TTP and the Perils of Inertia

TTP spokespersons (Credit:
TTP spokespersons

IT is our war. It is America’s war. Thousands of Pakistanis have perished in this war. And all we do is take part in this debate. We do nothing to end it.

If one could put it down to a simple lack of will or spine it would have been bad enough. That a fair bit of the discourse on terrorism represents ideologically motivated obfuscation is unforgivable, particularly given how many compatriots have had to sacrifice so much.

The dominant argument is that Pakistan’s support to the US-led war in Afghanistan and the CIA’s drone attacks are the only drivers of terrorism in the country. Ergo, this support to the US is not just blamed for terrorism but also advanced as a justification for the mass murder of our people.

Refusal to accept this view in its entirety is immediately pounced upon as being tantamount to condoning or worse still supporting the drone attacks that mostly kill our civilians, women and children, and occasionally the militant in the tribal areas.

God help you if you happen to have doubts about talks with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP): “Amreeka key agent media mein bethey huey hein jo amn ke khilaf hein” (There are American agents in the media opposed to peace), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan said in his ‘first’ televised interview since his election campaign accident.

His utter contempt for anyone holding a view different to his own is always a bit upsetting but, on this occasion, it was reassuring because it established the PTI leader had been restored to good health and his former self.

Therefore, it wasn’t surprising to hear him say that if the US can facilitate the opening of an Afghan Taliban office in Doha and initiate a dialogue with them why couldn’t Pakistan do the same in case of the TTP.

Let me be open and admit that I have a soft corner for the great Khan. He gave me and countless others one of the finest moments of our lives by leading Pakistan to its only Cricket World Cup triumph. That is why we all forgave him for his “In the twilight of my career…” speech.

That the well-meaning, born-again Muslim then went on to a greater triumph in setting up and successfully running the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital for specialised cancer care in memory of his mother who, like mine, died at the cruel hands of cancer was awe-inspiring.

So yes, I disagree with him but won’t call him Taliban Khan; even if he finds ideological compassion for the TTP and understanding for the atrocities committed by the group against thousands of Pakistanis.

He is free to call me an American agent or by whatever name he wishes because I oppose talks with the TTP. I do so because there is no parallel between that and the US starting a dialogue with the Afghan Taliban.

The US is now keen to get out of Afghanistan, a foreign country it invaded with UN approval and possibly a just cause, after the Taliban administration refused to hand over the mostly Saudi suspected perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks on US soil.

It went into the country seeking retribution. This retribution wasn’t possible without regime change. It did what it thought necessary. It may even have attained its main objective of attacking Al Qaeda in its sanctuary and denuding it of its capacity to attack the US on its soil again.

But a democracy it remains and its war-weary voting public is wary of continuing a bloody conflict which, they understand, cannot be won. So, the US has now embarked on its plan to shrink its giant footprint in that foreign country.

However, it also doesn’t wish a return of the pre-invasion situation in Afghanistan where Islamic militants from around the world found a safe haven and training ground to serve as a launching pad for their global jihad.

It wants guarantees that only the Taliban can give. It isn’t clear if, in line with ISI belief, the Taliban can return to their pre-war glory and rule over Kabul as well but it is clear to the US they’ll have large swathes of the country under their control as they do even now; hence, the talks.

If the admittedly imperfect Afghan democracy collapses post-US withdrawal so be it as long as the new power structures can guarantee no sanctuaries for global jihadis. The US doesn’t seem interested in ‘nation building’ any more. It’ll retain its drone programme, and possibly some residual air and special operations capability so nothing’s left to chance. We have our democracy to lose. Unless, that is, we actually believe that once the US has pulled out of Afghanistan or we have pulled out of the ‘US war’ all will be hunky-dory. We’ll need to forget the TTP is committed to their brand of Sharia in the country and beyond.

They find democracy, diversity of opinion and faith against their ideological beliefs. Groups of mass murderers such as the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi are either TTP allies or franchises. The TTP continues to offer sanctuaries to foreign fighters with global ambitions.

Thousands of soldiers have died clearing the bulk of the tribal areas of these militants. The TTP remains ensconced in its remaining stronghold of North Waziristan. That is where the serpent’s head is.

One would have said carry on with your obfuscation, talk about talks, do deals like in the past, if it wasn’t so dangerous. All this wasted time means wasted opportunities. The TTP gets bolder and bolder in its attacks; its ranks appear swollen by zealots; who knows what fear can do to people.

What if one day, battered by TTP’s bombings and filled with despair by the inertia of the state, more people turn to its ideology if only to find some respite, save themselves? What a horrifying thought. I’d rather be labelled an American agent and strive to salvage whatever is left of my Pakistan.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

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