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Excuse me, but have you all lost your minds?

A few years ago, our national nightmare came true. India invaded Pakistan. They killed our men at arms in droves, slaughtering those brave young men who had voluntarily spent their life training for the privilege of risking their lives for the rest of us. Their bloodlust unsatiated, they started to attack policemen and other security personnel, claiming that as armed representatives of the state, they too deserved death.

It wasn’t enough. It was never enough. They gunned down politicians in the street. They killed social workers trying to distribute potentially life-saving anti polio vaccination. They even briefly held land in our beloved country, making slaves of the inhabitants. They forced Pakistanis – our people! – to convert to their self-serving, militant ideologies, permitting only those mores of being and behaviour that they personally found acceptable.

Dissent was dealt with swiftly, brutally, inhumanly. They treated our countrymen like animals, to be herded and broken and, if unruly, put down without ceremony. The nation bled, and the hearts of countless families were shattered by losses no human being should have to bear.

Every whispered rumour, every hateful school text about India was true. But they had made a mistake. Somehow, our army outnumbered them vastly. Surely they would be crushed by our military, however long it took, with every true blooded Pakistani cheering them on. We are a proud people, so I’ve been told, and we would not suffer such horrors visited upon our own.

And then, incredibly, we decided we wanted to talk it out. We had no stomach for war, even when war had been cruelly thrust down our throat. ‘Not our war’ was the whimper.

With superiority in numbers, in our own home ground, with the crimes of the past decade still in the heart of the nation like a bloody dagger, with India not even bothering to pause their slaughter of our men, women and children, our leaders supplicated themselves before theirs, begging for an end to the violence. How could this be?

Wait. Apparently, it wasn’t India who did all this. It was our very own Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. And that’s different. Obviously. I cannot guess as to how, but it must be, else only two equally sobering conclusions remain: either I have lost my mind, or a great many of my countrymen have.

I had initially dismissed these latest rounds of negotiation as a brief phase in our masochistic cycle – be attacked by militants, make some overtures, ruminate about how all would be well if only we could all sit down for some tea and apologies, and finally move on once we realise that they have no inclination to compromise.  Apparently not. Apparently this time everyone really wants to sit around in a circle and hold hands, and work on love and understanding.

To the Taliban’s credit – a strange sentence, I agree – they have been far more consistent in their stance than have our leaders. They want to topple the government, bring everyone under the heel of their twisted laws, kill anyone who disagrees, kill anyone who doesn’t agree loudly enough, kill minorities at a whim and kill anyone who looks at them funny. Their actions read like the very finest of executive statements – boasting brevity, clarity, and substance. They cannot possibly be misunderstood except by the most practised of fools.

For their part, the Taliban seem quite bemused at our simpering, cloying efforts to keep them at the negotiation table. Honest to a fault, they dutifully spat a list of demands at our feet that was never a document of negotiation, but a humiliating instrument of surrender. It asks nothing less than the abolition of our constitution and our systems of governance, law, finance and education; it demands further the unconditional release of all Taliban prisoners, the withdrawal of our armed forces and, hilariously, ‘equal rights for all’. Presumably, including religious minorities and women.

The list could well have been ripped off from the script of the future movie GI Joe 3: Cobra Negotiates. It is laughable. So why aren’t we laughing? Why are we instead trying to work out how to continue negotiations?

Negotiations can occur between entities that can conceivably come to some compromise. The TTP are not the Afghan Taliban, who were once in government and therefore had some stake in peace. They are the not the LTTE of Sri Lanka, who had specific demands of an independent state. They are not Baloch nationalists, who have grown weary and angry beyond belief at their perceived mistreatment at the hands of the state.

The Taliban are the antithesis to the prerequisite of peace: an ideology of live and let live.What compromise, precisely, do you imagine can be arrived at? Women to be whipped publicly for what they wear, but not stoned? Only every third polio worker killed? Most minority sects to be bullied and beaten, and only a few murdered?

You want to talk, as they kill your young police commandos, eliciting an unbearably plaintive request from the Punjab law minister that they at least refrain from murder while peace talks are in progress? You want to talk, as they execute 23 men from the Frontier Corps during these ‘peace talks’? You want to talk, as they threaten to blow up schools in KP that participate in lifesaving anti polio drives? You want to talk, as they openly boast that they will convert ‘unbelievers’ by the sword?

What is there to talk about?  But!, you say, hands a-wringing and lips a-quivering. You’re asking for war! There’ll be a war! You don’t want a war, do you? Sit down and take a deep breath. Nobody but psychopaths and weekend warriors with delusions of glory actually ‘wants’ a war. But here’s the problem:

We are at war. We have been at war all these years. And it doesn’t matter who you think started it. It became our war when our soldiers and civilians were torn apart in its jaws. The TTP has long embraced this war with open arms, while we have we have fled and hugged our knees in our little corner of shame, rocking back and forth while muttering denials.War, in at least one way, is entirely unlike Tinkerbell: not believing in it won’t make it go away.

They don’t care about what you want. There’s nothing you can offer them that they will accept, short of your lives. They will snuff out any remaining freedom like a contemptible little candle, slaughter the men sworn to protect your state, murder your minorities, indoctrinate your children and make cattle of your women, and they will do this till either you or they are buried in the cold, deep ground. This is not a matter of speculation, but of record. There is nothing to talk about.

Unite the people of the nation behind you, those you have failed so badly for so long. Draw a line in the sand, between them and our minorities, our women, our soldiers, our children. Our freedom, tolerance and identity, which seem so lost. A line that says ‘this far, and no further’.  Yes, war will bleed us, but we are already drowning in blood. Let it at least not be all our own.  Fight.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: zaairhussain@gmail.com

Zaair Hussain, "Excuse me, but have you all lost your minds?," The News. 2014-02-21.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , Social rights , Social needs , Human rights , Polio vaccination , Taliban-Pakistan , Taliban-Afghanistan , Politicians , Violence , India , Sri Lanka , Pakistan , TTP