Editorial: Truce with Taliban won’t last
The Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief, Baitullah Mehsud, has ordered his militants not to attack Pakistani security forces henceforth and warned that anyone violating his orders would be punished publicly. The TTP distributed pamphlets saying that “offensives” against the Pakistan army in Waziristan, Tank, Gomal and Dera Ismail Khan should be abandoned, and anyone who doesn’t obey the order would be “hanged upside down in the bazaars”.
The governor of the NWFP, Mr Owais Ghani, has confirmed from Peshawar that talks with Mr Mehsud are underway and “making progress”. He said the release of the TNSM chief, Sufi Muhammad, had attracted positive feedback from Malakand Division. He did not say if the talks were made conditional by the TTP to the withdrawal of the Pakistan army from the Tribal Areas, but that is what is being reported. Of course, it is presumed that if the army is withdrawn it would be in return for the re-establishment of the writ of the Pakistan state.
The same day in Bajaur Agency, close to the Afghan border, Afghan troops had an encounter with Pakistani border guards as a result of which one Pakistani soldier died. The Afghan forces were pursuing militants who had gone across the border and attacked the Afghan check post. In the exchange of fire, 10 Taliban militants died. Unfortunately, in the process, the Afghans ended up firing at the Pakistani check post. The press has been told that it was a “misunderstanding” and both sides have met at the command level and sorted it out.
The pattern, though, is familiar. The Afghans think that the Taliban raiders are “facilitated” by Pakistani border guards who let them in before the attacks inland and let them out when they are fleeing. Although the atmospherics with Kabul have been maintained, everyone knows that the Karzai government is deeply suspicious and resentful about what it thinks is Pakistan’s role in infiltrating the Taliban into Afghanistan. The ISAF-NATO command in Afghanistan backs up the allegations and is indeed behind much of the protest launched against Pakistan in Kabul.
Baitullah Mehsud has ordered a kind of ceasefire in certain areas adjacent to South Waziristan but has conceded nothing as far as the TTP’s forays into Afghanistan are concerned. In fact the TTP had earlier announced that its deal with the Pakistan government, whenever it is clinched, will not include a Taliban commitment not to attack Afghanistan. If that is clearly so, what exactly is the government negotiating with Mr Mehsud? The Pakistan army withdraws from the Tribal Areas in return for what?
The answer is obvious. The government is negotiating for the return of its writ in the Tribal Areas. If Afghanistan has to be attacked for any reason, it is Islamabad that should decide and not Baitullah Mehsud and his TTP. Because of the vacuum of sovereign control, the Tribal Areas are subject to the operation of three forces: the Afghan Taliban of Mullah Umar, the local Taliban under Baitullah Mehsud and Al Qaeda and its foreign warriors. Islamabad has been facing problems with regard to all three and keeps on denying allegations made by America and its NATO allies that it doesn’t stop the Afghan Taliban from sheltering in Pakistan for R&R after each attack inside Afghanistan.
Proof has also been forthcoming — and shown on Kabul TV — that Pakistani Taliban are increasingly accompanying Mullah Umar’s men into Afghanistan and striking as far inland as the Helmand province. The three entities located in our Tribal Areas in violation of our sovereignty tend to merge in their activity and are increasingly regarded as one force. Some experts tend to categorise them separately in order to describe their separate agendas, but facts on the ground actually tell a different story. The talks Pakistan is holding with the militants must include discussion and satisfactory resolution of this reality in Pakistan’s national interest.
There can be no cavil with the decision of the governments of the NWFP and Islamabad to initiate talks. This is an option that should never be closed no matter what the outside world tells us. It is communicating with the enemy that enables you to assess what the enemy wants. It is not wise to take on trust Al Zawahiri’s latest claim that Al Qaeda was “winning” in Pakistan. A dialogue with the TTP has to determine for us the nature of concessions the enemy is willing to make and why. Is he showing flexibility because we have become “soft” under suicide-bombing or is he responding to our military operations and would like the pressure off him by getting the army out?
There is no way Pakistan can make a “one-sided” peace with the TTP and allow it to attack inside Afghanistan with impunity. Equally, getting the army out without a quid pro quo that allows Islamabad to reform the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and take development schemes into the Tribal Areas would be the wrong thing to do. *
Second Editorial: First things last?
Everyone knows that the most urgent task before the provincial governments is to get governance moving and address the problems of the people. But the first thing the PMLN cabinet did on being convened is to seal the local governments’ records in Punjab “because they were a symbol of corruption”. In Sindh, the PPP cabinet has decided to “review” 30,000 cases filed against the MQM workers but withdrawn “by the last government”. Sindh is also opening the books on the former chief minister, Arab Ghulam Rahim, to see if he did any hanky-panky. Elected politicians are talking of “accountability” once again.
Two crises are clearly on top of us. We don’t have electricity and the power gap is going to increase from 4,000MW now to 4,500MW in midsummer with ten hours of load-shedding. The big cities have power houses lying idle because there is no cash available to run them. The food crisis is deepening instead of going down with the advent of the new government. Yet when the elected politicians are asked about these crises they launch into tirades against the last government. The familiar passion for “accountability” comes from this exercise. Unfortunately, the witch-hunt will not get the country anywhere. *