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The criticism that the PTI has a soft corner for the Taliban has become even louder than before. The party responds by arguing that it is unfairly criticised just because it disagrees on the means of dealing with the problem. However, a closer look might suggest that there is also some confusion about ends. Let us start by looking at the PTI’s various stances on Pakistan’s national interests and comparing them with the positions of the Taliban and the US.

While the PTI is democratic and constitutional, the Taliban do not accept the constitution and have explicitly said so on a number of occasions. Whether talks alone can convince them to change their mind or whether military operations will be needed for this purpose is a question of means. The PTI is strongly in favour of education for girls. The Taliban’s history on this issue speaks for itself. Whether they can be convinced on this through talks or whether force is needed, again, is a question of means.

The PTI believes that women should have the right to freely move about, work, take part in politics, and that they should not be dictated on things like wearing a veil or covering the head. At the same time, on some issues, the PTI has also been criticised for compromising on women rights (opposition to the women rights bill in 2006, stance on jirgas, reports during the 2013 elections that in some places PTI candidates joined other parties in signing deals that women’s votes would not be counted etc); these are concerns the party needs to address.

Even so, the PTI’s values and practices are irreconcilable with the Taliban, whose track record in Afghanistan and Pakistan speaks for itself. Even during the Swat talks, the Taliban objected to the presence of a woman parliamentarian in the government’s team.

The PTI’s rallies are especially known for young musicians and large crowds of youngsters, both men and women. In Afghanistan, the Taliban completely banned all music, and even whistling a tune would result in a severe beating. TTP’s record in places like Swat and targeting of artists and musicians is also well-known. The bottom line is that the Taliban’s worldview is totally incompatible with the PTI’s values.

Coming to national security and foreign policy, Imran Khan has said on a few occasions that terrorist safe havens and militant groups cannot be allowed on our soil as they are only a source of lawlessness and terrorism. He wants us to have a normal and respectable relationship with the world and understands fully well that this is not possible when our country is a hotbed of terrorism and when militants are free to use our land to carry out attacks in other countries. This means that even though the PTI opposes military operations and drones, it too wants the Taliban to either leave Pakistan or disarm. It just hopes this can be done through persuasion during talks.

In contrast, all Taliban factions want militant groups and sanctuaries on our soil. And this did not just start after the US arrival in Afghanistan. Even the Afghan Taliban government in the 1990s was actively supporting several militant groups including sectarian outfits by providing them with training camps. After their ouster from power in 2001, the Afghan Taliban found sanctuaries in Fata, creating a major problem for Pakistan. And then came the TTP. Again, disagreements on the means (mil ops etc) aside, the fundamental divergence on interests is clear.

Coming to Afghanistan, Imran Khan realises that peace in that country requires the Taliban renouncing violence, accepting a power-sharing agreement with other Afghan groups and giving up the kind of barbaric laws and restrictions it imposed on the population.

One would hope (hoping because the party has never clarified this) that the PTI would also want the power-sharing formula to be under a democratic constitution so that it reflects the wishes of the Afghan people. In short, if the PTI were to list down a rough framework of an Afghan settlement, it would require a significant change in the behaviour and attitude of the Afghan Taliban.

Where does the US fit into this? The Americans invaded Afghanistan after 9/11 because the Taliban government was providing sanctuaries to militant groups including Al-Qaeda. Its core security interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan is that there should be no militant havens in either country. It is otherwise interested in pulling out of Afghanistan and even willing to make a deal with the Afghan Taliban. However, it will not allow a full Taliban return to power.

The Taliban would have to give up terrorism and settle for a power-sharing agreement with other Afghan groups under a constitutional arrangement. All this is also more or less PTI’s position. This is a clear convergence with the US on the basic goal, even though the party opposes the use of drones and military operations as means for achieving that end.

Looking at this overview of core interests, it seems that the PTI’s positions run totally counter to the Taliban, and that too at a very existential level (no militant sanctuaries on Pakistani soil means all Taliban factions must either disband or leave the country). On the other hand, there is a strong overlap with US interests on the issue of Taliban and militancy, even if there are disagreements on the means.

Yet the kind of language and rhetoric the party employs suggests the exact opposite. It makes it sound as if our core interests align more with the Taliban and clash more fundamentally with the US, rather than the other way around. It is this contradiction, and not a mere disagreement on the means, that is at the heart of why the PTI invites the criticism of being sympathetic towards the Taliban and confusing the narrative. To be continued

Email: aqil_sajjad@yahoo.ca ; Twitter: @aqilsajjad

Aqil Sajjad, "PTI and TTP," The News. 2014-03-17.
Keywords: Social sciences , Political science , Political relations , Social issues , International policy , Military operations , Women rights , Education-Women , Al-Qaeda , Democracy , Terrorism , Taliban , Politics , Imran Khan , Afghanistan , Pakistan , United States , Swat , TTP , PTI , 9/11