Sit Back - or Hit Back!

Southasia - - COMMENT - Syed Jawaid Iqbal

As if to fur­ther negate the peace ini­tia­tive and to tell the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment that the pro­posed talks were just a ruse, the Tal­iban struck again on Sept 22 when a pair of sui­cide bombers blew them­selves up amid hun­dreds of wor­ship­pers at a his­toric church in Pe­shawar, killing at least 81 and wound­ing some 140 peo­ple. This was quite con­trary to the TTP spokesman’s cau­tious ap­proval of the APC res­o­lu­tion for a “mean­ing­ful di­a­logue” with the gov­ern­ment.

Ear­lier, the killing of top Pak­istan army men by Tal­iban in­sur­gents had al­ready thrown a span­ner in the works and was con­sid­ered a re­ver­sal of the ef­forts to kick-start peace ne­go­ti­a­tions with the TTP. An All Par­ties Con­fer­ence was held in Is­lam­abad where the po­lit­i­cal par­ties had promised they would sup­port the gov­ern­ment in these talks. Later, the Tal­iban pre­sented their own char­ter of de­mands and said they wanted com­plete with­drawal of troops and re­lease of all mil­i­tants de­tained in dif­fer­ent pris­ons of Pak­istan. There was some sort of ac­qui­es­cence on the part of Pak­istan and a num­ber of key per­sons were re­leased, in­clud­ing Mul­lah Ab­dul Ghani Baradar, a se­nior com­man­der.

The Tal­iban action of killing Pak­istani troops came as a real shocker as it was thought that some head­way was be­ing made with the Tal­iban which would see the end of ter­ror­ism and ex­trem­ism in the coun­try. The Pe­shawar sui­cide at­tack fur­ther dashed hopes of any peace talks. Ear­lier, the APC was be­ing termed as suc­cess­ful in bring­ing the di­vi­sive politi­cians and the army on the same page con­cern­ing the talks. There were re­ports of pos­i­tive sen­ti­ments on the Tal­iban side as well. It was not clear then why some mil­i­tants chose to ex­plode a mine under the ve­hi­cle of Ma­jor Gen­eral Sanaullah Ni­azi, the GOC of Malakand, killing him and his two as­so­ci­ates and then car­ry­ing out a sui­cide at­tack in a Pe­shawar church? Was there some kind of agenda behind these killings?

It is true that the gov­ern­ment and peo­ple of Pak­istan have had enough now and want an end to the con­tin­u­ing in­se­cu­rity and ter­ror­ism, but at what cost? It cer­tainly does not mean sur­ren­der on TTP’s terms. The Tal­iban ‘shura’ an­nounced that it wanted CBMs from the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment pre­ced­ing the peace talks. This would trans­late into re­lease of TTP pris­on­ers and re­turn of Pak­istan Army’s com­bat forces to their bar­racks in the tribal ar­eas. If this were so, then why was it only the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment’s obli­ga­tion to cre­ate a con­ge­nial at­mos­phere for the talks and not that of the Tal­iban? By killing army per­son­nel and mem­bers of a church con­gre­ga­tion, the TTP dis­played a very neg­a­tive ap­proach – some­thing that was just the op­po­site of build­ing a pos­i­tive mood for the talks.

In a fit­ting re­sponse the day af­ter the army of­fi­cers were killed, the Pak­istan Army Chief, Gen. Kayani, said he un­der­stood that peace must be given a chance through the po­lit­i­cal process but he did not want to leave any doubt that the coun­try would let ter­ror­ists co­erce it into ac­cept­ing their terms. He said the Army had the abil­ity and the will to fight the ter­ror­ists. For­mer Pres­i­dent Asif Ali Zardari, while con­demn­ing the Pe­shawar car­nage, said he hoped this would open the eyes of those who still be­lieved in ap­peas­ing the mil­i­tants.

The Pak­istani peo­ple and most of the lead­er­ship have re­acted to the gut­less tac­tics of the TTP in a be­fit­ting man­ner and the peace process may even be de­railed. The peo­ple can­not be ex­pected any­more to give the talks the kind of sup­port they would have ear­lier be­cause now it is a ques­tion of whether to sit back or to hit back.

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