Is the end game of the Taliban the attainment of their ultimate goal: converting Pakistan into a Talibanised island that is cut off from the rest of the world? This is a battle between the liberal forces that want to revert to Quaid-e-Azam’s egalitarian Pakistan and the extremists who want to capture it and convert it into a Talibanised state of their own.
Pakistan’s decision to become an ally and the frontline state in the war against terrorism declared after 9/11 turned the country into a central stage where the war on terrorism is now being fought. Pakistan has paid and is still paying a huge price in human and economic terms for playing the role of a frontline state in the war on terror. Subsequently, when the government tried to bring religious jihadi groups converted into militants under its control, it triggered a reaction among religious groups and jihadi organisations (who had been enjoying the support of the establishment in the past) and pitched them against the government and its security forces. They started challenging the writ of the government by attacking civilians and security forces through the use of suicide bombers. The militants belonging to various groups and ideologies started networking with one another in the face of pressure from the government to stop cross-border interference. Under the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) umbrella, militants claimed that their main objective was to expel US and NATO forces from Afghanistan and to enforce sharia in Pakistan.
In response to the government’s effort to stop their involvement in cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan and providing protection to foreign militants, the TTP unleashed a reign of terror in the country and claimed responsibility for many suicide-bombing incidents in which thousands of people were killed. The Taliban are normally equated in public perception with terrorism in Pakistan. The international political shift in the wake of the planned US/NATO withdrawal demands cooperative and friendly relations with Pakistan. With the worsening situation in Afghanistan and setbacks at home for the US administration, Pakistan’s geo-strategic position in the region once again presented hope for players engaged in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is playing an important role as a mediator between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Earlier, President Karzai presented a plan in a grand jirga (assembly), which offered amnesty, money and job incentives for Taliban foot-soldiers with asylum for top figures in fellow Muslim countries and removal of their names from the UN and US blacklists, which banned them from foreign travel as well. The chief demand of the Taliban before making peace with the government remains the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. The fighting is at its extreme intensity, with the Taliban gaining more strength against massive foreign forces. The militants attacked the opening session of the jirga with guns and rockets. They are presently in a stronger position, which gives them little reason to surrender and accept peace. That is why Pakistan’s assistance is requested to use whatever influence it has over them to get them to lay down arms and accept peace. So far, Pakistan has shown willingness to act as a broker in a deal between the Karzai government and the Taliban. Besides, Pakistan took up the task of becoming an intermediary by bridging differences between the Haqqani network and the Karzai government.
The recent wave of terror in Pakistan has posed a huge challenge. In one of the latest attacks, a bomb planted by the Taliban ripped through a truck carrying paramilitary soldiers from a Pakistan army compound in violence-stricken northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan. At least 20 soldiers were killed and another 30 were injured. The attack in Bannu targeted troops who were about to travel to the North Waziristan region along the Afghan border, a territory that has been targeted in several US attacks against suspected Taliban sanctuaries, using pilotless drones. On Tuesday, there was a bus blast in Mastung.
At the same time, in Afghanistan the Taliban attacked a popular restaurant in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, which killed 21 people. Many analysts are warning the US that it may be leaving Afghanistan too vulnerable, as it remains under the threat of the Taliban making considerable new advances. A suicide bomber struck Monday morning near the military’s general headquarters in Rawalpindi, killing at least 15 people, including eight soldiers and three children. Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the TTP, said that the group carried out both the attacks in retaliation for the army’s operations against militants in the country’s tribal regions and to avenge the death of Waliur Rehman, the group’s former second-in-command who was killed last year in a US drone strike, while accusing and blaming the government for being insincere and a helping hand of the US.
The back-to-back bombings have put added pressure on the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. After the bombing in Bannu, Nawaz Sharif cancelled a trip to Davos, Switzerland, where he had planned to attend the World Economic Forum.
Before these attacks, the TTP faction responded with a list of preconditions, including a government ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops from the tribal areas along the Afghan border where the militants have hideouts. There has been emphasis that any ceasefire must include an end to US drone attacks in the tribal areas, which have been targeting suspected Taliban and al Qaeda militants since 2004. The Pakistan government publicly criticises the strikes as counterproductive and a violation of sovereignty but Washington considers them an effective tool in the fight against militancy. The TTP’s demand adds a new challenge to the already bleak prospects for talks, hit hard by lethal attacks every day.
In an effort to get rid of the mess, the TTP’s always boiling sentiment of an insincere government and a new wave of terrorism in the shape of the masses targeted via bomb attacks, has dragged Pakistan deep into it. The country’s leadership’s dependence on the world powers for an unprecedented pivotal role has buried Pakistan under such debris. Now, after due advances in drone technology, the US won’t require bases or permission. It has become a vicious circle now and it will not be easy to break out of it. Withdrawal of US/NATO forces from Afghanistan, the US’s and Karzai government’s inability to bring the Taliban to the dialogue table, discussions of the proxy war situation in Afghanistan and continuation of the drone policy have left Pakistan terribly Talibanised. Hence the Nawaz government has to step ahead of just repetition and recitation of the mantra of dialogue for peace.
The ongoing operation in which jetfighters are being used is a welcome step. The entire nation is backing this. Enough is enough. The time for talks is over. Let the terrorists be swept out once and for all. Do not stop General Raheel. Do not stop until the terrorists are wiped out. Let the menace be eliminated forever. I assure you the nation is behind you.
The writer is a freelance columnist