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An Agenda of Violence.

Byline: Javed Ansari

It is quite annoying for the average person to note that the Pakistan government seems to be cooling its heels - or is confused - over the talk offer made by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) some time back. The All Parties Conference (APC) that was subsequently convened in Islamabad to flesh out the matter and chalk out a strategy also appears to be an eyewash.

On the face of it, the impression is that it has been all talk and no action on the part of Mr. Nawaz Sharif and his government. Perhaps it was this silence that prompted the TTP leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, to invite a BBC reporter for a rare interview. While bomb attacks and killings continued across Pakistan, the TTP chief had no qualms in saying that the Pakistan government was not quite serious about going ahead with the talks. Hakimullah Mehsud said things to the effect that he did not have much confidence in the intentions of the Pakistan government since he had not seen any serious move from the other end and that messages had only come to him through the media. This, he seemed to say, was not enough and not acceptable for him and his group.

It was quite strange though that while Mehsud was making overtures of peace, his own TTP had launched terror attacks in different provinces of Pakistan and had again killed a number of innocent people. What did this in effect point to - an intention on the part of the Pakistani Taliban to conduct serious negotiations with the government or to carry on with the terror regardless and to continue to push their agenda of violence?

It may be recalled that the government's peace initiative vis-a-vis the Taliban had already seen a major setback when a high-ranking Army officer - the GOC of Malakand, Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Niazi - and two other officers were killed in an IED blast. In the days that followed, it was no other but the TTP that claimed responsibility for the attack.

If Mr. Hakimullah Mehsud was so unhappy with the attitude of the Pakistan government and let out his venom in the BBC interview, he and his associates could have done a service to peace by holding on to a policy of restraint and created an enabling environment that would have paved the way for peace talks rather than killing senior Pakistan army officers. As a matter of fact, the TTP subsequently resorted to even more intensified terrorist attacks and created so much havoc across the country that if they hoped people from among the Pakistani masses to back them, they had certainly lost quite a bit of support.

The Pakistani Taliban is a coalition of militant groups known formally as the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. It was created in 2007 under the direct influence of al Qaeda. The TTP has declared war on Pakistan - its own country - and has targeted government institutions, politicians, security personnel and civilians. The group is separate from the Afghan Taliban.

Some analysts are of the view that since the TTP has grown in size and proportions and today comprises more militant groups than what it had originally contended for, those among the grouping who want talks with the Pakistan government have been outnumbered by those who are for continued violence and bloodshed against the state and its people. There may have been efforts on part of the TTP, though, to distance itself from the 'new' groups but it seems like a long shot.

Despite the military leadership's participation in the APC and its saying 'Okay, go ahead with peace talks', there are also some in the security establishment who say that the resolution passed by the APC was a sort of surrender and that accepting the TTP demands would look like Pakistan had conceded defeat to a terrorist group which had let loose a reign of terror and had killed more than 40,000 military personnel and civilians.

In fact, the TTP has made such outlandish demands that these could prove a hindrance to the talks rather than facilitating them.

To begin with, they want to talk through a tribal jirga and are willing to provide it full security. Further, they want that Pakistan should be ruled through a Shariah-based system and the existing constitution of the country should be discarded altogether since, in their opinion, it has no place in the way they look at things. The TTP want to make Pakistan an Islamic state that would conform to their narrow interpretation of Islam. They have also demanded an end to drone attacks, an end to Pakistan's cooperation with the U.S. for its war in Afghanistan and compensation to locals for deaths or property damage from past U.S. drone strikes. Even if these demands are fulfilled, the Taliban say they would continue fighting for an Islamic state in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

So complex is the issue and so unending the TTP's demands that public opinion is certainly divided over what sort of talks should take place with the militants - or whether any talks should take place at all. On the one hand is the willingness, expressed by none else but the prominent Pakistani political leader, Imran Khan that the TTP should be allowed to open an office in Pakistan. The politician has been severely criticized for backing the TTP in this manner and some have even said that this tantamounts to according recognition to the TTP and giving it the status of a separate state. The long list of demands that the Taliban leadership has forwarded to the Pakistan government is said to be a big roadblock as well.

Perhaps the time has come for Mr. Nawaz Sharif and his government to show some gumption and devise a counter-terrorism strategy. Instead of listening to the TTP's demands with the kind of patience they have displayed so far, the Prime Minister and the military commanders must draw up a different strategy and strike at the Taliban with the force the country is capable of. They need to realize that this is the one and only language that these terrorists and militants understand. Instead of going into fruitless exercises like APCs and peace talks, the government and the military needs to devise a joint strategy that would make targeted action possible and would strike at the very heart of the TTP terror machine.

To quote Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, terrorists would not be allowed "to take advantage of the military's support to the political process."

The General says: "While it is understandable to give peace a chance through a political one should have any misgivings that we would let terrorists coerce us into accepting their terms."

"The Army has the ability and the will to take the fight to the terrorists."

Since General Kayani won't be in charge of the army for very long now, let's hope his successor would feel the same way and would be willing to take the fight to the TTP's doorstep.
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Publication:South Asia
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Nov 30, 2013
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