Of no con­se­quence

The Pak Banker - - Front Page -

de­ten­tion of any of its ac­tivists or lead­ers in the past has been the im­me­di­ate clar­i­fi­ca­tion that the pris­on­ers who have been let off are no longer part of the move­ment and that any ne­go­ti­a­tions or deals made with them by any­one would have no value for the lead­er­ship of the move­ment. In­deed, the move­ment sev­ers any link with any­one who is taken into cus­tody by the au­thor­i­ties, both in Afghanistan and Pak­istan.

The logic be­hind this is sim­ple. A de­tainee is at the mercy of his cap­tors. He is not a free agent any­more and by in­fer­ence would only say or act as his cap­tors would ask him. Cases of tor­ture and forcible con­fes­sions are com­mon­place in a coun­try where no one is held to ac­count for the ex­cesses com­mit­ted on those in cus­tody. In other words, whereas those de­tained by the Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties had some value be­fore their cap­ture, they be­came ir­rel­e­vant af­ter the cap­ture.

There is an even more omi­nous facet to this devel­op­ment. As long as they were free to roam about in Pak­istan, some im­por­tant re­sis­tance lead­ers could have been em­ployed to cre­ate a con­ducive en­vi­ron­ment for talks be­tween the US and the Tal­iban. It may be men­tioned here that talks be­tween the Tal­iban and the Afghan government would be of lit­tle value. Th­ese con­tacts could have been lever­aged for a gen­uine peace process that would be premised on the com­plete with­drawal of coali­tion forces. The moment such in­flu­en­tial lead­ers were cap­tured, their util­ity in peace ne­go­ti­a­tions was fin­ished. By this sin­gle act of short-sight­ed­ness Pak­istan de­stroyed its own cre­den­tials for me­di­a­tion.

The pris­on­ers who have been set free will, there­fore, be of no con­se­quence what­so­ever in any peace par­leys, whether they are ini­ti­ated by the Afghan government or the Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties. Not sur­pris­ingly, the Tal­iban move­ment has is­sued a state­ment deny­ing any links or con­tacts with those freed and re­pu­di­at­ing their claim to rep­re­sent or speak on be­half of the move­ment. For many other rea­sons the freed pris­on­ers would not dare to speak on be­half of the move­ment. What, then, is the net gain to any side of the re­lease of some de­tainees?

The only con­ceiv­able ben­e­fit of this move is a slight im­prove­ment in the re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries. If those freed are handed over to the Afghan au­thor­i­ties they will live in Kabul as “guests” – just as Mutawakkil, Mu­jahid and other former Tal­iban lead­ers have been liv­ing on stipends. If they es­caped to join the move­ment, that would be a dif­fer­ent sce­nario.

An­other “im­por­tant” de­ci­sion of the talks was the cre­ation of an Ulema Coun­cil com­pris­ing re­li­gious schol­ars from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pak­istan. This body of schol­ars will con­sider ap­peal­ing to peo­ple to re­frain from acts such as sui­cide bomb­ing so that civil­ian losses can be min­imised.

All ef­forts must be made to re­duce civil­ian losses in any con­flict. But such ef­forts have been made in the past and re­li­gious schol­ars have been com­mis­sioned to is­sue such sermons. To what ben­e­fit? Th­ese are naive and laugh­able strat­a­gems that are no sub­sti­tute for bold de­ci­sions that ad­dress the root cause of the in­sur­gency – the pres­ence of the coali­tion forces or, as some would say, the pres­ence of the oc­cu­pa­tion forces. Con­flicts like the Afghan war do not end by through ap­peals by hired cler­ics. They end only through ac­knowl­edg­ing ground re­al­i­ties and mov­ing on.

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