ANOTHER severe blow by the TTP against security forces has been delivered, then quickly followed up with a faux promise of entering into talks with the state. Meanwhile, the government prepares to unveil its much-touted internal security policy while still insisting that talks are very much the preferred option. And sections of the national political leadership issue perfunctory condemnations of the TTP while insisting that dialogue isn’t going anywhere because of the shortcomings and indecisiveness of the government. If that chain of events were offered up as the plot of a horror novel, it would be dismissed as too fantastical and unreal. Except, it is very much the reality of Pakistan today — and profoundly depressing.

Even the new twists to the plot offer little real hope. Reports of military attacks in the Mirali region of North Waziristan yesterday appear to be part of an emerging pattern: the military will hit back when attacked. The military has denied that yesterday’s events in the Mirali region are linked to the Bannu attack on its troops. However, if true, it would suggest less a well-thought-out, meaningful policy to push back against the militants and more a reactionary move that will achieve little. Even the details of the Bannu attack are fairly unsettling: if there is some sense to ferrying troops to North Waziristan in private, unmarked vehicles, why were the vehicles not searched thoroughly before the troops were allowed to board them? If such patently obvious operational details are overlooked in such a high-risk environment — it is difficult to imagine more at-risk troops than those headed to North Waziristan — then what does that say about the overall preparedness of the army?

Still, the fundamental problem remains one of policy confusion. Specifically, the PML-N government has simply not been able to articulate a coherent strategy to tamp down the militancy threat and the security establishment is unwilling to embrace a zero-tolerance, no-to-militancy-of-any-stripe policy. Until those two fundamentals change, there will be nothing meaningful that can be done to combat the terrorism threat. A national consensus that the TTP cannot be adjusted within the structures of the Pakistani state and society is achievable. That does not mean the military option is the automatic and only option. But the talks-first mantra has ceded too much ground to the TTP and allowed them to manipulate the national narrative and the state’s response to the TTP threat. Surely, the politicians pushing for dialogue must be aware of this by now and the PML-N’s stuttering attempts to initiate talks must have made the government aware of why the present course is unwise. But do they have the courage to pick the right course?

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