(image by Yasmeen Ali(Personal))
Here it is: the first talk between the newly formed committee of the government and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan took place a few days ago. The government's team was headed by Secretary Ports and Shipping Habibullah Khan Khattak. The three members of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan were headed by Maulana Samiul Haq. Some members of TTP Shura were also in attendance. According to a local newspaper report the venue was the house of one Mohammad Jamil, a retired Levies subedar in Bilandkhel area.
The same report states the talks revolved around two points; first, extending the ceasefire between the government and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and second, release of detainees who may technically be deemed as "non-combatants'. All this leaving aside, for the time being the ethical question as to whether or not talks should be held with those who have committed crimes against the state.
Let us examine the situation at hand and where it can go from here.
First, the government must have a blueprint of its own objectives and advantages to be extracted from the talks. There is a difference between walking into negotiations with no point-by-point objectives, going with the tide so to speak and going in with clear cut objectives. In the former scenario, the situation is fluid and the government committee may end up appeasing the militants rather than gaining much in return and in the latter situation the government can contain terrorism.
Terrorism by the non-state actors has impacted the society causing great loss to lives having a cascading negative effect on the economy of the country. Pakistan must focus on developing its economy, on restoring sustained power at both domestic and industrial levels among myriad other issues -- including terrorism. The causes that provide a fertile breeding ground to terrorism can no longer be brushed under the carpet and must be dealt with a firm hand.
Second, the government committee must bring in a broader picture into the talks if any agreement has to sustain over a period of time. Releasing prisoners and extending ceasefire though can be a start, a beginning at best, but nothing more. This too must be agreed to and acted upon only if certain understanding on broader issues is reached first. Should this not happen, once these short term steps are taken, Pakistan may well be back to square one.
The government must aim first towards a permanent end to terrorism by the militant outfits. Now, if some outfits support the peace talks and adhere to refrain from terrorist activities while others continue with the terrorist activities it not only sabotages the process but also raises the question on the authority the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan committee members' exercises over other splinter organizations. What must be clearly laid out is that if TTP committee has entered into talks with the government they must squarely accept the responsibility for any deviants and must deal with them with a very strong hand themselves while providing conclusive proof that it was so done, in order to build up a confidence level with the government.
Can the TTP commit on a permanent basis that these militants will never use the weapons against Pakistan and her innocent people who have been the victims of hate? Can the government convince the militants to lay down their arms? Who then will "hold' these arms? Will they be turned in? Will they be retained by TTP leader(s)? These questions are of paramount importance in practical terms. These also define the long term thought process of the TTP.
Will the government in these talks be looking at complete outfits' numbers in different areas and developing a programme to induct them into the mainstream? If not, what are these members supposed to do even if a ceasefire on some permanent basis is achieved? What is their future -- a standby army, too tempting for vested interests not to use it at some point in time?
The government must also determine in its objective plan, what exactly it plans to give away in exchange for peace on a permanent basis. If the TTP and its affiliates want an agreement to secure peace inside and outside Pakistan, they will demand their pound of flesh. What exactly is that pound of flesh? Can the government afford to deliver? If it can deliver, what guarantee will the government ask for, so that the promise will be kept? This is a loaded question however you may look at it.
Of course, the possibility that peace talks are being used by TTP to gain time till the regional geopolitics is clearer cannot be ignored. In which case you just need to trash this piece!
Coming to the two points discussed in the maiden meeting, the TTP members' committee has demanded that the government is allegedly holding 400 members of theirs as captive while refusing to release sons of both (former) PM Gilani and (late) governor SalmanTaseer. The government needs to put together a complete list of all (if any) abducted and put it on the table, not just two.
In a more recent development, Chaudhry Nisar has chaired Taliban and government committee meeting. Chief of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S) and head of the Taliban negotiation committee, Maulana Samiul Haq is quoted by a local newspaper, "the agenda for the next round of direct talks with the Taliban will be worked out after the government makes its stance public" The Interior Minister has sought some time," he told the mediamen."
In any negotiation, there are minimum two parties involved. Each must give some and take some. No negotiation of any nature can be one-sided. Definition of negotiation is, "to deal or bargain with another or others, as in the preparation of a treaty or contract or in preliminaries to a business deal." In any given treaty, contract or bargain, it is unreasonable to expect that interests of one party should be completely ignored at the expense of the other party.
Ram Dassa, known spiritual person of USA, said about negotiations, "We're fascinated by the words -- but where we meet is in the silence behind them."
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