Thursday, January 2, 2014

Pakistan: Nawaz approach to terrorism: ''Fox among the chickens''

The new year has dawned with yet another indication that the government continues to flounder as far as its policy towards terrorism is concerned. Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif has now reportedly tasked Maulana Samiul Haq of the Akora Khattak seminary fame to facilitate bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. The Maulana, head of his JUI faction and chief of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a platform of right wing reactionary forces, is known as the ‘father of the Taliban’ as it is said his madrassa was the fount of theological training of the Taliban. Reports say after a meeting with the PM, Maulana Samiul Haq laid down his conditions for paving the way for talks with the Taliban. Amongst these, he asked the government to stop the military operation underway in North Waziristan Agency (NWA), change its pro-US foreign policy, and stop the drone strikes. On the same day, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar denied Sami had been so tasked or that there was any operation going on in NWA. He also made some preposterous claims about the talks with the Taliban having made progress and that talks were ongoing. There is of course no evidence available of any such thing. The only ‘evidence’ is the stubborn refusal of the TTP to enter into any talks with the government, which it accuses of being a western puppet and complicit in targeting its leaders. That position has been reiterated by the TTP after the news of Maulana Samiul Haq’s being inducted into the talks effort. What the interior minister should be concentrating on is the formulation of a national security policy, whose elusive draft he claims is still poised to be presented before the federal cabinet (don’t hold your breath).
The PM’s turning to Samiul Haq as a possible mediator indicates two things. One, desperation stemming from the government’s having put all its eggs in the talks basket and being glaringly unable to present a convincing alternative if the talks either do not start or, fail. Two, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F seems to have been ‘dumped’ as a mediator in favour of his theological rival Sami. Maulana Fazlur Rehman has been harping on about the need for a tribal jirga to resolve the Taliban conundrum. So far, however, the government appears unconvinced that Fazlur Rehman retains the clout with the Taliban to bring this about. Hence Samiul Haq’s star seems now to be on the ascendant as far as this ‘sacred’ task of initiating talks is concerned. However, one may be excused for regarding the inducting of Maulana Samiul Haq as a case of setting the fox to guard the chickens. It remains to be seen if he can act as a mediator or remain the father of the Taliban.
The problem with the government’s approach to terrorism is that it duplicates the criticism against anti-Taliban forces that demand a military operation in FATA, first and foremost NWA, to root out local and foreign terrorists ruling the roost there, except that the government’s one-sidedness originates from the opposite starting point. While the most virulent opponents of the Taliban demand they be crushed by force, the government seems unable to have a nuanced approach, which is necessary in such complex counter-terrorism campaigns, to combine talks where possible, and that too on terms acceptable to the state, with a firm hand where talks are out of the question. The latter seems conspicuous by its absence so far. Six months have been wasted by the government in pursuing the will o’ the wisp of talks, with hardly any sign that the approach is going anywhere. The All Parties Conference convened on the subject has proved the proverbial red herring that has painted the government into the talks corner with no other strategic or tactical options in evidence. If the recent clash between the military and terrorists in NWA is anything to go by, it is time the government realised that even to persuade the terrorists to come to the negotiating table, the state must not be seen to be begging, rather it should firmly establish its writ and authority wherever it is challenged by the terrorists.

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