the endless theorising misses the point. Nothing is clear because the army isn’t clear, and the army isn’t clear because the army is divided.

Two anecdotes will suffice.

Gen K, on a condolence visit to a soldier’s home, was told of how Taliban suicide bombers and fidayeen attackers are rumoured to get high on drugs before an attack. The point being made was that the Taliban are madmen on drugs. Gen K quietly replied, religion can be a drug too.

A chief who seems to get what the problem is — surely, there must be hope then, right?

But there is a flip side. To build the case that the TTP is as bad as bad can get, the less-visible, more-powerful boys drew up a list of several thousand names. Against each name, a sponsor was listed: CIA, RAW, NDS, Mossad, etc. These folk aren’t Taliban, the case was made, they’re mercenaries, paid agents of the enemies of Pakistan.

The real battle that has to be fought is among the boys themselves. The ones who get it, who understand the problem, exist. But so do the other kind, the ones who’ve drunk the koolaid of jihad and are drawn from a society that has lurched to the right.

And because one side is bold and insistent and the other timid and hesitant, we’re left with the strangest of juggling acts before us: talk to some, whack others.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com Twitter: @cyalm

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