PAKISTAN is in talks with ‘some groups’ of the TTP, Prime Minister Imran Khan told Turkish state TV that also produces his favourite drama Ertugrul. He did not choose to inform his own country’s parliament first.
Perhaps, he was unsure of the reaction the disclosure would have provoked in parliament so he made it on TRT. For him, this must have appeared a safer option than the prospect of facing a barrage of questions by elected public representatives.
Whether talking to the TTP — or, as the prime minister said, “some groups” that are part of the terrorist entity — is a pragmatic move or one that is rooted in the ideological affinity between those at the helm and those who have attacked the state of Pakistan, not even sparing civilians — women and children — is a question that will need to be answered.
Equally an assessment is needed of the repercussions of a deal with those the state has regularly said have served foreign interests hostile to Pakistan and were no more than murderous puppets in the hands of the Indian security service RAW.
A person opposing something that saves lives must explain his position.
Appearing on Dunya TV at the weekend, former civil servant and Fata/settled districts expert Rustam Shah Mohmand rubbished suggestions that Indian intelligence was behind the TTP attacks. “We found no such evidence,” he told a questioner who referred to official charges of foreign collusion with the terrorists.
Mr Mohmand served in the area for a long time and was also part of the government negotiating team during one failed round of negotiations with the TTP so why is he sticking his neck out like he did? His disclosure leaves one even more confused about who to believe.
The prime minister has said if the TTP terrorists lay down their arms and accept the state’s writ they will be pardoned and allowed to live like ‘normal citizens’. Is this amnesty offer only being made to the TTP or to other groups such as the Baloch separatists too?
By the same token will MNA Ali Wazir be released shortly? He lost 17 members of his family to Taliban violence and is currently imprisoned on the charge of only ‘shooting off his mouth’. God knows what I would have done having had to live with such trauma.
Also, is there a game-plan to deal with the hostile TTP elements who, according to knowledgeable sources, may vastly outnumber those seeking a peace accord? And this question becomes even more poignant now that it is becoming abundantly clear that any thought that TTP would be dealt with by the Afghan Taliban, the allies Pakistan sheltered for years, was delusional.
So, let’s see if more details emerge of the substance of the talks that the prime minister said are taking place on Afghan soil, if and when he briefs parliament. Yes, if and when. Such a briefing is not a foregone conclusion in Pakistan, a parliamentary democracy, in theory at least.
Already in the media, government supporters and TTP sympathisers are citing irrelevant examples of such deals around the world from the Doha accord, paving the way for the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, to the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.
I am happy to debate with anyone why such comparisons are invalid and spurious but won’t dive into that in this piece. Don’t get me wrong. Over the past six weeks alone I have watched nearly daily heartbreaking images of our handsome, brave young soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice.
Even the coldest hearts would fill with great pain and sorrow thinking of their families, spouses, small children and their mothers. Anything that saves lives ought to be welcome. A person opposing something that saves lives must explain his position.
But we owe it to these men numbering several thousand and their civilian compatriots in much larger numbers who have fallen to these terrorists to ensure that the goals of any peace deal are clearly defined or it will be impossible to stem the bloodshed.
If concessions to militants fuel more intolerance, bigotry and obscurantism then all the sacrifice each Pakistani has made for decades will have been in vain. The prime minister has apparently already assured ‘ulema-i-deen’ that his government will not pass legislation criminalising domestic violence.
He appears to have made a similar commitment on blocking legislation aimed at stopping the forced conversion of minorities. As things stand, even minor, underage girls belonging to the minority community have been abducted and forcefully converted and ‘married’ off to Muslims.
My deepest fear is while pleading the case of Afghan Taliban passionately around the globe and asking for more understanding of the militant group which has now ‘changed and matured’ compared to a quarter century back, Islamabad may be strolling into a domestic nightmare.
Inspired by the ‘grand Taliban win’ next door and the rollout of anti-women policies, some voices are already being heard that are suggesting the same here. With the passage of time and with more concessions being made to extremists they can only gain in strength.
The government’s own authoritarian tendencies evident in multiple unilateral decisions and planned legislation are being strengthened by the fragmented and opportunistic opposition. The PPP has Sindh so does not wish to rock the boat as it fears the consequences of the loss of the provincial government.
The major opposition PML-N is now left oscillating between what leader Nawaz Sharif called ‘mazahimat’ and ‘mufamihat’ (resistance or reconciliation) to get its desired result and, I suspect, will miss the bus, like it did in 2018 following the mufahimat path.
All this as Pakistan inches ever closer to the precipice. One need only look at the state of the economy and political divisions in the country where differences are starting to look like a tribal blood feud. Will anybody heed a plea for sanity?
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2021