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`Decommissioning`

February 26, 2011

ARE Pakistani Taliban listening? On Friday, the prime minister took a leaf from Britain's IRA book and spoke of a “decommissioning” of arms instead of using a simpler term from Pakistan's own vast vocabulary of anti-militancy jargon. It is a new offer couched in language that seeks to convey the difference between decommissioning and 'laying down'. The second involves a kind of unconditional and humiliating surrender, which is alien to the tribal psyche. As Yousuf Raza Gilani told the National Assembly, the tribesmen considered arms their ornaments. But are the Pakistani Taliban in a mood to listen? There is no evidence. The Afghan Taliban, unlike the TTP, have reportedly begun to talk to Kabul. Islamists they may be, but the Taliban across the Durand Line are aware of their Afghan identity and cherish it. Most Afghans are not internationalists. They have mostly fought along tribal and ethnic lines, but have often closed ranks against foreign forces in the past. The Afghan Taliban's campaign now has a specific aim — getting rid of foreign troops. If the Nato-Isaf combine is willing to leave, the Afghan Taliban are willing to talk.

Pakistan is paying for its past mistakes, for the TTP has developed a larger vision, and some factions of it host not only sectarian militants like Lashkar-i-Jhangvi but also Arab, Chechen and other foreign militants. Its agenda is not different from that of Al Qaeda. Its intransigence, therefore, has to be taken head on. If it continues to bomb mosques, religious processions, markets and schools and shed the blood of innocent men, women and children, there is no room for appeasement. Force must be met with force, and an offer of talks must be coupled with a full application of the state's coercive power, as was done in Swat. The mistake during the Musharraf era, when the regime agreed to peace virtually on the militants' terms, enabled them to consolidate their position. The 3D strategy — deterrence, dialogue and development — Mr Gilani spoke of must be followed with vigour and without apology, notwithstanding the murmur from pro-terrorism lobbies.

Unlike Afghanistan, Pakistan has a functional democracy, howsoever imperfect. This gives the TTP leadership an opening without losing face, for it could join the political process and end what is the agony not just of the pauperised Fata people but of the entire country. Perhaps the government needs to make the TTP understand what exactly the prime minister means by decommissioning. Devoid of literalism it means in simple terms a recommitment to peace by upholding the traditional code of conduct that has, since the colonial days, guided the political and juridi- cal relationships between the tribesmen and the federation's political agents.