When Nawaz Sharif appeared in Pakistan’s National Assembly for the first time in six months on Wednesday, there was speculation he would announce additional military operations against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Instead, the prime minister said he was going to give the militants “one last chance” to stop attacks and talk. Sharif’s PML-N had campaigned on the promise of bringing peace to Pakistan by talking to the Taliban. Since September, his government had been trying to persuade the militants. However, after Sharif’s election last May, the Taliban challenge has mounted and attacks multiplied. More than 1,500 civilians have reportedly died in militant- related violence since May. In January this year, more than 90 people died in attacks perpetrated by the TTP and its allies. On Wednesday itself, Sharif’s offer of talks came minutes after a series of coordinated attacks by the TTP in Karachi.
The real threat to the Pakistani state is from within, regardless of what the army and political sections may claim time and again. That danger lies in the Pakistani Taliban, allied to al-Qaeda, which has vowed to destroy the state and its institutions. In fact, the threat is so strong now that the Pakistan army has been clamouring for some action for some time. While Sharif has appeared distinctly reluctant to confront the TTP, because of political considerations, the attitude of the PPP and the MQM has been in stark contrast. Sharif’s parliament address came on the back of the PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s call for military action against the Taliban. Against this backdrop, the pressure on Sharif was increasing.
Announcing a four-member committee to interface between the TTP and the government, Sharif did well to draw the line, saying, “Terrorist attacks and peace talks cannot go on together”, and keep the use of force on the cards. There is, nevertheless, little reason for hope. The generally permissive environment for terror is now further complicated by political fears, given a public discourse far from hostile to the militants. Moreover, the withdrawal of Nato forces from Afghanistan is almost certain to boost the morale and activities of the militants on either side of the Durand Line.