WE’RE all talking about talks. We’re talking about who’s talking, about whether we should be talking at all, should talk or fight, talk then fight or just bomb the hell out of everyone and let God sort them out.
As expected, the debate has focused more on personalities and propaganda. Who is Samiul Haq and what does he have to do with the Earl of Sandwich? Will Abdul Aziz revolutionise fashion as we know it? Why are the midnight jackals howling again?
Then there’s the pointless part: should we have Sharia or not? If not, then why? If so then whose? All this, and every debate like it, is pretty much what Sheikh Rashid, the political sage of our times, would call a truck ki batti that we forever chase but never really reach.
The talks, in my opinion, are designed to fail. This is because there is no middle ground that can be reached. Babar Sattar has already laid bare the history of the previous deals and I cannot add or improve upon it, and have no desire to regurgitate it.
For the government, this is a political move to display that they did all they could to ensure a peaceful solution. They know full well that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) will put forth an impossible demand, stage a massive attack or, even if an accord is signed, will not abide by it.
In the meantime, military preparations are reportedly under way, though this does not mean that an operation is inevitable. After all, if you want peace you must first prepare for war.
In any case, bear in mind that the weather at the moment does not allow for the kind of clean-and-sweep operation required.
For the TTP, this is to buy time and further legitimacy. Their eyes are on Afghanistan, where they find their strategic depth. Will the Americans exit completely? Will the Afghan army hold on as it did post the Soviet withdrawal? How long can we pit Afghan and Pakistani intelligence agencies against each other while exploiting them both? These are the questions that are likely occupy them.
In the meantime, they too want to divide Pakistan, much as the state would like to divide the various militant groups. Only the TTP are doing a better job. They’re past masters of shifting debate, using propaganda and creating divisions. They’re certainly better at it than the confused state.
Behind the scenes, this is what the reality likely is. But there’s another truck ki batti here, and that’s the operation itself. Oh yes, the havens in North Waziristan Agency must be eliminated, but it cannot, and must not end there. The real operation will be on our streets, as the terrorists have a presence in every major city, and these are the cells they will use to strike back. These too must be identified and eliminated, not with drones and gun ships but timely intelligence and action.
Then there are the madressahs and mosques where cries of ‘Shia Kafir’ resonate. These too must be controlled, through draconian measures if necessary. And make no mistake that unless this is done, any operation in Fata will be incomplete, and will only buy us time to sink back into our terminal complacency and wait for the next wave. And it will come, rest assured.
On that note, here’s an interesting tidbit. A few days back Dawn ran a picture of Hasaan Swati, a member of the TTP supreme shura. Next to him was Mast Gul, his hennaed beard in stark contrast to Swati’s wonderfully conditioned and flowing locks.
Gul is a former member of Hizbul Mujahideen, a group that fought against India in held Kashmir. He dropped out of sight in 2003 and has now re-emerged, seemingly as a TTP member. Then take the gradual mainstreaming of Hafiz Saeed, and the sudden re-emergence of Masood Azhar, he of the Jaish-i-Mohammad and Kandahar hijacking fame. Why is he back and what does this have to do with Mast Gul?
Well, since 9/11 the ‘good’ militants have largely been rebels without a cause, mostly barred from their theatre of choice. Thus, the already radicalised rank and file, disillusioned by the state’s stance began to find greener, more radical pastures.
They were welcomed with open arms and why not? They were already indoctrinated and well-trained. They made perfect recruits.
Thus the reactivation of Azhar can also be seen in the larger context of winning men like Gul back into the fold. The old game is being played again now, with a near-desperate urgency. As a short term measure, it may work. But in the long-term we have to realise the only thing ‘good’ about these militants is that they will probably kill us last.
The writer is a member of staff.