SARTAJ Aziz’s recent statement on talks with the Taliban and the latter’s fatwa threatening journalists with death are a study in contrast. The TTP’s decree is dogmatic and cold-blooded; the government stance is characterised by lack of direction and pusillanimity. While the democratic government prepares to open talks, as stated by the foreign affairs’ adviser, the TTP flaunts its anti-democracy credo by decreeing death for journalists who stand for democracy. By implication, all those who believe in democracy, including those preparing to talk to the militants, deserve death. The fatwa is well-timed. Reissued after a year, it informs the government that the TTP considers a wide variety of journalists deserving of death — the media personnel range from those who believe in the four freedoms and differ with the Taliban on their theory and practice of Islam to those who conduct TV talk shows where the Taliban come under criticism. The Taliban have also focused their anger on women journalists. According to them, they too are deserving of death for appearing on television.
Last month, the all-party conference unanimously called for talks with the militants — without naming them — but the government has still not been able to come up with a framework for dialogue. What will the talks aim at? Will they be just about ending the insurgency? Will the peace hold if the Taliban do not agree to be disbanded? According to the Constitution, only the state can have armed forces. Will the TTP — having tasted power and terrorised the people and government — surrender to the state and agree to enter the mainstream? Will they accept the supremacy of the Constitution? If democracy is unpalatable to them, what precisely is the alternative — an unelected theocracy run by religious police? These are questions that the politicians must carefully consider as they prepare for talks.
The Taliban’s 20-page decree gives us a frightening picture of the sort of state they envisage for Pakistani citizens. And their bloody deeds since the APC was convened have indicated that they will talk only on their own terms. In issuing the fatwa and continuing their actions, the Taliban have been clear enough about the kind of dispensation they are aiming for. What has the government done so far to make it equally clear that it has a different perception of what Pakistan is and should be, and that the Taliban must accept the constitutional vision of a democratic state? The Taliban continue to be one step ahead, and the state would do well to catch up.