Surreal nature of government-TTP talks

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Rabi' al-Thani 29, 1435 2014-03-01

Editorials

by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 1, Rabi' al-Thani, 1435)

While talk is better than war, the two sides—the government of Pakistan, and the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), appear to be talking past each other. Neither side appears to realize the gravity of the situation caused by continued mayhem and fighting.

It is always preferable to talk than fight. This is what most war- and terror-weary people of Pakistan had hoped for when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced in parliament that he wanted to give peace one more chance and talk to the Pakistani Taliban. From there on, the entire episode took on a surreal turn. Instead of nominating political figures from within the government that would carry real weight, Sharif nominated a four-member committee comprising two journalists (Irfan Siddiqui and Rahimullah Yousufzai), one former ambassador to Afghanistan (Rostam Khan Mohmand) and one former ISI major (Mohammed Amir). The Taliban responded with an equally astonishing list of nominees to represent their side: Maulana Samiul Haq (Jamiatul Islam-S), Professor Mohammad Ibrahim (Jamaat-e Islami), Maulana Abdul Aziz (Lal Masjid), Imran Khan (chief of Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf) and Mufti Kifayatullah (Jamiatul Islam-F). The latter two declined.

Given the myriad groups claiming to be the Taliban, who exactly is that the government wants to talk to? True, there is a group called the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) but even if an agreement were reached with it, would the others claiming to be Taliban accept the terms?

The talks got off to a shaky start and there appeared to be lack of interest on both sides. Their demands appeared unrealistic. The government insisted that the TTP must accept supremacy of the constitution; the TTP responded with a demand for implementation of the Shari‘ah. These conflicting demands were soon superseded by killings on both sides resulting in the suspension of talks. The environment was further muddied when the military launched air strikes in North Waziristan, ostensibly against foreign militants but they proved provocative nonetheless. Attacks can certainly not be conducive for talks.

While insisting on the supremacy of the constitution, few politicians care about its articles. If the constitution were strictly applied in letter and spirit, there would be very few members eligible to sit in parliament. As far as implementation of the Shari‘ah is concerned, no Muslim should be opposed to it but in the polluted political environment of Pakistan, it would be disastrous to call for its implementation. One only has to look at the mess they have made of Shari‘ah courts in Pakistan.

Shari‘ah can only be implemented by muttaqi, knowledgeable Muslims, not charlatans. Further, the groundwork must be properly prepared before any such steps are taken. Most Pakistani politicians do not have the faintest idea what Shari‘ah stands for; the Taliban’s version of Shari‘ah does not transcend beyond chopping hands and heads. Is that all Shari‘ah is about?

Both sides appear to be talking at cross-purposes and do not appear serious about establishing peace in the country. The poor people of Pakistan, especially in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, are paying and will continue to pay the price for such folly.

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