Pakistan: a house united against itself?

The TTP has effectively slapped the media, society and the state across the face. Mr Imran Khan may be the ball and chain around his foot but the decision to act is only and only Mr Nawaz Sharif’s

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) martyred over 20 security personnel in Bannu last week followed by another deadly attack killing soldiers in the Royal Artillery (RA) Bazaar, Rawalpindi, earlier this week. Prior to these attacks, the TTP slaughtered three employees of a media house in cold blood in Karachi. Subsequently, Ehsanullah Ehsan of the TTP had the audacity to call the same media house during a live programme, claim the assassination of these innocent men and threaten more bloodshed if his horde is not given ‘proper space’ and ‘unbiased coverage’ by the media. 
The response of Pakistani society and the state, starting from the anchor that handled Ehsan’s call all the way up to the prime minister, was to turn over and play dead. It is as if a near consensus exists on inaction against the TTP. Pakistan increasingly and ominously looks like a house united against itself. Notable and honourable exceptions, providing timely caution and reality checks, certainly exist but remain few and far between. The Urdu media in Pakistan, including a handful of the liberals in its ranks, has been legitimising the Afghan Taliban for a decade now. It was just a matter of time before it switched gears from rationalising the TTP’s atrocities to downright lionising it. The Afghan Taliban have been presented ostensibly as legitimate freedom fighters trying to oust the US and NATO forces from their country. Never mind that the same Taliban were slaughtering Afghans and shooting women in football stadiums for petty crimes from 1996 through to 2001 when there was not a single US person in Afghanistan. 
The media and its decade-long darling, Mr Imran Khan, use the same revisionist lie to justify TTP barbarism, i.e. there was no Pakistani Taliban till the US war on terror and the drone strikes started. Conveniently forgotten is the fact that the Pakistani Taliban arose almost at the same time as their Afghan counterparts in the mid- to late-1990s in Malakand, Orakzai Agency and the two Waziristans. In fact, many of the Pakistani Taliban like Nek Muhammad Wazir, Baitullah Mehsud, Waliur Rehman Mehsud and Hakeemullah Mehsud had fought inside Afghanistan alongside Mullah Omar’s men long before there were any US troops there. Another frequently peddled lie is that military operations have failed to produce results. The fact is that, as half-hearted as some of the military operations were and other serious reservations about the tactics and motives notwithstanding, they still cleared Swat and large swathes of Bajaur and South Waziristan agencies. In addition to the military operations, the tribesmen of Upper Kurram have beaten back the TTP and its allied groups, and have held them at bay since the winter of 2007.
In the wake of the deadly bombings on the security and media personnel, one expected the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) to review their policy of appeasing the TTP but the political Tweedledum and Tweedledee are competing with each other yet again to lay the blame for TTP atrocities on the US’s doorstep. Mr Imran Khan went first and, after spending about 30 seconds regretting the Bannu attack, he blamed the US for every evil that has befallen Pakistan. Earlier that day he had tweeted, in English, a generic condemnation of the TTP’s Bannu assault. Mr Khan clearly took pains to avoid condemning the TTP in Urdu and thus annoying them. He could not bring himself to utter a word against the TTP barbarians who martyred over 20 security men. In fact, Mr Khan’s line in that speech in Haripur was not very different from what the TTP says about the US. Little surprise then that Mr Khan remains the chief apologist of the TTP and the bulwark against a decisive action to neutralise that terrorist horde.
The ultimate responsibility for indecision and inaction, however, rests squarely with the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Mr. Sharif’s handpicked man for negotiating with the TTP and formulating the national security policy remains Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who, in grappling with these issues, appears both out of his depth and wits. He comes across as a provincial politician who is clueless about the complex process of negotiating with the TTP. His take on the drones and the US ostensibly being responsible for vitiating his imaginary success in bringing the TTP to the dialogue table is not that much different from that of his former schoolmate Mr Imran Khan. It seems like the two Khans have perfected a weird good cop/good cop routine vis-à-vis the TTP where one is falling over the other to appease the terrorist outfit. Mr Nawaz Sharif is a seasoned politician and a serious statesman. He will be ignoring his interior minister fumbling with the task at hand at his and the nation’s peril.
The TTP has effectively slapped the media, society and the state across the face. Mr Imran Khan may be the ball and chain around his foot but the decision to act is only and only Mr Nawaz Sharif’s. If Mr Khan has confused the national narrative, what exactly has Mr Sharif done to counter it? Not articulating an alternative to the PTI’s talks hoax and asking assorted clerics and Charlie’s aunt to go talk to the TTP is certainly not statesman-like. Does the prime minister have a Plan B or, for that matter, a Plan A, as the TTP regains lethal strength? Thanks to his government prevaricating, the TTP has had several months to regroup, rearm and resume its deadly attacks with a vengeance. I suspect that the much-trumpeted national security policy will not have a clear mission statement regarding who exactly is the enemy and will not set any mission goals. Procedural, departmental and legal updates, which this document likely does, can hardly be termed a national security policy. 
Mr Nawaz Sharif will have to resist his temptation to privatise the negotiations. He has to take ownership of the peace process as well as the military option should the talks fail or fail to start. He must avoid another silly All Parties Conference, with a slew of TTP sympathisers in attendance, which Mr Imran Khan is again calling for. An elected and functioning parliament exists and should be the only forum to discuss anti-terrorism policy and action. Mr Sharif must go to the house he has been elected to lead and spell out his vision and action plan, which must include absolutely no forbearance for the barbarians.

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