With the absence of a proper framework, a sound determination, clarity of future with all contingencies in place and an honest consensus amongst its own members, the Government of Pakistan has seated itself for a collision course with the TTP but forgotten to wear the seatbelts.
To defeat a narrative, one must have a counter-narrative; to defeat an ideology, one must be clear about one’s own idea; and to right the wrongs, one must be sound and determined; the government of Pakistan has none of the above. With the absence of a proper framework, a sound determination, clarity of future with all contingencies in place and an honest consensus amongst its own members, the Government of Pakistan has seated itself for a collision course with the TTP but forgotten to wear the seatbelts. The result, devastating as it is, will bear no appreciation for the efforts rendered to the service of the world in ridding it of terrorism, but will certainly bear a truckload of controversies and accusations.
When non-state actors are taken as state equals by an offer for negotiation,then the idea of negotiation itself requires a review. For all those states that fail to learn from the South American experience, the lessons are taught the hard way. Those lessons are written in blood over corpses and coffins and due care is observed that it is taught in huge numbers, often regularly. The tragic incidents that surround Pakistan are in fact the government’s inability to understand what negotiations really are. It also indicates a lack of provincial coherence and the sheer negligence of the federal government to take all the stakeholders on board according to their status.
With one member of the National Assembly proposing, rather arrogantly and stubbornly, to allow instituting offices for Taliban on the very ground they desolate, while the Government is busy elsewhere attending to more ‘urgent’ issues, there seems to be a slight hint of midterm elections. How I come to this conclusion is the way this Government went all south on every major decision they proposed to take during the course of their election campaign. With the dollar soaring like an eagle, the prices of basic commodities following suit and the state repaying debts through debts, there seems to be a bubble forming which may burst sooner than the makers think.
In all this internal quagmire of a weak economy, death and destruction, we have the TTP – an organization that has no agenda but hell-bent destruction, a band of ruffians that even the Afghan Taliban deny to have allegiance with and a group of miscreants who had ever changing paradigms till the government thought to give them what they needed; a voice and a purpose. Now that Pakistan called for negotiations with TTP, having absolutely no bargaining chips or even a slight strategic advantage, TTP starts to behave just as we usually see from across the border – absurd demands and no flexibility, coupled with immediate implementation.
So what happens when a state decides to give a group of non-state actors, parity with state machinery? What happens when negotiations are not on equal footing and it is not the government that has the higher hand? First, a Major-General is seen targeted and martyred, then a church full of innocent people is eradicated and then starts a horrendous round of explosions and countless innocent lives are lost. With the Prime Minister busy settling affairs of a more international nature, the domestic situation festers more and more.
I am in no way against negotiating or settling issues amicably to avoid unnecessary bloodshed as much as possible, but I fail to see a thorough understanding of the whole concept of negotiations. The basic requirement for negotiations to take place is following the precedent. We see that whenever TTP was given a chance to negotiate, or whenever TTP asked for negotiations, it was mostly the time when they were at their weakest and required to buy time for consolidation. When time was granted and the due dates were met, we saw a fresh wave of indiscriminate hostility from TTP, followed by massive retaliation by the government in the form of military operations, and then the circle ventures on. The Swat operation was one of the most valuable achievements by the government, when negotiations were conducted but with them was a full and complete contingency that was so well-orchestrated that as soon as the negotiations went down and the TTP initiated terror tactics, the government immediately seized the moment and knocked TTP out of their shoes.
The present time, however, is different. The government resorted to pacification of the dispute at a time when the TTP and other terrorist entities were in a sense of victory in shape of the 2014 withdrawal, which they saw as their triumph over America and other superpowers. Induced in superiority complex of actually winning the Afghan War, they became bolder and their activities in Pakistan became intense. With such spirits and the offer to negotiate with no proper offers and counteroffers, the whole idea of ‘sitting down together and talking’ seems gloomy for the common man.
With the Prime Minister asking for disarmament to proceed to negotiations and the TTP alleging that the Prime Minister ‘does not seem serious to sit down and talk’, hopes of pacification seem to be fading. Noteworthy is the behavior of major members of the General Assembly namely Pakistan, the US and India. Where Mr. Manmohan Singh states that there is ‘little hope to be attached’ on any positive and progressive talks with Mr. Nawaz Sharif and puts forth his suggestion to Pakistan to ‘close all factories of terror’ aimed at India, he forgets his own domestic communal issues and the massacres thereof. The government of Pakistan, under all these criticisms and pressures, seems to be showing signs of strain and fatigue.
So what happens when wills collide? We see that one party, be it either the maker or the acceptor of negotiations, must have a higher ground. When it is based on metaphysical ideologies bearing concrete physical and tangible repercussions and fissures, the strength of the narrative matters most. Popularity has no significant value when both sides are on equal footing in terms of public distrust. In case of the TTP and Pakistan, we see the absence of flexibility on both sides and complete disregard of each other; the result we get is the status quo. So let us dissect both the parties one by one and see what the prognosis is.
A band of retreating individuals, mostly foreigners that found refuge in the tribal areas of Pakistan by bypassing the state machinery, starts to assume the duties of ‘cleansing’ the locals by their own version of religious interpretations. They receive a proper treatment, fit for such miscreants, and soon they begin to grow weak, resorting to asymmetric tactics of terror by suicide bombing and planting IEDs. With the Afghan withdrawal nearing, they realize that their chances of returning to Afghanistan and finding an adequate spot in the limelight are slim as other entities, far more powerful, will assure so. So they decide to remain in Pakistan and continue to dominate by claiming responsibility for almost everything that keeps them at celebrity level.
On the other hand, we have the government that transited from the country’s first ever democratic completion of tenure and swept the seats of authority as compared to their contenders. However, like previous election trends, we see rather rebellious provincial arrangements, not ready to think of the greater good, aiming at self-glorification and showing complete incoherence. With the Center focused completely on itself, the State moves to negotiate without any consensus of common counter narrative.
In light of the above assessments, the negotiations may display two effects; either provision of ample time for the TTP to consolidate and subsequent increase in hostility or a zigzag military aimed at short term achievements and no prominent long-term impact. Either way, the situation for the local people remains the same – suicide attacks on one side and military operations on the other.
So what can be the possible amendments to avoid such outcomes? First things first, there must be an implementation of regulatory checks and balances on private media corporations that have induced so much apathy and have desensitized the nation so much that Pakistan seems to be nothing but a cesspool of negativity. This serves not only overt terrorist agendas by allowing them to manipulate anti-government sentiments, but also serves covert agendas of neutralizing Pakistan by declaring it a failed state with nuclear weapons.
Secondly, there must be a proper counterterrorist strategy that must have a combination of short-term and long-term objectives, and the implementation of this strategy must not stop till the objectives are met. Where Pakistan ranks terrorism to be the third in its primary concerns, superseded by electricity crisis and economic debt, the behavior of the government depicts it much lower. To achieve this, the Government should institute mechanisms that eradicate provincialism and ethnic/linguistic sentiments, and any official violating the same, be it from the Government or the opposing benches, must be severely dealt with and condemned unanimously.
Thirdly, if negotiations are to take place with TTP, there must be controlled flexibility and proper contingency plans if the negotiations break down. The Government should take this from the get go that the negotiations will eventually break down and the TTP will naturally allege the Government for doing so to create a justification for retaliation. Pakistan must also take it into due consideration that even though the peacetime would be a chance of consolidation for the TTP, they must show compliance to the cause and must also prepare for the worst case scenario.
Finally, synchronization is the key to success. As Sun Tzu stated, ‘Know your enemy, know yourself and you will win a thousand battles’, there should just be complete precision in implementation, and any components that offer de-synchronization must either be corrected or replaced to allow a smooth fulfillment of objectives. If there is to be a subsequent military action in case of the disintegration of negotiations, the armed forces and the government must have ample domestic confidence of the areas to be operated on, and the local populace must be taken in a position to side with the Government which would allow minimum manipulation by the TTP, eventually discouraging their attempts to initiate resistance.