The illusion of talks
Posted October 5, 2013on:
Our political elite has recently developed a consensus that the nation must talk to the militants in country’s northwest. In a way, this political consensus is reflective of our collective mindset of denial under which we externalize the threat posed by terrorism to the existence of the state.
The narrative that characterizes the psyche of our right-wing political leadership is that Pakistan is facing terrorist attacks only because of its cooperation with the US in the war against terrorism. Another simplistic explanation offered by these Taliban-apologists is that terrorist attacks in Pakistan are carried out by revengeful victims of American drone campaign. This thesis essentially builds upon the illusion that Taliban are our own men who have been betrayed by the state and need to be incorporated into the mainstream.
This narrative lacks substance at many levels. Pakistan’s experience with the Taliban particularly in the post 9/11 security environment suggests that negotiations have never worked. The Taliban have an expansionist agenda based on a hateful extremist ideology. They have never signaled their intent to disarm themselves and accept the writ of the state. Past experiences suggest that when military action was taken with firm political backing, many desired outcomes were achieved. In fact, Taliban were successfully ousted from some of their strongholds.
So, in that case, why are our democratically elected leaders bent upon appeasing the Taliban? We are living in Pakistan of 2013 where the nation has witnessed a successful democratic transition for the first time in its history. Taliban’s agenda is the direct antithesis of what a democracy stands for. To begin with, Taliban do not accept constitution of the country. What is then left behind to negotiate on? Or is the state prepared to relinquish a part of its sovereignty?
The current proposal for talks with militants has already failed its litmus test. For one, the Taliban have made no clear indication of being interested in having talks with the government. Taliban have lately claimed responsibility for callous murder of senior security officials in Dir. This clearly shows that no amount of concessions from government’s side would persuade the extremists to pursue negotiations. Taliban have, in fact, demanded a complete pull-out of Pakistani troops from tribal areas. They have also demanded absolute impunity for their prisoners before any talks start. In other words, Taliban have chosen to dictate their own terms. For Taliban, the very invitation for talks amounts to a victory cup. What they are demanding from us is, therefore, nothing short of absolute surrender. Taliban do not hold any political legitimacy. Their control is based on fear and forceful submission. The people living under their despotic rule in FATA are the ones who have been betrayed by the federation of Pakistan. Taliban have no plan of renouncing their vile agenda of death and destruction. There is no rational argument in favor of negotiations. This would be akin to surrendering the political will of a nation of 180 million people.
Our political leaders need to be at the forefront of our security policy. It is time to be clear on our engagements with extremist outfits. We have no other option but to fight this formidable threat head-on. The menace of extremism has to be countered; there is no way to evade it. After the recent attack on a Christian church, there is no moral justification left for lingering the stalemate. It is time for the newly elected political government to send a stern message to all militants. PML-N government must undertake a sincere effort to garner political will and mass-level support for conducting a targeted operation on Taliban hideouts in the tribal belt. It is time for another consensus- a consensus for the use of force against the militants.
In past, Taliban have killed our soldiers using some of the most bestial methods. They have repeatedly attacked the civilian populations. Taliban have blood of tens of thousands of Pakistani citizens on their hands. Taliban are the kind of savages an established democracy like Pakistan should not talk to. Keeping in view the track-record of negotiation attempts with Taliban, there is almost zero probability of any success as a result of talks.
In the backdrop of these events, Army Chief has spoken emphatically. He proclaimed that Pakistan’s armed forces were fully capable of taking on the militants and under no condition terrorists could be allowed to dictate. This is precisely the level of clarity we need as a nation to proceed with the evolving nature of threats to our national security. This is the essential starting point on the basis of which we would be able to reincarnate our security apparatus to survive the challenges of a non-traditional security scenario. Perhaps, thereafter, we would renounce our traditional search for strategic depth and develop a more inward-looking strategy.