By Mehr F. Husain
21 February 2014
WHAT started as mass murders in the form of targeted sectarian attacks, minority killings and destruction of any form of infrastructure that symbolised progress like schools has turned into a successful strategy for the TTP as they discover the government’s weak point (Punjab) and how to keep the government under pressure by straining the relationship between the military and civilian government. How did this happen? First of all, the TTP gained sympathy from the middle class on the basis that all violence was a form of protest against the US war on terror and their use of drones on Pakistani soil. That also caused them to gain political clout in the form of fellow sympathisers among politicians including Fazl Ur Rehman and Imran Khan. Next the TTP took over the political centre stage when this government led by right wing political party PML- N came to power and continuously insisted on holding peace talks, despite violent rejections by the TTP. Now, with hundreds of civilians, security officials and soldiers dead and peace talks deadlocked, the TTP has emerged frighteningly stronger than the State.
A dialogue for peace, a preferred method to war, requires both parties to put down their arms willingly. And this is where the talks went wrong — there was no initial declaration of ceasefire and that resulted in the deaths of 13 innocent policemen and 23 innocent soldiers.
These deaths were a result of the TTP wanting the government to stop killing its members in cities including Karachi, ignoring the fact that it is State responsibility to protect its citizens from outlawed terrorists.
So no ceasefire, no success in talks so far. How many more will need to bleed before the TTP are finally exposed as the unreasonable party via these peace talks? All that has become apparent is that the TTP now also views the military as its enemy and the State is just a messenger who’ll most likely get into trouble either way. If the peace talks do not yield a breakthrough, the military is raring to go and avenge its fallen sons. If the government orders military action chances are the nation’s sympathies will swing to the Taliban, especially at a time when the militant organisation is participating in talks, bombs and all.
A full- out operation is simply out of the question for this government because that would mean targeting the heart of the TTP which lies in Punjab among the educated, urban, conservative civil society who also form the voter base for the PML- N. Ideologically, the TTP has established roots especially in Punjab where Burqas and beards are all too common.
Consequently, if the government’s idea was to exhaust all options leaving war as the last resort, then the TTP may already have won for despite all the killings there is still no national consensus for supporting a war against them, with pressure from the Islamic right wing to continue with talks and avoid war.
So this ideological stand that chokes the government, because the PML- N does not just draw its political strength from Punjab but also needs to fend off political opponent Imran Khan whose eye has always been on Punjab as a political trophy and consequently, focused his electoral campaign on anti- US sentiment and drone attacks as a means to appeal to them. Therefore as long as Punjab does not bleed, Sharif knows he retains his ‘Sher- e- Punjab’ title and political strength.
The concern now is that the military and government may differ on how to take things forward. But the division between the State and military, who had been on the same side publicly vowing to work together to fight this menace, is perhaps what the TTP aimed for. Causing confusion and destruction is a speciality of the TTP and given their open hatred for democracy, they couldn’t care less for the government nor for the political future of the country. The TTP know what they want but the government needs to think hard and act fast to gain national backing and military support in coming up with a solution for the sake of the country and regional peace as well.
Mehr F. Husain is a journalist based in Lahore
Source: Mail Today