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Talk, fight, repeat

March 02, 2014

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THE ceasefire is here, but before that, the plan was here. So let’s start with the plan.

It’s our version of surge and exit. Give us a few weeks and we’ll sort this out, the boys have promised.

We know where they are, we know how they communicate, we know the routes they use, we know how to break the link between central command and the foot soldiers, the boys have asserted.

We don’t even have to call it an operation. Operations are big and messy. This will be quick and surgical. Precision is the word of the season.

It sounds good. The boys have promised it will look good. What do the pols think?

Blanket approval. Another phrase being tossed around much these days. Nawaz is on top of things and there’s not a hair’s breadth between him and Raheel.

Whatever the boys are doing, they’re doing because Nawaz has reposed his full trust in them. And whatever the boys are doing, they’re keeping their nominal boss very much in the loop.

That sounds good and looks even better.

Civ-mil sorted; TTP about to be taught a lesson; national interest prevails. Pakistan: higher, stronger, better.

If only. If only you could trust a politician and a general to mean what they say to us — and to say what they mean to each other.

So let’s inject some reality — some politics — into the hype.

You’re Raheel sitting across Nawaz. You know there’s no appetite for a massive operation that could cause Punjab to burn. But you also know that he can’t do nothing.

So you help him out.

We’re not talking about an endless operation with unpredictable consequences, sir. We’re just going to take out their command structure and squeeze any rats trying to flee into Pakistan proper, Mr Prime Minister. Trust us, sir, we can fix the problem.

You have to woo Nawaz because times have moved on and the veneer of approval is necessary. But the real reason you have to woo Nawaz — to present him with fluffy ideas of maximum success at minimum cost — is because he’s still talking to the other side.

Knowing that, knowing that a deal with the TTP is a palatable option for Nawaz, you can’t present him with a military option that is messy, massive and uncertain.

Cause then he may just cut a deal with the devil he’s getting to know rather than with the devil he already knows and has been burned by before.

Now see it from Nawaz’s side.

He’s seen enough generals to know they always have plans and they always promise success. But somehow those plans always go awry in the real world. Either success never quite materialises or it comes at a cost too high for a politician.

But sceptical as Nawaz may be, he can’t just say no. The boys need to demonstrate their strength — to themselves, to the TTP and to the public.

If Nawaz shoots down every idea they moot, there will come a point, possibly quickly, where they may just stop asking him.

So he approves retaliation. And then he patiently listens to the plan for a great victory that will come at the lowest possible cost, and he approves of that too.

Because Nawaz is working on two fronts, trying to turn pressure on him from one side — the boys — into pressure by him on the other side — the TTP.

If you talk and fight, you may end up with neither war nor peace — a politician’s acceptable compromise in a world where everyone else is carrying a big stick and all you’ve got is a soft voice.

And voila! The TTP gets the message. Ceasefire announced.

Because even with this precision stuff, even if the boys deliver on just half of the PM-approved, so-called precision plan, itself maybe just a fourth of what they really want to do to the TTP, the TTP can be plunged into survival mode.

And while survive the TTP would, it wouldn’t be as much fun as thriving — like they’re doing right now.

So let’s try and do some quick, early maths. Has Nawaz won, gambling as he did that just enough force would be used to satisfy the boys’ PR crisis while also causing the TTP to blink?

Have the boys got their way, demonstrating to everyone that they won’t stand for being messed with so openly and aggressively by the likes of the TTP?

Or has the TTP managed to wriggle away, just as the pressure was being upped again and there was a possibility the back could be broken?

All three, really.

For among the many half-truths and lies being peddled, none is as false as the one being peddled by all sides: that this is all just a matter of days and weeks.

That whether it’s talking while the guns are silent or fighting while talks are suspended or talking while fighting, all three sides — the boys, the pols and the TTP — somehow aren’t OK with it going on indefinitely.

But what if they are?

Talk sometimes, fight other times, talk and fight yet other times — each side winning some rounds, losing others, but all making sure they’re still around to protect their core interests.

Muddling through it’s come to be known as. Why fix what isn’t broken?

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm