By S Iftikhar Murshed
October 09, 2011
The silliness of an empty pageant was in evidence at the All-Parties Conference convened by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Sept 29. The meeting should have promised justice-based retribution, as mandated by the Quran, for the terrorists’ killing of 35,000 Pakistani nationals, including 3,000 security personnel. Instead, it unanimously adopted a 13-point resolution which sought to appease the murderers and pledged that the “guiding central principle” of policy would henceforth be to “give peace a chance.”
It is not known whether this catchy slogan was deliberately or unwittingly plagiarised from the 1969 John Lennon song which became the anthem of the US anti-war movement of the 1970s. The influence of the Beatles on Pakistan’s political leadership aside, what emerges is a crass lack of sensitivity arising from faulty assumptions. This is evident from the formulation: “Pakistan must initiate dialogue with a view to negotiating peace with our own people in the tribal areas.”
This ill-disguised indictment of tribal Pakhtuns is unwarranted. They have never been at war with the rest of Pakistan and the question of “negotiating peace” with them does not arise. They are the major victims of terrorism. Their men have been ruthlessly slaughtered for resisting the barbarity of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), their homes have been razed to the ground and they have been compelled by circumstances to live in misery in the settled areas as internally displaced persons.
In the words of a reputed scholar from the area “the militants in FATA are the Punjabi Taliban and international terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda who have committed atrocities on the tribal people.” Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of tribesmen look upon the small lunatic fringe among their people who have joined the Taliban “as murderers and anti-social elements” who must be brought to justice. The “give peace a chance” policy amounts to feckless capitulation to unbridled extremist violence.
The immutable principle of statecraft is that negotiations should only be embarked upon from a position of strength, or else the consequences can be disastrous. The sine qua non for any dialogue with the TTP must be that they should terminate hostilities, surrender their weapons, accept the supremacy of the Constitution and pledge fealty to the state.
The response to the APC’s offer of dialogue came from the dreaded deputy commander of the TTP, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad. He enunciated two preconditions for the commencement of negotiations: the enforcement of the sharia in the country and a revision of Pakistan’s cooperation with the US.
Konrad Adenauer, the first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, believed that “an infallible way of conciliating a tiger is to allow oneself to be devoured.” This is the lesson that Pakistan should have learnt from its experience since the emergence of the TTP. Peace accords with this outfit, notably the Shakai deal with Nek Muhammad in March 2004, the Sararoga truce with Baitullah Mehsud in February 2005, the Miramshah understanding of September 2006 and the Khyber agreement in June 2008 enabled the TTP to regroup and resume hostilities with ever greater vengeance. A few months after the Sararoga agreement, Baitullah Mehsud threatened two suicide bombings every week.
An even more striking example of the futility of appeasing terrorist groups was the Feb 16, 2009, peace deal concluded with Maulana Sufi Muhammad for the enforcement of Nizam-e-Adl regulations in Swat. Soon afterwards the TTP overran the adjacent Buner district and Mullah Nazeer Ahmed boasted, “the day is not far when Islamabad will be in the hands of the Mujahideen.”
On Sept 23, 2011, the Awami National Party issued a statement emphasising the need “for an all-out effort by the government of Pakistan to root out terrorist groups, their supply lines and infrastructure on Pakistani soil.” Six days later, its leader Asfandyar Wali Khan went along with the APC consensus of initiating peace overtures towards the terrorists who were “our own people in the tribal areas.”
The same misperception has been repeatedly articulated by Tehrik-e-Insaaf chief Imran Khan, with the difference that all Pakhtuns, not merely those in the tribal areas, were equated with the Taliban. In July this year a hilarious video was doing the rounds on the internet in which he ranted: “Almighty Allah has created two kinds of creatures: Insan (human beings) and Pathan. Pathans are very different people. America may kill them in the numbers it wishes; they will fight even more. And they fight with strategy... they don’t fight to lose. They [the Taliban] don’t have to lose because they are in the Awam [masses]. The Pakhtun awam are with them...this war is now a war of Pakhtuns, who are on both sides of the border.”
Thus, in Imran Khan’s reckoning, the Taliban, and by implication the Pakhtuns, are not human beings but an altogether different species. Such views are an insult to the heroes who have laid down their lives to defend their fellow citizens from terrorists. One such person who comes immediately to mind is Additional Inspector General of Police Safwat Ghayur who was target-killed by the TTP in Peshawar last year. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa alone 417 policemen have been killed and 1,042 were grievously injured in 49 suicide attacks since 2006.
The scourge is countrywide. On Sept 19 Karachi SSP Muhammad Aslam Khan narrowly escaped a suicide bomb attack, though eight others were killed. He was undaunted and declared on television that he was determined to persevere in the jihad against terrorism. The TTP immediately released a list of other senior police officials on their hit list and vowed that if they failed to eliminate them their family members would be targeted. The only female judge of an anti-terrorist court of Pakistan, Khalida Yasin, has received similar threats, but she refuses to be intimidated.
These brave civilians and soldiers who are fighting the terrorist groups in the tribal areas and elsewhere in the country are perfectly within their rights to demand why they should continue to put their lives at risk if the 58-odd leaders of political parties who participated in the APC have resolved to negotiate with the TTP. As in the past, the end result can only be the whittling away of the basic rights of the people and the further erosion of state sovereignty.
The APC resolution also stresses that Pakistan can become self-reliant through tax reforms, resource mobilisation and elimination of corruption, and “trade, not aid, should clearly be the way forward.” These are obvious verities about which there can be no two opinions. But the problem is that those prescribing the remedy, barring one or two exceptions, are failed power-hungry leaders responsible for the malaise.
Poland’s former president and Nobel laureate Lech Walesa once said that “power is only important as an instrument of service to the powerless,” but in Pakistan it is wielded only to cater to the illegal interests of the powerful. The findings of Transparency International show that if 40 percent of funds from the exchequer were not embezzled and the tax potential of Rs500 billion was collected, Pakistan would be able to generate $10 billion annually.
The APC was prompted by the current standoff between Pakistan and the US. This has been a crisis in the making since June last year with the presentation of a study at the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. The report cited “both Taliban and Haqqani commanders” as conceding that the ISI “controls the most violent insurgent units, some of which appear to be based in Pakistan.” It also alleged: “Insurgent commanders confirmed that the ISI are even represented as participants or observers on...the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani command council.”
The allegations are dubious, but nevertheless serious. The question that arises is whether the Pakistani embassy in Washington did anything to set the record straight or was it waiting for the strains in the Pakistan-US equation to come to a head with the attacks on the US embassy and Nato headquarters in Kabul on Sept 13 and American troops in Wardak on Sept 11? Whatever the answer, initiating negotiations with the TTP will not result in peace with honour and will only further isolate Pakistan, despite all its sacrifices in the fight against terrorism.
The writer is publisher of Criterion Quarterly.
Source: The News, Islamabad