Sit Back - or Hit Back!
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.