To talk or not to talk | Pakistan Today

To talk or not to talk

Dealing with the terrorists has become a conundrum the government seems clueless about

Mian Abrar

With the reluctance shown by the new leadership of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to hold talks with the government, it is somewhat surprising to note that the leading experts and politicians aboard the pro-dialogue bandwagon of PTI and PML-N, are also losing hope of peace, and some even want the government to decide either for talks or launch an army operation to flush out the militants from across country.

However, it’s only the politicians with political base in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who are still calling for talks, including Imran Khan, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and some others.

Politicians’ views:

Imran Khan: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan told Pakistan Today that the rationale for talks with TTP was explained in the APC where the federal government was mandated by all political parties for dialogue and the same was supported by the military. “After years of military operations, terrorism has merely increased so the All Parties Conference (APC) called for giving peace a chance. If the government now feels dialogue is not possible then it needs to convene another APC and build a new national consensus,” he added.

Khan said that so far the government had created a dangerous vacuum by having no clear policy on dialogue now has it shown any movement forward.

Responding to a question on seriousness of the government for talks, Khan said that the government not only seemed devoid of seriousness but also confused as to how to proceed forward which, as stated earlier, had created a policy vacuum.

Asked whether the government should insist on talks with militants from the position of strength by first squeezing the TTP or it should keep begging for talks, Khan said that the government should do neither.

“The government always holds dialogues with the power of the state behind it. That is a given. It’s up to the government to ensure that that perception is carried to other side,” he added.

Shaikh Rashid Ahmed: Shaikh Rashid Ahmed, a right-wing politician who leads his own faction of Muslim League, looked hopeless about the prospect of talks between the banned militant outfit TTP and the federal government, stating that the militants looked determined to attack the security forces and the people at large.

“Let me tell you that I am hopeless. Though I had called for holding talks and bring back peace but let me tell you that the government appears to have no action plan and the rulers look clueless about the way forward.”

He said that in his view more bloodshed was awaiting Pakistan and its people as the militants had penetrated deep in state apparatus and in urban areas.

He also expressed his hopelessness about the role of religious parties and groups.

“I think the role of religious parties, scholars and political fronts like DPC has reduced and TTP elements have rejected any facilitation process. I think no group or individual can help start peace process,” he added.

He added that in his view the militants were determined to attack Pakistan, its forces and the people and that they were resorting to target killings, moving past the practice of using IED.

He said that the government needed to take practical steps either by holding talks or going for operation as TTP would get stronger by each passing day.

“Since snow melting will start by March, the militants’ attacks will also go lethal. So it’s time to act now,” he asserted.

Jan Achakzai: JUI-F spokesman Jan Achakzai said that his party believed that meaningful talks had not been initiated by the government as of yet.

“Both the Taliban and government have not agreed upon on ceasefire. It cannot be done through a courier/postman (sending a religious scholar or a university professor) or someone who does not have any idea about the area, nor its people. Local jirga, which comprises of the elders of the tribes, is the only way forward for talks with the TTP, and is a proper mechanism which was suggested in the APC held on February 28, 2013, and was backed by all political parties.”

About the government’s seriousness in talks, Achakzai said that the government was serious to hold talks, and as a coalition partner, they were advising it on different issues including on how to bring the TTP onto negotiating table.

“But it is government’s discretion to follow through, or otherwise. Our understanding is that no political leader, a group or individual can do meaningful talks with TTP alone except through the tribal elders who have influence over the local tribes and who can bind the TTP and its associates to a ceasefire and compliance its thereon.”

“Our understanding is that the government has not tasked any individual yet for talks. If somebody claims so it means that the government, army and agencies have failed to resolve the issue and have sublet the policy of sorting it out to a third force. We believe the mandate of the government is clear and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar is the point man to make a final call,” he added.

He said that negotiations were the ultimate solution to this insurgency as it had the backing of a narrative and force could not eliminate it completely.

“It requires a counter narrative. The use of force is pushing the TTP to settled areas, making it more difficult to counter them with our ineffective strategy. We lack intelligence sharing, have a weak criminal justice system. Force alone for the last 13 years has not been a successful tactic”.

Secondly, he added, the ‘dialogue from position of strength’ has become a cliché. “The government never becomes weak by negotiations. It should always keep open the doors of dialogue. It should also never relinquish the option of using force and state building capability. Every state/government has this stated security policy: protect citizens and borders and as such you do not need a piece of paper to write this standard dictum.”

Experts’ views

Salim Safi: Noted expert on terrorism-related issues Salim Safi told Pakistan Today that neither the government had taken any serious step for talks nor any proper mechanism had been evolved for the purpose.

“The government is not serious in engaging the TTP leadership in talks. It seems that the PML-N prime minister does not regard terrorism the number one issue of the country,” he added.

Asked whether the government should hold dialogue with the militants from a position of strength by first squeezing them and then holding talks, Safi said that there was not a single step taken by either the government or any other state institution to enable it to talk from a position of strength.

“The government, in its first six months, neither used force nor held talks. What the prime minister did is mere verbosity,” he maintained.

Rustam Shah Mohmand: Former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand also blamed the PML-N government for lack of seriousness to resolve the terrorism issue, adding that if talks were not viable other options were still available.

“The talks issue is now a confused matter because there are different groups of militants operating in tribal areas with different objectives. There is no chain of command so talks may not serve their purpose. But government may use traditional methods by entering into independent pacts with elders of each agency, asking them to expel foreigners or getting assurances of peace from those foreigners who have married in local families,” he said.

Mohmand added that army should be withdrawn after these agreements and the role of governor, political agents and maliks should be restored enabling revival of the old tradition of effective dealing through civilian administration.

He said that the government should also use force wherever needed but unnecessary presence of armed forces would only complicate the issue. The army should be withdrawn after entering into independent agreements with tribal elders of each agency.

The writer is an Islamabad based journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]

Mian Abrar

The writer heads Pakistan Today's Islamabad Bureau. He has a special focus on counter-terrorism and inter-state relations in Asia, Asia Pacific and South East Asia regions. He can be reached at [email protected]