Illusions of peace
February 28. The convener, this time round, was the redoubtable leader of the JUI-F, Maulana Fazlur Rehman. While the meeting was still in session, it was business as usual for the TTP. Four schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were bombed to smithereens that day. This act, executed with the ruthless precision of the Gestapo, brought the number of educational institutions destroyed by the outfit since 2007 to more than eight hundred. The gruesome pattern of violence was in evidence again on the conclusion of a similarly ill-advised multi-party meeting held exactly two weeks earlier by the Awami National Party (ANP). The outcome was a set of vague proposals in which the word ‘terrorism’ featured only once, and that too in the context of compensating family members of terrorism victims. But even this was contemptuously rejected by the TTP, which immediately targeted the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister in a failed suicide bomb attack.
In December, immediately after the assassination of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa senior minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour, it seemed that the ANP had resolved to roll up its sleeves and take on the TTP. A statement was issued boldly affirming that “extremism and terrorist violence is a threat to the very existence of the country...it will be an exercise in futility to appease the terrorists.” But the enthusiasm faded rapidly, as was evident from the formulation in the final communique issued by the APC convened by the party on February 14.
The subsequent Fazlur Rehman-organised conference, attended by all political parties except Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf, conjured up a five-point declaration. Its central feature was the expansion of an existing JUI-F-sponsored tribal assembly into a Grand Jirga for negotiations with the TTP. Maulana Fazlur Rehman was jubilant. His purpose had been achieved. He triumphantly told the media that he had been vindicated because his party’s tribal jirga had morphed into a broad-based national forum. What he did not say was that this platform would serve the JUI-F well in its objective of emerging as the dominant political force in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas prior to the coming elections.
The final communique scrupulously avoids the use of words such as ‘terrorism’ or ‘militancy’, and neither does the term ‘militant’ appear in the text. The document goes even further and accepts the TTP as one of the major ‘stakeholders’ that should have a role in determining the future course of events in the country. This was gleefully acknowledged by the TTP spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, who said: “Our political shura held a meeting and welcomed the summit of all political parties regarding talks with the Taliban. The political parties, by avoiding the word ‘terrorism’ in their joint statement, gave a positive signal.”
What the TTP cannot be faulted for is a lack of realism. In the same statement, Ehsanullah Ehsan virtually brushed aside the