There is much talk about talks in Pakistan these days. Too much talk. So much, in fact, that even if you were not already convinced that talk of talks with the Taliban is an expression of the futile, you should now be convinced that it is an abject farce.
How I wish it were not so. Serious talk – even on challenges as serious as the ones we confront and even with enemies who pose as existential a threat as the Taliban do to Pakistan – can happen, do happen and sometimes should happen. But certainly not like this.
For its part, the government can at least feign sincerity even though it has botched every move it has made. Most damning of all was the nomination of a negotiation team that reeks of a desire to appease. The Taliban’s response, on the other hand, was insulting in its sheer audacity and arrogance: it demonstrates malice and impudence not only for the government of Pakistan, but for Pakistanis. In the announcement of ‘their’ so-called negotiating team it was as if one could actually see them wickedly snickering at all Pakistan. “You aren’t worth talking to,” they seem to be saying, “We won’t waste our time talking to you; go talk amongst yourself!”
There is certainly no surprise here, given the wanton abandon with which the Taliban and their extremist cohorts have spilled more Pakistani blood than has been shed in all the external wars Pakistan has ever fought. Adept at having others do the dying for them, the Taliban have done what they are best at: pushed others on a suicide mission to do their dirty work for them.
There is, however, deep embarrassment for those who in their well-intentioned naivety had believed in the possibility of dialogue. And there is outright humiliation for Imran Khan who has been publicly mocked by the Taliban who have purposefully brought into question the Pakistaniness of the one politician who holds his Pakistaniness most dear. It is not simply that the Taliban asked Imran Khan to negotiate for them; in fact, they nominated him to negotiate against Pakistan.
The Taliban and their sympathizers seem to consider this entire talk tamasha to be some sort of a political victory. If the game is one-upmanship, then maybe they have scored points for pluck. Maybe even scored a tactical advantage in the immediate term – but mostly because of the government’s bumbling. However, the strategic fallout is yet to materialize; either for the government or for the Taliban. Those whose first allegiance lies with Pakistan and Pakistanis still have time and opportunity to wrest the advantage back; maybe even turn the tables on the Taliban.
Let me suggest at least three points that will determine the long-term fallout of the farce being enacted before us. On each of these it is the Pakistani state, polity and society that will determine how the discourse unfolds. Doing so will not be easy, it may not even be likely, but it is possible.
Pakistan vs the Taliban. In case the language above is not explicit enough, let us be totally clear: One can reasonably have all sort of views on how to deal with the Taliban – including whether to talk to them, whether to grant amnesty, whether to consider some demands, whether to incorporate them into civilian life, etc. – but you cannot simultaneously be representing Pakistan and the Taliban.
Those who have chosen to speak for the Taliban – not just ‘with’ but ‘against’ Pakistan – need to understand the consequences of that choice. The ludicrousness of Samiul Haq questioning the “mandate,” “power” and “capability” of the government would have been funny had it not been so infuriating. Maybe he should seriously consider what and how much mandate, power and capability the Taliban have transferred to him, and with what effect?
Cont on page 2
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