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Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea!

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Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Yasmeen Ali
Yasmeen Ali
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I want peace in Pakistan. So do most Pakistanis. There were prolonged efforts at peace talks between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban. Nothing much came of it. The Taliban continued to attack, innocent people were killed. These attacks were mostly claimed by outfits that were unheard of; broken away factions of Taliban. My question always was; what exactly is the government's strategy to deal with Taliban if Plan A (Peace Talks) fail? What is Plan B?

In my Op-Ed published on November 12, 2013, I had written, "The new TTP leader Maulvi Fazlullah nick named the "Mullah Radio" was born Fazal Hayat to Biladar Khan, a Pukhtun of Babukarkhel clan of the Yusufzai tribe of the Swat District where much later, he worked as an operator of a manual chairlift on the River Swat. He then joined the Jamia Mazahir-ul-Uloom -- a religious seminary run by Maulana Sufi Mohammad. He married the daughter of Maulana Sufi. He has fought side by side with the Taliban in Afghanistan together with his father-in-law. Both were arrested by the Pakistani security forces. Maulana Sufi got ten years whereas Maulvi Fazlullah got off lightly after 17 months and emerged as a popular Wahabi militant leader because of his activities in Swat. He reorganized the TNSM and raised a private army that he named the "Shaheen Commando Force." In the aftermath of the 2007 siege of Lal Masjid, Fazlullah's forces and Baitullah Mehsud's Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) formed an alliance. Fazlullah and his army henceforth reportedly received orders from Mehsud. (Al Jazeera Feb 13, 2009) Maulana Fazlullah started an illegal local FM channel in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's Swat Valley in 2006. He also had set up Sharia Courts in Swat and is known to be a hard core Islamist. Reports by a source suggest that there are deepening fissures within the ranks of the Taliban that a clever adversary could take advantage of while a fumbling adversary may fail to do so. This brings me to the next question that requires some serious thinking by our lawmakers. With the Taliban unwilling to come to the table for talks, what is Plan B, if there is a Plan B?

Here we must make an important distinction between strategy and tactics, which is overlooked or confused by many. The word strategy comes from a Greek word that roughly translates as "general". It may be defined as a goal or result and may include the use of various tactics. Whereas tactics may refer to a plan or procedure for promoting a desired end or result. Strategy corresponds to the "what" part of the equation whereas tactics are supposed to tell us "how" to reach the objectives. "A strategy may include two or more tactics to reach the goal. Therefore talking with the Taliban with the aim of achieving peace is one tactic out of many options. It is not the strategy itself.

So Plan B is now revealed as a military offensive.

The Guardian (22 May 2014) reports, "On Wednesday fighter jets bombed areas in North Waziristan, and according to an army spokesman killed scores of "hardcore terrorists including some important commanders and foreigners". Army spokesmen made clear this was in response to attacks in the preceding weeks in the troubled western region and also in Karachi. Despite numerous meetings between government and TTP representatives, the peace talks initiative appears to be going nowhere. Terrorist attacks have continued, while the movement has been riven by factional infighting. Last week a video showed TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah vowing the movement would continue its fight until Pakistan introduced strict sharia law."

"The offensive targeted the Matchis Camp near the capital of North Waziristan, an area set up to house Afghan refugees but now a hub for local and foreign militants," a senior government official of the region said.(May 23, 2014)

Where do we go from here? The offensive cannot and will not remain confined to North Waziristan alone.

In my op-ed of February 04, 2014 I asked: "If talks do not work out, is a military operation the next step? This raises other im- portant questions; once these operations start will the Taliban move to Afghanistan? How will the present and incoming government of Afghanistan react to this? Will the border areas be used as a safe haven and launching pad for their attacks? How will these operations affect Pakistan's role in bringing about a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan as expected by US? Needless to say, Pakistan must face the issue of terrorism and take a proactive stand aimed at ending the killing of innocent citizens. These questions are intricately linked with the exit of American forces from Afghanistan. How will Pakistan secure peace within if Afghanistan does descend into civil war, with drug barons and warlords running amok? This seems to be a likely outcome of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan must be seen as a solution to the problem, not as another problem."

Peter R. Neumann writing for Policy Affairs in 2007 said: "The argument against negotiating with terrorists is simple: Democracies must never give in to violence, and terrorists must never be rewarded for using it. Negotiations give legitimacy to terrorists and their methods and undermine actors who have pursued political change through peaceful means. Talks can destabilize the negotiating governments' political systems, undercut international efforts to outlaw terrorism, and set a dangerous precedent. Yet in practice, democratic governments often negotiate with terrorists."

There are many examples to support Neumann's claim. Joshua Keating writing for Slate Magazine states, "The British government maintained a secret back channel to the Irish Republican Army even after the IRA had launched a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street that nearly eliminated the entire British cabinet in 1991. In 1988, the Spanish government sat down with the separatist group Basque Homeland and Freedom (known by its Basque acronym ETA) only six months after the group had killed 21 shoppers in a supermarket bombing." (Keating quotes Peter R. Neumann here.)

Pakistan Today reports, "During a tense meeting, the army effectively declared it would override a crucial plank of the government's strategy and take matters into its own hands. The army chief and other military officers in the room were clear on the military's policy: the last man, the last bullet," a government insider with first-hand knowledge of the meeting told a foreign news agency. Asked to sum up the message General Raheel Sharif wanted to convey at the gathering, he added: "The time for talk is over."

The question is; will the terrorists restrict themselves to North Waziristan or escape to other areas to regroup in face of the military offensive? The answer is no to the first part and yes to the second. Even if the security forces took the precaution of sealing off exit points from North Waziristan, which they did, leaks would have resulted in many exits before the offensive happened. The fact remains that not every Taliban is in North Waziristan, and cross border activity has happened before and will happen again. With the heat is turned on, lethal attacks in other parts of Pakistan will be launched to divert attention and deflect action, with a good chance of the fire spreading. (As I was sending off this piece about eight officials were killed and three were reportedly injured at a heavily armed check-point along Quetta-Karachi Highway in Wadh Tehsil, Khuzdar district.) However, those who say that this is exactly why they supported peace talks need to be reminded that killings were also happening during peace talks, only they were one sided and against civilians.

Pakistan finds itself between the devil and the deep blue sea- damned if it does and damned if it doesn't.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has written a book titled 'A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.' tweets at @yasmeen_9.

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