The blast at the Tableeghi Jamaat Markaz in Peshawar last week should be an eye-opener for our myopic rulers who still believe that the Taliban are some kind of disgruntled elements of society who can be brought back into the mainstream through talks. The leadership fails to understand that, over the years, power and influence has been slipping from the traditional Deobandi school of thought to a more rigid Takfiri ideology; thereby, the Taliban are not some disgruntled elements — to depend on the traditional Deobandi scholars to facilitate talks with them is either imbecility or lack of seriousness.
Since this article is not about the ideological affiliation of Taliban groups — I leave that to another article — I would like to drop a hint for those who are keen to understand the nuances of ideological differences and their contribution to violence: Mullah Fazlullah, the national leader of the TTP, is not a Deobandi though the group he represents ideologically call itself Deobandi. To remind our readers, the first attack against the Tableeghi Jamaat was carried out in Swat in January 2013, which is the home turf of ‘Mullah Radio’. I am afraid we may see many such attacks in the future if militancy is not tackled comprehensively.
Holding talks with terrorists is not a new phenomenon. The first agreement, known as the ‘Shakai Peace Agreement’, was signed in April 2004 between Commander Nek Muhammad and then Corps Commander Peshawar Lieutenant General Safdar Hussain. Other such agreements followed like the ‘Sararogha Peace Agreement’ in February 2005, the ‘North Waziristan Peace Agreement’ in September 2006 and the ‘Swat Peace Agreement’ in May 2008. Keeping in view the failure of the above agreements and many more, one becomes puzzled about what to expect on the table this time to ensure the peace that was missing previously.
Before blaming the ‘bairooni haath’ (foreign hand) for the attack on the Tableeghi Markaz, we should analyse the peace process advocated by the PML-N and PTI. Both parties seem confused and do not have a clear agenda for talks. Their demands that the Taliban should accept the supremacy of the constitution, lay down their arms and halt attacks inside Pakistan seem impractical. The TTP is very forceful in its demands such as imposition of sharia law, withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, blockade of NATO supplies, halting drone strikes, release of Taliban operatives from Pakistani prisons and the withdrawal of Pakistani forces from the tribal belt. Can the opposing sides arrive at any settlement looking at the above demands? Probably not.
The famous Chinese general and philosopher, Sun Tzu, once said, “Know thy enemy and know yourself, and you can win a hundred battles.” The Pakistani leadership should know the Taliban before opting for any option — talks or operation, both militarily and on the turf of ideology.
Many of the impressions about the Taliban prevalent in the media and urban centres of Pakistan are anything but myths: a) the Taliban are a well-structured force with a unity of command; b) Fazlullah is the ultimate boss of various splinter groups of the Taliban operating in Pakistan and calls the shots like the chief of an organised army; c) Mullah Omar, the chief of the Afghan Taliban, has influence over the Pakistani Taliban who follow his decrees in letter and spirit, and d) since the Taliban are graduates of madrassa (seminary) education in Pakistan, Deobandi scholars have huge influence over them. The case of late Colonel Imam can be a good reference here. Hakeemullah Mehsud refused to listen to the pleas of many prominent religious scholars and Mullah Omar himself to spare his life. I can write about several such incidents where grand Deobandi muftis were either insulted or had to run for their lives but space here will not permit.
The narrative that the government should not enter into talks until it has the upper hand sounds so illogical. Why should the government feel the need to hold talks when it gets to a position of strength? Why not just finish off the terrorists? Let us hold the illusion for a second that negotiations succeed, what will success look like? Will the Taliban lay down arms and reinvent themselves? Will peace come back to FATA and the bordering districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa? Will the internally displaced people go back to their homes and will civil administration take control? Will thousands of jihadis be given jobs so that they become responsible citizens or does the government plan to create a new province or a special territory for them where they can live according to the injunctions of Islam?
It seems the government and the military want to manage militancy rather than resolve it for good. The mindset still exists that considers militants as assets that can be used against neighbouring countries when needed. There are reports of strengthening Khan Said Sajna group in Karachi and packing the Hakeemullah Mehsud group. This picking and choosing has not helped us before and will not help us in future.
Dear Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan and General Raheel Sharif, the TTP is not demanding schools, hospitals, roads, jobs, an end to load shedding or improvement in the quality of life of the people of the tribal areas or the local bodies elections. What on earth are you going to talk about with the Taliban? It defies common sense if you demand that the Taliban lay down their arms. Who wants to relinquish power, wealth and media glorification? It is a super display of naïvety to expect Fazlullah to get back to his job as chair-lift operator and sermonise people on his FM radio channel to be respectful to the constitution of Pakistan and be good citizens. One wonders that when General Musharraf, in his retired life, does not care much about the constitution, dodging the courts, why would Fazlullah respect it when he is all powerful with no plans of retirement yet?
The prevalent impression in the three provinces is that Punjab is the power centre both for the military and ruling class and since it is not targeted by the terrorists like the rest of the country is, there is no urgency to take on the militants. The operation in Karachi is kosher but haram in North Waziristan. “What is essential in war is victory,” Sun Tzu said, “not prolonged operations.”
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s former police chief, Malik Naveed, is in the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) custody facing corruption charges. Should we assume that this will lessen the morale of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police as the front player in fighting terrorists having offered sacrifices more than other security forces? We are told that General Pervez Musharraf’s case has lessened the morale of the armed forces. Go figure.
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