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The hawks and the offer

Should the government talk to the Taliban, or should it not? That is the question. The answer from the hawks would be a resounding no. They would argue that the TTP has challenged the state through armed rebellion and have the blood of thousands of innocent citizens and state forces on their hands; they are guilty of the worst kinds of atrocities imaginable; their ideology has nothing to do with any religion, to say nothing of Islam; they have committed all sorts of crimes, like kidnappings for ransom and murders; they behave like barbarians by destroying schools and slitting people’s throats; they developed the most reprehensible methods to entice young children and even women to carry out acts of suicide bombings; and they invited and gave shelter to foreign militants to fight the state.

Worst of all, they are perfidious and will not honour their commitments, as their track record shows. The hawks will cite a number of agreements the TTP concluded with the authorities in the past and later threw them to the winds.

Talking to the TTP will be considered a display of weakness, unworthy of a country having more than half-a-million men under arms, guns booming, and unassailable air power. The hawks may be led to the conclusion that the TTP is finally feeling the pinch and its rout is imminent. Let’s not give them any quarter and pursue them to the bitter end, when they are either killed or end up in jail. That will be a glorious victory over which all future generations will gloat.

Hawks are hawks and they dwell in the most inaccessible cliffs of high mountains. Our hawks speak from the security of their homes, or in editorial and op-ed page columns. Their point of view is worthy of respect, even though it is far removed from reality when it comes to their conclusion that the TTP is ready to throw in the towel.

The Pakistani Taliban are extremists. It would be ideal if we could fight extremism with extremism and win. Unfortunately, the situation on the ground is different. We need hardnosed realism at this point. Realism is neither cowardice nor weakness.

The reality is that in offering talks the TTP is not going down on its knees. It may have its own tactical reasons for such talks, but it is not that the TTP is about to be vanquished. It must have taken the evolving situation in Afghanistan in consideration where sworn adversaries are now talking to each other. It is a season for talks.

Recall the number of times the forces declared victory in Bajaur, Mohamand, Khyber, Aurakzai, Kurram and the two Waziristans. One victory claim was followed by another belying the first one. Admittedly, things are not as bad as they were in 2008-9, but can we withdraw a single soldier from any of these agencies and expect that the normal civil administration will resume its function?

Can we afford for our forces to remain tied down in Fata in battle situation indefinitely? Is it not true that soldiers sitting inside their pickets in most of these areas cannot fetch drinking water from nearby springs for fear of hidden snipers?

No army or civil officer can visit the Miram Shah bazaar even under escort. Most political agents fly out and fly in to their agencies to attend meetings outside their jurisdictions or go on leave. Roads are no-go areas for them.

The TTP has neutralised the general population through their draconian actions against individuals and groups showing any resistance to them. I can tell you from experience as a former political agent that in tribal areas no movement of men by day or night goes unnoticed.

In the past, even if two outlaws leave their hideouts to commit a crime in a settled district, they would be reported in time or certainly be identified later on. Think of the situation now.

About two hundred men (four hundred, according to other reports) moved on December 27 in FR Peshawar against government posts, kidnapped 22 Levy members, all tribals, and slaughtered them the next day. How on earth did such a huge movement of heavily armed men go unnoticed and unreported? The kidnappers just disappeared without a trace. Nobody knows and nobody tells where they came from and where they went. No search party was dispatched to trace and capture the perpetrators.

In the past, an outsider killing a single tribal would be courting disaster. The whole sub-tribe would rise up to take revenge. Now, the attitude of speak no evil, see no evil and hear no evil is the means for a witness to stay alive.

This is not the first incident of its kind. Recall the attack on Bannu jail. Such raids are routine over Matani villages and police posts in Peshawar and Bannu districts.

Frontier Regions Peshawar and Kohat are comparatively small areas sandwiched between Peshawar, Nowshera and Kohat districts. They were considered shadows of an agency.

Many would wonder why they were not absorbed into the districts. If this is the situation in the FRs today, the conditions prevailing in Waziristan, Kurram, Aurakzia, Tirah, Bara, Mohamand and Bajaur are left to your imagination.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has officially withdrawn its support from the so-called Aman Lashkar. It was wrong to have created such lashkars, in the first place. Lashkars are motley crowds raised in intertribal disputes, while what we are facing is a full blown insurgency. No wonder the insurgents got the better of them.

Creation of lashkars was an open admission on the part of the government that the trouble was beyond its control. What the Aman Lashkar did was to indulge in its own kidnappings for ransom while having police protection. They fought against the Taliban for the same space.

Gen Musharraf’s imaginations always ran wild when it came to strategy, whether it was Kargil or the creation of the Taliban to play his ‘great double game’ against the US in Afghanistan. The Taliban were then referred to as “our boys.”

It was believed they would do Pakistan’s bidding and follow the master’s orders at the snap of a finger. You arm a man and he soon develops his own ideas. This is what happened to the Taliban who now have complete exposure to the world and have their own intelligence and security agencies.

With no regard to the ideology, concentric circles of interests have developed. The TTP, Al-Qaeda, the jihadis, sectarian terrorists and criminals, all need each other. It has become a royal mess.

If the TTP has a compulsion to offer talks, whatever it is, we have a bigger compulsion to accept that offer. The last half-a-decade instructs that we cannot set preconditions for talks. To ask a Pakhtun to surrender arms is a counsel of fools.

One has to talk to one’s enemies. Talking does not mean that you accept whatever your enemy says. Normally, adversaries set tough conditions in public but privately they aim much lower.

Sitting across the table the parties understand each other’s point of view and to build consensus from there on. If your enemy flies, build him a golden bridge. Ego must not stand in the way of negotiations and peace.

All conflicts ultimately end at the table. The sensible thing to do is to send sensible negotiators who can with patience find out the minimum that the Taliban would agree to accept and then diplomatically bring them round to an acceptable position.

Let us not prolong the conflict any further. There is a German saying that a conflict leaves in a country three armies: an army of cripples, an army of mourners and an army of thieves.

Email: raufkkhattak@gmail.com

A. Rauf Khan Khattak, "The hawks and the offer," The News. 2013-01-09.