Early in the talks process between the government appointed committee and the Taliban appointed one, hitches and glitches galore have surfaced. Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid in a press conference stringently objected to the agreement between the two sides in their first meeting to keep the discussion within the confines of the constitution. He said he was not withdrawing from the committee but would take no further part in the talks unless and until sharia was imposed. This crack in the Taliban appointed committee was sought to be papered over by other members of the committee, including Maulana Samiul Haq and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). However, later it seems Maulana Abdul Aziz had softened his hard line stance. However, the TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid endorsed the stand of Maulana Abdul Aziz in a statement to media by reiterating that the dialogue could only be for the imposition of sharia. Latest reports say another member of the Taliban committee, Senator Ibrahim and one other person had been flown by helicopter to an undisclosed location in North Waziristan to convey to the TTP nine member council overseeing the talks process the discussions in the first meeting and the demands of the government side. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has praised the work of the government committee while Information Minister Pervez Rashid has promised every help and facilitation to the talks process. Imran Khan is his usual contradictory self. On the one hand he says the constitution guarantees sharia, although he does not agree with the interpretation of Islam by the Taliban. He claims those who insisted the Taliban wanted sharia had been exposed by the TTP’s acceptance of the framework of talking within the confines of the constitution (perhaps he should have paid attention to what Maulana Abdul Aziz and TTP’s Shahidullah Shahid were saying). On the other hand he says in an interview that the talks will likely fail and the following military operation will increase bloodshed in the country. He then reverts to his old argument about the US-led war on terror in the region and the drones issue. According to him, the only way to secure peace is for Pakistan to withdraw from the war and for the US to stop drone attacks. If only life were truly so simple. Meanwhile Rehman Malik in the Senate has questioned the constitutional and legal validity of the government talking to a banned outfit. At a minimum, he argued, terror attacks should stop during the talks and the Taliban should themselves join the process.
If there are cracks in the Taliban negotiating committee, there are an equal if not greater number of cracks in political opinion across the board. Every party, except the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, is questioning the process of negotiations for one reason or another. Most are sceptical of their success. Not all however are willing to come out clearly and unambiguously for dealing with the terrorists as they deserve rather than making them stakeholders in the state and elevating them to the ironic status of peace partners. A close reading of the TTP’s statements and those of their apologists and supporters shows that their insistence on sharia (as interpreted by them) as the basis of the state negates the constitution and is aimed at imposing the nightmare system seen in the 1990s in Afghanistan, in which women, minorities and those of liberal, democratic, progressive persuasion would be, literally, put to the sword. Since the government and most political parties, including those harbouring reservations about the negotiations process are ambiguous about their attitude to the TTP, it falls upon the (admittedly weak) shoulders of people of the above persuasion to come together and ensure that Pakistan is not sold down the river to fanatics, terrorists and the enemies of progressive humanity. *