THE government wanted it and the opposition has granted it, but no one has quite been able to explain any of it: talks with the Taliban are to be attempted again, but how, when and on what terms? The only thing that is clear since last weekend’s drone strike is that Hakeemullah Mehsud is dead and that the political class wants the public to believe that his killing has dealt a major blow to the talks process. Beyond that, nothing is clear. Even Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan’s claim that a three-member delegation was set to travel to the tribal areas the day Mehsud was killed remains unsubstantiated — and there is some reason to be sceptical of it. The problem is the government appears unwilling or unable to address any of the obvious problems with its dialogue strategy.
Start with the obvious. The killing of Hakeemullah Mehsud could not have in and of itself ended the possibility of dialogue, as the government appeared to suggest in the aftermath of the drone strike. For if the TTP can continue its attacks going into peace talks — set aside the attacks whose provenance is for whatever reasons disputed and that still leaves the killing of an army general in Upper Dir that was explicitly and in video evidence claimed by a branch of the TTP — then why does an attack on the TTP necessarily scuttle peace talks? If the TTP can talk about talking while still fighting, why is the political class so afraid to claim the state’s right to do the same? Surely, signalling fear and meekness so publicly to the TTP cannot possibly help the negotiating process. Or does the government intend to submit to whatever the TTP wants short of disbanding the government and scrapping the Constitution altogether?
More problematic still is if the government and pro-talks lobbies are taken at their word when they claim that the spate of attacks, since it was agreed that dialogue with the TTP will be pursued first, are the doing of anti-peace and hostile elements. If that is in fact true, then what is the point of talking to the TTP at all? For even if the TTP has kept its guns silent and temporarily put away its suicide vests, bombs and IEDS, there has still been an unacceptable level of violence in the country the past few months. So what kind of peace can the TTP guarantee anyway, even if dialogue is successful? Mystery and confusion, thy names are Pakistan, at least at present.