It is Time

As peace ne­go­ti­a­tions come to a stand­still, the Pak­istan Air Force launches air strikes into Tal­iban strongholds. De­spite this the dam­age is al­ready done but the na­tion must unite and stand strong dur­ing these try­ing times.

Southasia - - REGION PAKISTAN - By Arsla Jawaid

Hav­ing se­cured a third term in of­fice and af­ter fail­ing to make an ap­pear­ance in the Na­tional As­sem­bly for close to seven months, Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif con­fi­dently strode in only to an­nounce that de­spite suf­fer­ing from a wave of deadly mil­i­tant at­tacks, the govern­ment had de­cided to give peace talks with the Tal­iban ‘an­other chance.’ With ru­mors al­ready cir­cu­lat­ing about the Pak­istan Army launch­ing a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion in North Waziris­tan, the Prime Min­is­ter’s anti-cli­matic an­nounce­ment left many politi­cians and ob­servers as­tounded and in some cases, dis­ap­pointed.

The govern­ment hastily formed a four-mem­ber com­mit­tee led by Ir­fan Sid­diqui (re­cently ap­pointed ad­vi­sor on Na­tional Af­fairs) and in­clud­ing Rus­tam Shah Mohmand (for­mer Am­bas­sador to Afghanistan), Rahimul­lah Yousafzai (vet­eran jour­nal­ist) and for­mer ISI of­fi­cial Ma­jor (r) Amir Shah. The govern­ment’s ne­go­ti­at­ing com­mit­tee was ini­tially crit­i­cized for not in­clud­ing any no­table per­son­al­ity who could en­sure bet­ter un­der­stand­ing and per­haps

ad­e­quate in­sight into the work­ings and think­ing of the mil­i­tant group. In ad­di­tion, with­out the an­nounce­ment of a time­frame, many, in­clud­ing some mem­bers of the com­mit­tee it­self, were left in sur­prise.

Rus­tam Shah, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the KP govern­ment sym­pa­thetic to the PTI, is also in­cluded in the com­mit­tee leading many to be­lieve that Sharif’s cal­cu­lated po­lit­i­cal move may al­low him to quell the op­po­si­tion and more im­por­tantly, trans­fer the blame to the PTI should talks not pro­ceed as ex­pected. De­spite be­ing the only prime min­is­ter to se­cure a third term in of­fice, Sharif’s in­abil­ity to take own­er­ship of al­ready de­layed de­ci­sions paint a pic­ture of a meek, con­fused, and at times, dis­con­nected Prime Min­is­ter; one that could prove to be cat­a­strophic for Pak­istan in a time when con­crete and strong de­ci­sion­mak­ing is the need of the hour.

For its part, the Tal­iban wel­comed the move and rec­om­mended names to form its own five-per­son ne­go­ti­a­tion com­mit­tee in ad­di­tion to an ac­tual com­mit­tee con­sist­ing of nine Tal­iban mem­bers. Amongst nom­i­nat­ing Pro­fes­sor Mo­hammed Ibrahim (JI), Maulana Sami-ul-Haq and Maulana Ab­dul Aziz ( for­mer chief cleric of the Lal Masjid), PTI leader Imran Khan and Mufti Ki­fay­at­ul­lah (for­mer law­maker of the JUI-F) were also nom­i­nated. How­ever both PTI and JUI-F pulled their can­di­dates out of the com­mit­tee stat­ing that while they sup­ported the peace talks, the Tal­iban should nom­i­nate one of their own.

Maulana Ab­dul Aziz, in­fa­mously known as the cleric who es­caped in a

dur­ing the Lal Masjid oper­a­tion, has been a vo­cal critic of govern­ment ef­forts. Be­fore ne­go­ti­a­tions could com­mence, Aziz chas­tised the State for not en­forc­ing the true form of Shariah and de­clared that he would not be a part of the com­mit­tee un­til the State ac­cepted this de­mand. De­spite the fact that the Pak­istani con­sti­tu­tion is in ac­cor­dance with Shariah and the govern­ment has set a pre-con­di­tion for talks to be held within the am­bit of the 1973 con­sti­tu­tion, Aziz’s bla­tant ac­cu­sa­tions and prom­i­nent me­dia at­ten­tion opened a fiery de­bate within a frag­ile so­ci­ety that re­mains di­vided and con­fused. Maulanas like Ab­dul Aziz ex­pect noth­ing short of a rigid and mis­guided im­ple­men­ta­tion of Shariah. How­ever, the most dam­ag­ing as­pect of this en­tire ex­er­cise is the level of at­ten­tion and me­dia plat­form granted to Aziz al­low­ing him to prop­a­gate dog­matic ideas to mil­lions through­out the na­tion as op­posed to lim­it­ing it to a few hun­dred in the vicin­ity of a madras­sah or mosque.

Af­ter over­com­ing the ini­tial con­fu­sion over the com­po­si­tion and le­git­i­macy of the re­spec­tive com­mit­tees, talks com­menced leading to the Tal­iban is­su­ing a fif­teen point de­mand that in­cluded the end of drone at­tacks, re­lease of Tal­iban pris­on­ers, the in­tro­duc­tion of Shariah Law in courts and the with­drawal of armed forces from tribal ar­eas, amongst oth­ers.

This is not the first time di­a­logue with the Tal­iban has taken place. One of the ear­lier peace ac­cords dates back to April 2004, af­ter the Pak­istan mil­i­tary launched an in­ef­fec­tive mil­i­tary oper­a­tion to force Pash­tun leader Nek Mo­hammed to cease sup­port for for­eign mil­i­tants. Fol­low­ing this, the State en­tered into a peace agree­ment. How­ever, time and again, the Tal­iban have vi­o­lated peace agree­ments. In 2009, pub­lic opin­ion greatly shifted in fa­vor of a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion in Swat when a video of a pub­lic flog­ging of a young girl made rounds on so­cial and elec­tronic me­dia. The PPP govern­ment em­bold­ened by na­tional sen­ti­ment felt in­clined to no longer op­pose army ac­tion. The Pak­istan Army pushed back the Tal­iban from Swat and al­lowed some level of nor­malcy to re­turn to the cen­ter. How­ever, the Tal­iban man­aged to re­con­vene and later strengthen.

De­spite em­bark­ing on talks, pub­lic opin­ion in Pak­istan has teth­ered on wary. In the two weeks fol­low­ing the com­mence­ment of talks, the coun­try saw a spate of vi­o­lent ac­tiv­ity par­tic­u­larly in Pe­shawar where cin­e­mas and ho­tels were tar­geted by sui­cide bombers. The TTP dis­owned such ac­tiv­i­ties leading to fur­ther con­cern as to why the um­brella group has lit­tle con­trol over its fac­tions and bring­ing to light the se­ri­ous­ness of its ‘loose af­fil­i­a­tion.’ Through­out the brief pe­riod of ini­tial ne­go­ti­a­tions, both sides ac­cused the other of bad faith and con­duct­ing at­tacks on per­son­nel. How­ever, while mil­i­tant at­tacks con­tin­ued un­abated, the real blow to the peace process came when the TTP took re­spon­si­bil­ity for two ma­jor in­ci­dents. A sui­cide bomber in Karachi tar­geted a bus of 13 po­lice of­fi­cers and a few days later, 23 Fron­tier Corps soldiers, al­legedly kid­napped by the TTP Mohmand chap­ter in 2010, were killed. Fur­ther wors­en­ing any prospects of mean­ing­ful ne­go­ti­a­tions, most re­cently the group killed a Pak­istan Army Ma­jor in Pe­shawar.

Im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the TTP claim, the Pak­istan Air Force launched strikes in the North Waziris­tan tribal ar­eas, killing fif­teen Tal­iban mil­i­tants. A war can­not be fought with­out ad­e­quate pub­lic opin­ion. Tal­iban atroc­i­ties may have been just what was needed for the govern­ment to re­al­ize that too many in­no­cent lives have been lost and be­fore more army per­son­nel are asked to sus­tain ca­su­al­ties while the govern­ment mulls over its next move, it is time to take ac­tion.

What is needed is an ex­ten­sive and un­com­pro­mis­ing mil­i­tary oper­a­tion, the be­gin­ning of which can be seen. Bol­stered by na­tional sen­ti­ment, the boys have been wait­ing to avenge the deaths of their com­rades and the Tal­iban have just given them a win­dow of op­por­tu­nity. In a rare show of bravado, Prime Min­is­ter Sharif au­tho­rized air strikes “af­ter re­strain­ing the army for three days.” How­ever, the govern­ment seems to be in no po­si­tion to au­tho­rize any­thing more than re­tal­ia­tory strikes. The real work will have to be done by the army which will have to break through its pol­icy of dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing be­tween dif­fer­ent mil­i­tant groups and con­duct nondis­crim­i­na­tory op­er­a­tions, with or with­out govern­ment con­sent.

Talks for now seem to have been stalled though not nec­es­sar­ily aban­doned. Pak­istan must brace it­self for tough times, for any army oper­a­tion in the north is bound to trig­ger a back­lash in ur­ban cen­ters where Tal­iban pock­ets have in­fil­trated and thrive unchecked. As dark as the fu­ture may seem, the na­tion must get ready to stand tall against in­jus­tices and atroc­i­ties. To op­pose rigid Tal­iban prac­tices that threaten to in­fil­trate daily life. To un­wa­ver­ingly sup­port the armed forces. And most im­por­tantly, to honor those who have fallen.

No more ex­cuses will do. It is time.

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