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Don’t talk, fight


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NAWAZ Sharif was recently heard saying that if the Americans can talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan then why can’t Pakistan talk to the TTP?

Political leaders that adopt this line of reasoning betray a limited understanding of how the world works. The American constitution, their civil rights and the American way of life is not being negotiated in Nato’s backchannel talks with the Afghan Taliban. Not long ago the Taliban was the de facto regime in Afghanistan. Nato may see some merits in co-opting them back into the power structure in Kabul.

Let’s get one fact straight. The Americans are not in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban. They are not there to occupy or stabilise or rebuild that country. Regardless of the motives that misinformed conspiracy theorists in this country may attribute to them, the Americans are in Afghanistan (together with the military contingents of 40 other countries) to ensure that Al Qaeda and its affiliates are rendered incapable of launching spectacular attacks against the US (and other countries).

Since September 2001, there has not been an attack like the one on USS Cole, or like the ones on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, much less like 9/11 itself. It would seem that the US military is delivering on at least one key objective. This is what Congress has authorised it to do and has agreed to pay for it, over the years, with $700 billion of American taxpayers’ money.

As it withdraws from Afghanistan, the US will leave behind an elaborate intelligence apparatus as well as precision strike capability in the region. This is a long way from 1998 when the US Navy fired (and misfired) Tomahawk cruise missiles — from warships at sea — aimed at Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan (and Sudan).

Today it has a bevy of choices — among which armed drones, fixed wing aircraft, Navy SEALs and attack helicopters — with which to ensure that extremist religious forces based in this region do not raise their head again and strike at targets worldwide.

Now the calculus of achieving a complex objective like that may involve negotiating with the Afghan Taliban. What the Taliban may hear from Nato at the negotiating table would be this: ‘Back in October 2001, you were asked to hand over Bin Laden. You ruled Kabul then. We not only got Bin Laden but most of the top Al Qaeda leadership as well. You however, no longer rule Kabul.’

From this posture they may go on to offer the Taliban a back door into Kabul. Set a thief to catch a thief goes the old dictum; and so the Afghan Taliban in return would have to hold out an assurance that foreign, jihadi and extremist forces will not use sanctuaries in the Pakhtun areas of Afghanistan to stage spectacular attacks against the United States.

There may be other quid pro quo offered to the Taliban. Last week Al Jazeera reported that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had sent a message through Norwegian interlocutors to the Taliban in which he offered them the ministry of justice and the position of chief justice. It is conceivable that the Taliban will ask, and Karzai will agree to let the Taliban’s moral police operate in the Pakhtun areas of Afghanistan with powers to scrutinise people’s lifestyles and appearances and to punish offenders.

To understand what the Taliban want one only has to look at the Kunar province in Afghanistan where they rule. “Democracy and western ideas of women’s rights are against Islam,” the regional Afghan Taliban commander tells Al Jazeera and “there can be no alternative to Sharia, which is God’s law”. Meanwhile the footage shows squads of the vice and virtue police at a checkpoint, one turbaned official holding a cane and half a dozen others, armed with assault rifles, hooded and wearing balaclavas, checking cars to make sure they don’t have music players and that cellphones do not have cameras and video footage.

Kunar is also the hiding hole of Mullah Fazlullah and his Swat Taliban who escaped Operation Rah-i-Raast in Swat in 2009. From Kunar, every now and then they will sneak across into Bajaur Agency and from there into the mouth of the Swat valley where they force the closure of schools. Last October Mullah Fazlullah’s gunmen barged into a school bus. They asked for a student who they identified by name to stand up otherwise all of them would be shot. A 14-year-old girl stood up and took the bullet to her head. Her name is Malala Yousufzai.

The refusal to acknowledge the existence of the Punjabi Taliban has created a security bubble in Punjab, and whilst the province may have been “spared” it continues to sit on a sectarian volcano. You cannot endlessly sweep things under the carpet.

Pakistan is home to the world’s largest jihadi infrastructure (and there are many more Mumtaz Qadris within the Punjab police). This factory of jihad needs to be systematically dismantled. Such things do not happen without force. The longer we delay, the more protracted and bloodier it will be. It is like delaying an operation for fear of surgical pain. Things get more complicated.

In 2007 an extremist assassinated Punjab’s minister for social welfare, Zil-e-Huma in Gujranwala. A little while later there was an assassination attempt on interior minister Aftab Sherpao. The operation against Lal Masjid followed and there were widespread retaliatory attacks across the country. Yet Benazir Bhutto chose to return that year. Elections were held in 2008.

Politicians that are fearful of, or complicit with, the extremist religious forces are Pakistan’s Achilles heel. This is the time to stand up and fight. Running away from this war is no longer an option.

A strategy tip to the PPP and allies: sway the women’s vote in urban Punjab in your direction and away from right-wing parties.

The writer is a strategist and entrepreneur.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (12) Closed

A Rauf Mar 11, 2013 06:48am
Good article, agree with many of the comments however a holistic approach to the country dictates that any party is better than current PPP government in terms of governance. While their corruption has badly stressed the economy, it is their poor governance - i.e. genuine & gargantuan incompetence - that has pushed our economy to the brink. Job prospects declining while expenses climbing and Pak rupee declining. PML-N may have regrettable taliban leanings but before you can discuss esoteric concepts of right or wrong, one needs to eat 1st. and for that, anyone - dare I say it - even the military is better (and they are are very bad, so that's saying something!)
Cyrus Howell Mar 10, 2013 10:52am
The author missed America's silent C-130 gunships on which the drone is based. The C-130 basically being a cargo vessel has other uses such as landing Navy Seals and Special Forces. It can carry a heavy load of ammunition and equipment for rapid deployments. It can also go armed with bombs and rockets. It is slow moving, but makes little noise at night. The US military has an array of small arms and munitions most people have never seen, like the A-12 shotgun. We have seen J-Dam blockbuster bombs and cluster bombs in operation on You-Tube and on the TV News. Cluster bombs were used along The Road of Death as Saddam's army tried to escape Kuwait. The US also has spy satellites so accurate that if you drop money they can see what denomination it is. They can read the license plate number on your car. The US Navy has a dozen nuclear submarines in and around the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. Planes and missiles can strike anywhere from America's floating cities, the aircraft carriers. What Pakistan civilians see or know about is just the tip of the iceberg. Along with Special Forces and Special Air Operations is a new kind of soldier the Scout Snipers who have been deployed in larger numbers since the Vietnam War. To think the Taliban can win against US strike forces are just braggarts kidding each other. Braggarts who are only good at killing families going shopping or going to the mosque, or kidnapping doctors and teenaged girls. The Taliban exist because of the opium and heroin trade, not because of their fighting skills. The Russians marched into Afghanistan put a stop to the heroin flooding into the Soviet Union. China wants the same. It is a problem that is not going away. When China secures in port in Baluchistan heroin will not be shipped from there and it will be more of a problem inside India and Pakistan.
Imran Mar 10, 2013 10:20am
very correct analysis
pathanoo Mar 11, 2013 01:16am
Excellent, Cyrus.
MAB Mar 10, 2013 10:53pm
Agree whole heartedly. This is the correct approach that must be adopted. Talking to these barbarians will only give them time to regroup and reinforce to come come again and maim innocent people. They must not be allowed the breathing space.
nomigustav Mar 10, 2013 03:47pm
Great column, I agree with the author.
Vijay Mar 10, 2013 04:37pm
While I am immensely gratified to read such clear-headed analysis, I also feel greatly disheartened when I read comments by the likes of abbastoronto, who seems to think that the present regime in Pakistan or the Taliban will bring the golden age back to the country. The only ray of hope I can offer is if the power that be (in Pakistan) can turn their thinking and modus operandi 180 degrees overnight. Otherwise, it is good night.
Mustafa Mar 10, 2013 05:32pm
That my friend is the truth. But Pakistani has closed their eyes they need to open their eyes before they lose their country.
Ruby Mar 10, 2013 09:23pm
The most important reason why USA would negotiate with Taliban is not all the above. It is because Taliban will not rule in US's house. In TTP's case, they will rule Pakistan.
gagnadin Mar 10, 2013 09:32pm
How do you know what Americans are doing in Afghanistan? Did Obama give you a special briefing? Your speculation is as good as any one else is. What were Russians doing for 10 years? Any idea? One thing is for sure, negotiations never hurt any one. You may not agree with everything but if parties are mature enough, a consensus can be reached. So no harm in giving it a try. Good luck to Nawaz. Start talking.
waqar Mar 10, 2013 12:43pm
awesome....i agree to the every word of this article...
AHA Mar 11, 2013 08:10pm
Never seen a better explanation of this issue.