Why keep talking?

Published February 6, 2014

PESHAWAR has been struck twice this week already — clearly by terrorists and clearly after the government has pressed ahead urgently with the dialogue option. Without quite condemning the attacks, the TTP has sought to distance itself from them — a stance designed to communicate what the TTP really thinks about the targets without drawing the ire of the public and the state. The unavoidable question for the government though: what are talks meant to achieve if violence continues even in the immediate run-up to the first real, known attempt at talks?

There are three possibilities here. One, a sub-group of the TTP is in fact responsible for the continuing attacks and the TTP is not in control of its franchises and affiliates. In that case, what is the point in talking to the TTP at all? Two, a group or groups outside the TTP umbrella are determined to continue their campaign of violence and there is nothing the TTP can do about that. In which case, if the very purpose of talks is to try and end violence peacefully, would it not make more sense to talk to those other groups first? Three, elements on the periphery of or outside the TTP are continuing their attacks and the TTP is not willing to use whatever influence it does have to bring those elements in line with the TTP’s preference for dialogue. That would suggest the TTP is hardly the kind of peace partner the state should be doing business with or even trust. Whichever option you pick, the talks option amidst continuing violence can achieve little to nothing of whatever the government seems to hope it will get from dialogue.

Neither is the recent violence a new phenomenon. The All-Party Conference that endorsed the dialogue option as the first move of the government last September was followed by several devastating attacks and then too the same mystery and confusion surrounded the attacks. Thus far, the fundamental government assumption has been that if there are militant and terrorist groups that want to talk to the state, the state is willing to talk to them in the name of a greater good, i.e. peace and stability inside Pakistan. But the government has done virtually nothing to verify the bona fides of the TTP or its intentions; instead, it has seemingly just taken the TTP at its word that it is interested in some kind of negotiated settlement. If dialogue is not meant to be a charade the country will be dragged through at great cost to the people and the state, then why doesn’t the government explain settling for speaking to just one segment of the militancy spectrum?

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