So far, thousands of people have been killed or maimed in tribal areas and huge resources of the United States have gone wasted, but still there is no result in sight. Now again, the government of Pakistan has entered into talks with Taliban militants busy in terrorist activities in tribal areas. Baitullah Mehsud, the dreaded warlord of Waziristan tribal region accused of having a hand in the murder of chairperson of Pakistan People's Party Benazir Bhutto, has been engaged in negotiations.
There are reports that the government officials have been holding talks with Baitullah Mehsud. Here the question arises: if Baitullah is a criminal and had a hand in the murder of Benazir Bhutto then why isn't the government taking action against him? If he is not a criminal then why has the government officials accused him of murdering Benazir Bhutto and carrying out suicide attacks? These are the questions which must be answered by the rulers of Pakistan.
Baitullah Mehsud's decision to order a unilateral ceasefire will be viewed with some scepticism. It is difficult to hazard a guess as to what prompted this fanatic rebel chief to make a move which is, on the face of it, sensible. The security forces claim credit for the change in Baitullah's stance and say their troops have broken the militants' back in Swat and Waziristan, where they are claimed "to be on the run". But a spokesman for Baitullah says he has ordered a ceasefire because the security forces have 'minimised' their operations. The army denies having received any communiqué from the Taliban offering a ceasefire. Hence its operations will continue. An army spokesman even hinted that Baitullah's offer could well be a ruse for gaining time to regroup.
What is disturbing is that the unilateral ceasefire coincides with Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz's disclosure that the government has decided to form a 'grand jirga' to ensure peace in Waziristan. Although the minister claimed that it is the Mehsuds who have initiated the peace moves, because the security forces have cut off the rebels' supply lines from three sides, one can only hope that the government does not plan to go soft vis-à-vis the militants and let them have their way. Which way the war is going is difficult to tell. But if the government is right in claiming that the troops have gained the upper hand and the Taliban leadership is willing to negotiate, then peace should be given a chance, albeit on the government's terms. Let us note that Baitullah's offer extends to the entire country, which means that - if the Taliban do not violate their word of honour - suicide bombings and car-bomb blasts should stop. Therefore, one should not have to wait long to test the credibility of this peace offer.
The grand jirga the government is planning to constitute is to include representatives from all tribes, besides some political leaders as guarantors to ensure that the parties abide by the peace terms. In the past, deals have often broken down, with both sides blaming each other. The government, however, must not betray any signs of leniency. While it ought to demonstrate understanding for the customs and traditions which all central governments have followed in dealing with the tribal people's historical rights, it must make it clear that the security forces will carry out their duty and take immediate action if the Taliban show any signs of breaking the law. The deal, if it is clinched, must obtain guarantees from the Taliban that, besides ceasing armed activity, they must abjure all terrorist acts that target not only security personnel but also innocent men, women and children. Baitullah is a criminal whose men have slaughtered captured soldiers. It should not turn out to be a measure of the government's weakness that it has to negotiate with this criminal instead of giving him justice.