So the ill-advised and ill-prepared ‘negotiations’ have come to an anticipated quick end. Or have they? The TTP demonstrated its complete contempt for an effete government that is utterly unable to stand up for any national interest or principle. The TTP has made it clear that it is not going to either call off its attacks or take any action against maverick groups that may commit atrocities in violation of its instructions. So does the government have an alternative to continuing the ridiculous charade of talks?
Imran Khan says that according to the military it has only a “40 percent chance of success” in a campaign against the TTP in North Waziristan Agency. Despite furious denials Imran spoke accurately, which confirms that for the time being there is no military option available to take out the militants. The government, like previous governments, has sought to hide this state of affairs from the people while pretending to have a counterterrorism policy. In fact, it has no will to run the risks of blowback by addressing the issue courageously and honestly.
Having given up on terror resolution there is likely to be the pretence of terror management. Negotiations for some mode of co-existence with terrorists will be aimed for in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the hope that they will spare Islamabad and Punjab – at least for a while. What message does this signal to the TTP? Militants who are ready to sacrifice themselves – and innocent others – unerringly recognise all the signs of rotting resolve. They see no need to compromise. Especially when they receive sickening pleas to spare certain parts of the country at the expense of the rest.
The TTP appointed committee has already cautioned the government against allowing uninterrupted TTP killings to interrupt the talks since it has no alternative but to talk. Imran Khan seems to suggest much the same in the dubious hope that the ‘smokescreen’ of talks will somehow split the TTP, enable a cessation of violence, and provide time for counterterrorist options to be developed. Why would the TTP want to cooperate with such a strategy? How will relatively moderate elements among the TTP prevail over extremist elements even if such a distinction is warranted?
Needless to say, a serious government would have developed its strategy including a credible and implementable ‘Plan B’ before talking with the militants. Since the TTP menace has been around for several years there was time to do so if there had been any real commitment. To be fair to the government it is not solely responsible for the lack of options that was brought about by criminal and irresponsible lack of governance before it came to office. Nevertheless, no self-respecting government should blame previous policies for its own lack of performance after being in office for the better part of a year.
How does the government demonstrate strength and confidence without which negotiating with a ruthlessly committed terrorist organisation becomes a form of national suicide? How do we go about it in the absence of feasible kinetic options? The first step is to be perfectly open and honest with the public about the real situation and the fact that no easy or cost-free options are available to address the TTP challenge.
Only a government that knows it has earned the respect of the people, and has a reputation for being able to take difficult and risky decisions to root out evils that have accumulated over a long period, can take up the challenge in a serious and sustained manner. In taking on the TTP the government would have to take on so much more, including the existing configuration of the power structure in the country which makes a mockery of our democratic, development and security aspirations.
This is a political DNA problem. The socio-political order neither allows Pakistan to address its existential challenges nor the emergence of a leadership that is sufficiently educated and motivated to do so. No politician seeking the comforts, rewards and satisfactions of high office within the existing order can sustain the necessary commitment to make a difference.
Negotiating ceasefires with militant organisations requires both political vision and courage as well as technical and specialised expertise. It is a very complicated process that inexperienced enthusiasts representing an indecisive and fearful government cannot handle. Moreover, serving the people’s interests is an even more arduous undertaking than taking on the TTP. But for the latter effort to be successful it must be part of the larger undertaking.
Kejriwal’s Aam Aami party lasted only 49 days in office in Delhi before the Congress and BJP decided to come together to dislodge the ‘political upstart’ and to champion the cause of corruption against the interests of the common man.
Despite his many informed critics and disappointed well-wishers, Imran Khan has achieved much more than Kejriwal. Yet he faces the same challenge of being undermined by status quo, establishment and deep state forces, both in KP and at the centre. The dilemma of simultaneously leading a party heading a provincial coalition government one the one hand, and leading a national reform movement on the other, places a burden of expectations that the prevailing political order and power structure limit and frustrate all the time. There is always the danger of slipping from being a status quo challenger to becoming a reformer within an iniquitous status quo.
Attempts to simultaneously co-opt and oppose Imran by status quo forces are his biggest challenge. Conceptual and organisational clarity combined with relentless interaction at the grassroots level all over the country are essential to embrace both the political and technical imperatives for bringing Pakistan into the 21st century. It is also the only way to develop feasible and specific strategies to reduce and minimise the extremist threat.
Imran must rise to his potential and the promise he held out for the country by shedding his unfortunate image as a right-wing and conservative leader in a country characterised by mass poverty and mass exploitation by the whole gamut of right wing and conservative forces.
The writer is a former envoy to the US and India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgAshraf Jehangir Qazi, "TTP, government and Khan," The News. 2014-02-21.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , National issues , Taliban-Pakistan , Military-Pakistan , Government-Pakistan , Extremism , Politicians , Terrorists , Imran Khan , Khyber Pakhtunkhwa , Pakistan , TTP , FATA