JUST when clarity and resolve appeared to be creeping into the government’s approach to dealing with the TTP threat, confusion and cravenness have made a wretched reappearance. On Thursday, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan offered the stunning pronouncement that a majority of the militant elements that constitute the TTP are not against the state of Pakistan and are not enemies of Pakistan. The interior minister’s bizarre pronouncement may even have surprised the TTP, given that its explicit agenda is the violent overthrow of the state as presently constituted and the installation of one organised along the lines of the extreme version of Islam to which the TTP subscribes. Perhaps Nisar Ali Khan believes this is the way to win the hearts and minds of the Taliban, though that is hardly reassuring for the many Pakistani hearts and minds worried about what an elected government may be willing to barter away in the name of the people.
Still, the ever burgeoning catalogue of questionable pronouncements to which the interior minister’s latest comments can be added is almost secondary to the very real steps the government is taking to push ahead the dialogue process. The original government-appointed negotiating committee is to be replaced with a new committee, the composition of which is yet to be announced. The purpose? To fast-track dialogue and make it results orientated, apparently. But then, was that not the purpose and brief of the original negotiating committee? When Prime Minister Sharif stood in parliament and announced the formation of the four-member committee for dialogue with the TTP more than a month ago, had he not pledged that the final attempt at talks would be decisive? A new committee clearly suggests that the previous one either failed or was inadequate for the task — or perhaps both. So what went wrong and how is a new committee supposed to help fix that? The questions are many and lengthy, but answers, as ever, are desperately few.
If anything has become clear amidst all the fog of peace, it is that the press for talks is very much an initiative of the prime minister and his interior minister. Repeatedly, both men have owned their policy and sought to push ahead with it in the face of near universal disapproval. But neither seems willing to explain to parliament, the media or the public exactly what they are doing and how far they are willing to go. The approach seems to be: trust us, we won’t let you down. But trust in such matters is always a scarce commodity, doubly so when the interior minister himself suggests the TTP is a friendly entity. The prime minister needs to explain clearly what he is authorising and why when it comes to talks with the TTP.