For the first time in the last five years we have started seeing something tangible in terms of negotiations between militant groups and the government. Understandably, there is a lot of scepticism over the whole idea of negotiations with criminal gangs. We, perhaps, should avoid jumping to such conclusions as some light can be seen at the end of the tunnel.
A few political leaders seem to be nursing their wounds while playing the negotiations game. Maulana Fazlur Rehman is utterly unhappy over losing the leading role but it is Imran Khan who ends up with a lot of egg on his face. Getting named as a member of the Taliban’s committee sounded like a comic relief episode in the midst of a Shakespearean tragedy. With friends like these, who needs enemies? All throughout his political career, one tenet of politics that never changed with Imran Khan was his outright sympathy for the Taliban and sharing of anti-US sentiment. Perhaps the Taliban wanted to offer Imran Khan a chance to prove his credentials but the taste of the pudding is in the eating. Khan sahib had fondly been mentioning the pudding so many times. When offered, he has refused to eat it. Not a very pleasant situation to be in.
Step back a little and cast a glance over the makeup of the negotiators. The future of Pakistan is to be decided by these gentlemen. The country is not without scientists and academics of international repute. Sportsmen of highest calibre are also present in this country. Our culture has produced Sadiquain, Faiz, Nusrat Fateh and other creative geniuses as well but our future is being discussed with Maulana Samiul Haq, Professor Ibrahim and Maulana Abdul Aziz. What is the contribution of these personalities to the economic activity or progress of the country is anybody’s guess. Today, we neither look to the think tanks nor towards the legislature for guidance and policy formulation. Three gentlemen with pretty long beards remote controlled from an unknown hideout are going to tell the government how to run the government.
It is often thought that since the Taliban are of tribal origin and not exposed to modern education, therefore they are unable to understand the true meaning of Islam. One can have this predicament anywhere with any background. Even in London these days, sharia brigades do their parades openly, preaching implementation of sharia in the UK. The two main demands of the Taliban known to us through their own media releases or through their political spokespersons like Munawar Hasan and Imran Khan are ‘implementation of sharia’ and ‘severing our links with the US’.
Some apologists of the Taliban have been heard saying that the Taliban only want an end to the pro-US foreign policy of the government. Every citizen of a country has a fundamental right to disagree with the foreign policy of his/her government. He/she is at liberty to influence the opinion of voters by writing and speaking against the policy. He/she can join likeminded people and, after winning elections, adopt their own foreign policy. As a prime minister or foreign minister, they can ditch the US and instead forge relations with Somalia, North Korea, Greenland or whatever country they fancy. What he/she is not allowed to do is to take up arms and demand change in the foreign policy. Sorry, Imran Khan, Munawar Hasan, Samiul Haq and Maulvi Fazlullah! That is not how democracy works. You need to win elections and then change the policies as you deem fit.
If in order to make the TTP and its political wings happy, we concede the demand of ending our pro-US foreign policy, where will this ultimately end? What is the guarantee that tomorrow the same Imran Khan and Munawar Hasan will not be arguing that the Taliban are bombing us because they do not like Iran while we have close relations with Iran. Since China persecutes Muslims in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, therefore close Sino-Pak relations are the reason why the Taliban are slitting throats. In the end, the Arabian Sea will be the only neighbour that our militant friends and their political apologists will not have an issue with.
Should this situation automatically lead us to conclude that the negotiations initiative is an exercise in futility? I do not concur with this view despite some merit in this proposition. Just as in quantitative research it is common to formulate a null hypothesis, which is then tested against collected data, I see the same utility of the ongoing negotiations. The apologists of the Taliban have long been arguing that peace can be established through negotiations with the militants. This can be treated as the null hypothesis. The government’s committee is our panel of researchers, which is collecting data from the Taliban to help us conclude whether the null hypothesis is valid or not. For the first time, we will know a definitive list of demands by militants. We will have a chance to judge the extent to which such demands are worthy of sympathetic consideration. If the null hypothesis is proved untrue then we will have a strong national consensus to wage a long-term war against extremist militants. We have been waiting for years to take that decision. A month’s delay is affordable provided it is proved with evidence that establishing peace negotiations with radical extremists is not an option.
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