Pakistans offer of unconditional talks to the Taliban will only bring humiliation,and no peace.
An All Parties Conference (APC) in Islamabad on September 9,2013 unanimously recommended the initiation of dialogue with all the stakeholders to curb terrorism,meaning white-flag talks with the Taliban. Two APCs before this tried anti-Americanism to woo the terrorists,thinking the Taliban would be satisfied but failed,and also ended up doing nothing against America. After the army announced it was getting out of Swat-Malakand-Dir,the Taliban have killed a major general and a lieutenant colonel there,and killed four additional troops in North Waziristan,on September 15.
The army has already tried its populist anti-Americanism in deference to its internal emotion,but could not do without the $60 million a month it received from the US-led Coalition Support Fund for deployment in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA),while needlessly tormenting a government it thought was pro-America and pro-India.
The APC line was: fighting the Taliban was part of the big mistake of becoming Americas ally after 9/11. The rumour is that Imran Khan,whose party is ruling in strategic Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa abutting FATA,has convinced the army chief,General Ashfaq Kayani,to take the army out of FATA gradually as a gesture of sincerity to the Taliban who are fighting Pakistan because of its slavishly pro-America policy.
The APC attached no conditions to the offer of talks,except for self-mortifyingly vowing to go to the UN against American drones killing the Taliban in FATA; and now the Taliban are busy conferring among their 78 splinters to decide how to respond to the offer after the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) welcomed it through a spokesman. On September 15,they proclaimed freeing of TTP prisoners as their precondition for talks. Pakistans politics of surrender will likely bring humiliation and no peace.
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In Urdu,the APC has been hailed as supreme wisdom; in English,serious doubts have arisen about talking to terrorists from a position of weakness. A clash of linguistic narratives took place pointedly on a GEO TV talk show last week where English-medium former Pakistan ambassador to the US and head of Islamabad NGO Jinnah Institute,Sherry Rehman,was pitted against the Urdu-medium,recently outed super-non-state actor,former chief of defunct Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and front-row member of the Defence of Pakistan Council vowing to fight India till the bitter end,Fazlur Rehman Khalil. Unfortunately,Sherry Rehman appeared to lose the debate on language competence,but what she said was right.
As for the charge that Pakistan was getting ready to talk to the Taliban from prostration,Khalils answer was stock: if the superpower can talk peace with the Taliban strangers,why cant Pakistan with its own misguided sons? Rehmans rebuttal was easy: the Americans are leaving a country they had occupied; Pakistan was not leaving Pakistan. Then came a more complicated issue: if Pakistan can be ready to talk to the Baloch insurgents doing terrorism in Balochistan,why cant it talk to the Taliban? Rehman said: because the Taliban have come from outside,while the Baloch are Pakistanis. She carefully suppressed the comment that while both were terrorists,the Taliban had to be fought because they were ideologically more threatening.
The Taliban and hundreds of international warriors want to create a state according to the tenets of Islam listed in al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiris treatise The Morning and the Lamp,where he denigrates Jinnahs vision of Pakistan and destroys the Pakistani constitution article by article with Islamic argument. (Pakistan has taken pains to knock it out of the internet but the alternative constitution has been translated into Urdu and widely distributed by madrassas in Pakistan.)
The truth on the ground is that the Pakistan army is fighting the Taliban openly and Baloch insurgents deniably because both are doing terrorism,and the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) is learning new tricks from the Taliban,enjoying a kind of terror condominium in Balochistan. There can be no difference of approach: both are terrorists,both are funded from abroad and challenge a state that not long ago was doing the same sort of thing in other states. Then how is the BLF different from the TTP?
The answer is: because the TTP is ideologically driven and the BLF is secular. The Taliban have the same ideology as Pakistans,and its claims are corrective of a misguided state. While the BLF doesnt resonate with the Muslim mind in Pakistan,the TTP does. The TTP can take over the state with peoples consent and dispose of its nuclear weapons,the BLF cant. The Taliban think themselves destined to rule Pakistan; the Baloch only want to secede.
And why should the Taliban version of sharia be more persuasive than the sharia proclaimed by the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan? Because the Taliban sharia is more authentic. The constitutional sharia doesnt enforce Islamic punishments under the doctrine of deterrence (munkirat,or doing bad things) and has no provision for punishment under the doctrine of approval (for not doing marufat or good things).
The new extremist Muslim mind favours Islamic punishments (hudood) without due process and wants to punish for not doing good things like saying namaz. (The modern state punishes crimes listed in the penal code; it doesnt punish anyone for not doing good deeds.) The biggest complaint from madrassa purists in Pakistan is against bank interest,which their jurisprudence consensually condemns as prohibited usury (riba). Therefore,Pakistan would be well-advised not to talk peace with the Taliban without first softening them with punitive action with the help of other threatened nations of the world,including India.
Pakistan is therefore more endangered by the Taliban than by Baloch separatists. (Note the absorptive nature of the first and recessive nature of the second.) India is not endangered by the Naxalist-Maoist insurgency in many of its states because the ideology of the state of India is not the same as that of the rebels. Although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed his concern over the spread of this rebellion,there are no signs that India would ever talk peace with them from a position of weakness. India is also not holding APCs recommending unconditional peace offers in the northeastern corner of the country.
In the Northeast of India,a cluster of small states (Manipur,Assam,Nagaland,Tripura,Meghalaya) have been convulsed with freedom movements become violent. Out of the five,the first three were still giving trouble in 2007 and violence there had actually increased after a ceasefire agreed by the Indian army in 1997. If Pakistan had been watching,it would have learned that ceasefires with terrorists only give them time to regroup and form bigger armies. Also,there are some other lessons that Pakistan and Afghanistan should have learned from Indias experience with terrorism since the 1950s.
One big lesson is not to glamourise the misfortunes of tribal communities gone wrong for the lack of normal evolution. Pakistanis are guilty of fabricating the myth that the Pakhtun never give up fighting and have never been conquered. They often mouth this obscenity standing in front of camps where countless Pakhtun women and children suffer historys worst brutalisation. India has deployed its army against the warriors of the Northeast without parlaying with them from either a position of weakness or ideological vulnerability. But as noted above,India is lucky it is not an ideological state and its masses are not given to extremism,thus legitimising the terrorist creed of al-Qaeda.
The writer is a consulting editor with Newsweek Pakistan