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.
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.