The ongoing peace process between the government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) appears to have hit snags. The main reason for this is that enough thought has not been put into the dialogue process by the government, while the TTP are a wily lot and, despite comprising a motley crowd, is shrewd and very clear in its approach. It has managed to drive a wedge between the main protagonists on the government’s side, i.e. the ruling party and the armed forces of Pakistan. On one hand the visage of the armed forces is being painted as that of a reluctant participant but, on the other, they have been presented as being battle fatigued and seeking a hasty retreat, be it under the garb of peace talks. Such successful tactics on the part of the TTP are not only harmful to the peace process but also unlikely to achieve the desired results i.e. lasting peace, giving credence to the notion that the TTP is biding for time.
The government thus gives the impression of being scared out of its wits. All it took was two major terror attacks in the capital city and the rumour that, when push comes to shove, the sleeper cells of the TTP lodged in various seminaries in Islamabad will be unleashed. That sent tremor waves in the so-called proponents of the new national security policy, triggering the scamper to appease the TTP.
The government reportedly pursued the trial of former dictator General Pervez Musharraf for treason to divert the attention of the people from its poor governance and the limitations in its talks with the TTP. In the bargain, it achieved neither but managed to stir a hornet’s nest by bad mouthing the army, indirectly by its impudent and abusive language against Musharraf through its minister for railways and directly with the defence minister himself showering accusations and threats in parliament to the armed forces. To add insult to injury, the interior minister unconditionally released 19 Taliban fighters, without taking the army or the PM into confidence, promising to release six more in the near future. The army chief spoke to the members of the Special Services Group in response to concerns over “undue criticism of the [army] in recent days”. He categorically stated that, “the army respects all the institutions of the country but will also preserve its own dignity and institutional pride at all costs.”
This calculated assertion should not have been blown out of proportion. The armed forces are bearing the brunt of terrorist attacks and are laying down their lives for the defence of Pakistan, both against internal and external assailants. They have responded willfully even to the peril of their own lives, whenever a natural or manmade calamity has struck Pakistan. It is no easy task for any commander to direct his subordinates to face certain death but, in the bargain, some ill informed politicians question the status of the martyrdom of the armed forces’ personnel in the current war, while others threaten to sort them out, making the task doubly difficult. The defence minister was especially resentful of the budget allocations to the armed forces. The honourable minister should know that security comes at a high price. A lesson the most advanced of nations, the US, learnt through the 9/11 attacks. As the defence minister, he can demand a reallocation of the scarce resources in the forthcoming budget but he should be ready to face the consequences with the gravity of the threat to Pakistan. Vindictive policies and settling scores with institutions must stop.
The current predicament of engaging the TTP into dialogue necessitates revisiting the process. The very thought of negotiating with known killers and assassins is reprehensible and tantamount to providing them legitimacy but if lasting peace can be assured through the exercise, then perhaps it is worth swallowing a bitter pill. The essential element here is that all factions of the government and the law enforcement agencies must be in consonance with the modus operandi. Efforts for peace and acts of terrorism, however sporadic they may be, cannot move together. To start with, the TTP must not get the impression that the government and the law enforcement agencies, including the armed forces, are not on the same page. Undue one-sided concessions must be totally avoided as they present a sense of desperation and weakness. Concerted endeavours must be made to improve civil military relations. Disarray in the ranks strengthens the enemy and confuses the public. Seminaries in the capital and elsewhere must be screened for their links with the TTP and those found indulging in recruiting, training and arming terrorists or even harbouring them, must be shut down immediately, irrespective of the reaction of the TTP. Peace dialogue can only succeed if executed from a position of strength and confidence.
The author is a freelance columnist, analyst and television talk show host