Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, responding to the offer for dialogue by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ostensibly has opted to give a last chance to the peaceful efforts designed to curb the scourge of terrorism. He announced the formation of a four-member committee to establish contacts with the TTP leadership and eventually open a channel of communication between them and top leaders of the government. It is noteworthy that, while the government offer of dialogue after the All Parties Conference (APC) of September 9, 2013 was rejected by the TTP, they have welcomed the latest invitation as a first tangible move of the government for a dialogue and expressed confidence in the members of the committee constituted by the government.
Whether the new initiative will lead to some substantive and concrete results, and how the events will unfold in the days to come, remains to be seen. However, one thing is certain: this time the government seems more determined and resolute in getting rid of the menace of terrorism and holding the dialogue on its own terms, and rightly so. The prime minister, while making the offer for talks to the TTP, said that dialogue and acts of terrorism could not go together. Recounting recent acts of terrorism, he firmly declared that the war against terrorism would be won at all costs, either through dialogue or a military operation. What this means is that for holding a dialogue with the government, the TTP will have to announce cessation of acts of terrorism, which, in a way, is a prerequisite for kick starting the parleys. It also implies a warning to the TTP that the continuation of acts of terrorism will not be allowed to go unpunished and the government will not hesitate to use its military muscle to deal with them. The message given is: enough is enough. The government seems to have done its homework properly. The good thing about the whole affair is that the government, military and political parties seem to have identical thinking on the issue.
It is a very prudent initiative on the part of the government and whether the dialogue option meets success or not, it will at least silence those voices that have been vociferous advocates of dialogue and have been castigating the government for its indecisiveness in dealing with terrorism. Some people, in the backdrop of the failure of earlier dialogue attempts with the TTP and their wriggling out of agreements with previous governments, have expressed the view that the Taliban might have made a tactical move to buy time and regroup themselves in anticipation of the military action against them. Even if that is their motive, the government has called their bluff by accepting the dialogue offer and has shown its sincerity in giving another chance to peace efforts. The government, by all means, is ready to have a crack at the festering phenomenon of terrorism and to retaliate against any act of terrorism in a befitting manner, as was amply testified by the recent action in North Waziristan by the Pakistan Air Force.
In case the dialogue fails to take off or to produce tangible results for any reason — and there are many indeed — the government has two options: either to go for an all out onslaught in North Waziristan, as demanded by certain circles, or opt for intense and surgical hits on desired targets to break the back of the TTP. Only the security establishment is a better judge of the strategy to be adopted. However, the option of an all out attack has very limited chances of success because of the international dimension to the problem. The TTP leaders are based in Afghanistan and are planning and carrying out their acts of terrorism through their local operators.
In view of the foregoing facts, no full-scale offensive in North Waziristan can achieve the desired objectives as the terrorists based there can easily cross over to Afghanistan. Any such action can succeed only when Afghanistan cooperates with Pakistan to deny the TTP their safe havens on Afghan soil. The matter, therefore, is not as simple as some people may think it is. The results of the dialogue will be known very soon and it is really ridiculous to ask the government to set a time line in this regard. Even if the ice is broken through dialogue it might prove to be an arduous and long drawn out effort in smoothing out the differences. And, in the case of failure of the dialogue, the resolution of the issue through use of force could also be a lengthy undertaking.
It is, however, encouraging to note that the government is prepared and determined to take the bull by the horns. It needs to be supported by all stakeholders and the masses in its endeavours in this regard. It is a question of the integrity, solidarity and security of the country and there is an imperative need to put up a united front against the enemies of the state.
The writer is a retired diplomat, a freelance columnist and a member of the visiting faculty of the Riphah Institute of Media Sciences, Riphah International University, Islamabad. He can be reached at email@example.com