Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pak Charade on Terrorism Stands Exposed

Sushant Sareen, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

After weeks of delays and dithering, hemming and hawing, and some political bargaining, point scoring and grand-standing, the newly elected PMLN government in Pakistan finally managed to hold the much touted All Parties Conference to evolve a consensus on the counter-terrorism policy of the Pakistani state. The APC was never going to be the magic bullet that would find a lasting solution to Pakistan’s tryst with terrorism. But at the very least, it was expected to make a show of national resolve against terrorism even as it endorsed the government’s efforts and attempts to restore peace in the country through negotiations and dialogue. The resolution passed by the APC, however, is a document dripping with and reeking of irresoluteness. For all practical purposes, the only consensus that emerged after the confabulations of the civil and military leadership of Pakistan was to capitulate before the Taliban, and all that now remains to be decided are the modalities of going about this.1

Not surprisingly, there has been trenchant criticism of the APC resolution by many Pakistani analysts and observers. For one, the very idea of holding an APC when there is a parliament in place to debate issues of vital national importance has been called into question, more so because ostensibly only parties with representation in parliament were invited for the APC.2 Apart from procedural and protocol issues, there are other more substantial points on which the APC has been pilloried. For instance, despite all the verbiage in the resolution that was passed, there is no clear roadmap on how negotiations will be conducted, with whom, on what basis and under what framework, what will be the plan ‘B’ if the dialogue fails etc. In other words, none of the nuts and bolts of an anti-terror policy that are critical for determining the pace, direction, and terms and conditions of the negotiation process have been clearly specified. It is almost as though the authorities will decide things as they go along, or if you will, muddle along.

While the Pakistani politicians have been rather unrestrained in hitting out against the US, not just on the issue of drone attacks but also in making clear that in fighting the war Pakistan “will not be guided by the USA or any other country...”, when it comes to even mentioning the Taliban or the T-word (terrorism) all the determination displayed in standing up to the US (arguably Pakistan’s largest benefactor) seems to suddenly disappear. This of course is something that has been in the making for quite some months and, if anything, the pusillanimity of the Pakistani political class has only increased. Earlier this year, the the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam - Fazl-ur-Rehman Group (JUI-F) held an APC where the luminaries referred to the depredations of the Taliban as ‘lawlessness’ because use of the word ‘terrorism’ would offend the Taliban. The JUI-F APC also called for ‘engaging all concerned parties’, thereby conceding legitimacy to the Taliban by making them a concerned party instead of a combatant. The PMLN has gone a step further by using the term ‘stakeholders’ which is tantamount to placing the Taliban on an even higher pedestal.

The APC resolution quotes a two year old resolution by another APC to reiterate that ‘dialogue had to be initiated to negotiate peace with our own people (emphasis mine) in the Tribal Areas’. Quite asides the fact that this formulation is reflective of the twisted and confused mindset that pervades Pakistani thinking on the Taliban who are responsible for nearly 40000 murders, the talk about talking to ‘our own people’ is just so much hot air and not very different from the nonsense that used to be peddled during the Musharraf and Zardari period that negotiations or deals were not being made with the Taliban terrorists but with tribesmen and tribal elders. The spin that is now being given to this formulation is that it makes a distinction between foreign terrorists – Arabs, Uzbeks, Chechens, Uighurs etc. and Pakistani jihadists and Taliban who are targeting the Pakistani people and state – and other groups which are involved in the insurgency because of some grievance or some ideological reasons and are not intrinsically opposed to the Pakistani state. If indeed such a distinction can be made, then the question arises as to what purpose will be served (in terms of restoring peace) by talking only to those combatants who are perhaps peripheral to the whole situation? In other words, the bulk of the people who are waging a war against the Pakistani state will not be part of the dialogue process and to tackle this lot force in any case will have to be used. If so, then this entire APC and the entire dialogue tack is an exercise in futility.

Worse, in what appears to be the Pakistani version of ‘one country, two systems’, the APC has virtually prepared the ground for conceding the formation of ‘Islamic Emirates’ in the areas where the Taliban hold sway. This has been done by the laying out the ‘guiding principles’ which talk of ‘respect for local customs and traditions, values and religious beliefs’. Clearly, such an ambiguously worded formulation allows the Taliban to impose their own version of Shariah and their medieval social norms in the areas they control under the pretext of respecting local customs and religious beliefs. What is more, if reports about Imran Khan’s boasts that the Pakistani authorities have accepted all that he has been demanding are true, then the Pakistan army is all set to effect a ‘phased withdrawal’ of troops from the troubled Tribal Areas, which means handing over complete control of these areas to the marauding Taliban, who will pretty much be free to run or ruin the place as they deem fit.3 Even now, the Pakistani state has effectively ceased to exist in many of the areas – notably North Waziristan and parts of South Waziristan – where it has entered into peace deals with Taliban warlords like Gul Bahadur and the now slain commander Mullah Nazir.

Perhaps the most problematic part of the APC deliberations and resolution is the extent that the civilian and military leadership has gone to appease the Taliban. The political class is apparently so terrified of riling and upsetting the Taliban that apart from use of obsequious phrases, they have also desisted from setting any ground rules that the Taliban would need to observe in order to prove their sincerity and seriousness about the dialogue. Forget about any clarity regarding what the dialogue is to achieve – according to one luminary of the PMLN who is rumoured to become the next governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the government will try to convince the Taliban to adhere to the constitution and accept the Shariah as currently exists in the country! – there are no pre-conditions of any sort that the Taliban will have to meet to come on the negotiation table.

But even though the Pakistani authorities seem reconciled to not insisting on any pre-conditions, there is at the same time an expectation (or at least a hope) that some sort of a ceasefire will be in place during the negotiations. The problem is that while from the side of the Pakistani state, there will be a single entity negotiating (which means that no operations from the side of the state against the insurgents), on the side of the insurgents there are dozens of groups which are operating, some reconcilable, others not so. This means that even though groups ready to negotiate with the government might adhere to a ceasefire, the groups that oppose any dialogue will be free to carry out attacks. Chances are that the Taliban (who are despite the multiplicity of groups constitute a confederation of sorts) follow the same twin track approach of talks and terror going hand in hand that Pakistan adopts with India. In other words, while the Taliban attacks will continue, there will be (and can be) no response from the side of the Pakistani state (because of the over-lapping of many Taliban groups in terms of both space and cadre), something that will only worsen the security situation and put the Taliban in a commanding position.

The TTP has already made it clear that any ceasefire would follow a dialogue and not precede it, as was being demanded by the earlier PPP-led government. To further rub the nose of the Pakistani authorities into the ground, the TTP had earlier this year nominated Adnan Rashid – the former Pakistan Air Force employee who had been given death sentence for his role in the assassination attempt on the former military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf and who had been freed during the Bannu Jail break last year – as one of their negotiators. The other negotiators were Taliban leaders who were in custody of the Pakistani authorities. In addition, responding to earlier overtures for talks, the Taliban made it clear that they would neither lay down their arms nor sever their links with the Al Qaeda and other banned terror groups like the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other such groups. As far as this latest dialogue offer is concerned, even though the Taliban have welcomed it, there are reports that they will be insisting on some pre-conditions and confidence building measures before they accept the talks offer. Some of these conditions and CBMs appear to have been accepted, what with reports of half a dozen Taliban fighters and commanders being released as a goodwill gesture.

Quite clearly, the entire peace tack appears to be something of a non-starter and if it does start will in all likelihood backfire badly by reversing whatever little gains had been made by the Pakistani security forces in their half-hearted and unconvincing fight against the Islamist insurgents. Why then has the political class continued to insist on going through with this tack? One reason for this is that both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan (the latter remains an unreconstructed Taliban advocate) had consistently called for a dialogue with the Taliban when they were not in power and for them to now turn turtle on this issue would not go down well with their conservative, Taliban-leaning constituency. Another reason is that Nawaz Sharif might actually be acting out of fear of the Taliban. In recent weeks there have been a number of plots that have been uncovered that were aimed at the First Family, including a plan to attack the Raiwind family estate, kidnapping Shahbaz Sharif and targeting members of the family. As far as other parties like the PPP, ANP and MQM are concerned, they have become willing partners to the APC resolution partly out of fear of the Taliban and partly because they didn’t want to stand out as spoilers and obstructionists in a peace process on which many people had laid their hopes.

Finally, there is the proverbial elephant in the room – the Pakistan Army – which reportedly was not in favour of an accommodation with the TTP and other affiliated groups but has now kowtowed to the desire of the civilian government to enter into a peace negotiation.4 There are two possible reasons for the army’s new position. The first is that the Army is perhaps giving a long rope to civilian government and the Taliban, fully convinced that the TTP will renege on any deal it enters into, which in turn will end the ambivalence of the political class and create the national mood for launching a comprehensive operation against the Islamist insurgents. Alternatively, the Army could be using this opportunity as part of its long term plan for the post 2014 situation in which it hopes to partner the Taliban in the pursuit of its grand strategic design for domination of the region. In either case, peace will continue to remain a casualty.


  1. For text of resolution passed by the APC on September 9, 2013 see
  2. Apart from the Prime Minister, Interior Minister, the army and ISI chiefs, the participants of the APC included governor Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa‚ chief ministers of four provinces‚ PPP leaders Makhdoom Amin Fahim and Syed Khurshid Shah‚ PTI Chairman Imran Khan‚ JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman‚ PML-Q Chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain‚ PML-F leaders Pir Sibghatullah Rashdi and Imtiaz Sheikh‚ Jamaat-e-Islami leader Liaquat Baloch‚ Muttahida Qaumi Movement leaders Farooq Sattar and Haider Abbasi Rizvi‚ Awami National Party leader Haji Adeel‚ Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party Chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai‚ Balochistan National Party-M Chief Akhtar Mengal‚ National Party leader Mir Hasil Bizenjo‚ Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith Chief Allama Sajid Mir‚ Qaumi Watan Party Chief Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao‚ and Ghazi Gulab Jamal and Abbas Afridi from Fata.
  4. For a report on the army’s position on the dialogue proposal please see the following:

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