The Dialogue Conundrum

Spearhead Analysis – 11.10.2013

TTP and Ch NisarThe APC consensus resolution mandated dialogue with the ‘stakeholders’. The Tehreek Taleban Pakistan (TTP) quickly accepted the stakeholder status and responded positively to the dialogue proposal but with preconditions — the end of US Drone strikes and the pullback of the Pakistan Army from FATA and Swat. Then followed a series of particularly violent attacks including one that specifically targeted senior officers of the army and another that targeted a church. The attacks continue with four — one in each province — last Monday. The TTP denied responsibility clarifying that they did not target public places. They had, however, accepted responsibility for the attack that killed a major general and a colonel — even releasing a gruesome video after the attack. This inevitably led to speculation that the attacks were by those opposed to dialogue but the more logical conclusion is that there are many groups loosely aligned with TTP but eager to demonstrate their independent status. So the dialogue with the TTP even if it is successful may not bring an end to the violence especially after the TTP endorsed the church bombing as being in line with Sharia.

The interview with the TTP leader by a BBC correspondent highlights the fact that the TTP thinks it has an upper hand in the conflict and it is this factor that has led to the dialogue offer by the APC, a proposal by the PTI leader to give them an office, a request for talks by a group of religious leaders and some kind of a suggestion from the Chief Minister KPK for pulling the Army back. It is unlikely that the TTP will ever give up the high ground on which they sit in their own perception. The conclusion again is that attacks of all kinds will continue to maintain the pressure and break the bond between the people and the government responsible for internal security. In the same interview the TTP leader has explained that they are fighting those aligned with the US and NATO — the aggressors in Afghanistan and the perpetrators of Drone attacks on them and that they do not accept the constitutional dispensation in Pakistan and want Sharia law to be imposed throughout Pakistan. Therefore even if the ‘aggressors’ pull out and depart their war against the Pakistani state will continue till their objective is achieved.

The TTP has also guaranteed the security of any government delegation that is sent to conduct the dialogue thereby drawing a territorial control line within Pakistan. Their clearly stated conditions may not be preconditions for dialogue but they are a clear statement of their position and having stated them so often it is difficult to concede that these are maximalist opening positions that could change. The Pakistan government may not set preconditions but its stance must be clear and unambiguous especially on the demands being made by the TTP. It is the TTP that has said that they will not hold talks through the media — a constructive suggestion implying that some serious work is needed.

In an article in The News of October 10, 2013 the author Mr Hilaly has asked some questions that beg answers and if answered could actually put the dialogue proposal in perspective and even start the long delayed process of security policy formulation. His questions are reproduced below in a condensed form:

  • After the major part of the American forces have withdrawn in 2014, Karzai, or his successor, will likely be supported by the residual US forces, India, Iran, Russia, CAS, etc. Will we then support the Taliban? If we do, then the TTP will thrive and if we do not then we will incur their wrath. What is our narrative?
  • Over the years we have not been able to cut-off the financial flows to the Taliban/TTP; we have not been able to wean away public support for the Taliban/TTP. The Taliban/TTP is operating mostly on their home terrain which is perfectly suited for insurgency operations. Furthermore they have sanctuaries across the Afghan border from whence they also receive recruits, arms and supplies. Can we really wage a successful counter insurgency operation in these circumstances? If not then how do we change the environment?
  • The Dari speaking Pushtuns and the Tajiks, shias et al of Afghanistan who fled the Taliban onslaught in 1996 can never forgive us for supporting the Taliban who destroyed their way of life.  How do we propose to win their affection because for the foreseeable future they will have an important role in any Afghan regime?
  • The Taliban are all around us. They may have secret well wishers in government institutions. Furthermore, they are ‘milking’ us through kidnappings and extortions and through a nexus with Punjabi militants and criminals all over the country. Meanwhile, we cannot even step into their domain in North Waziristan and elsewhere. What is our plan to counter this?
  • The only bit of Pakistan that is comparatively secure at the moment is the heartland around Islamabad and Lahore. The rest is de stabilized or in the process of becoming so. Security gets worse as you travel towards borders. Some areas are only marginally under our control; over others we have zero control. What is our plan to regain control?
  • We have allowed religious militants to flourish and expand. No one dare criticize them in public. They effectively have the run of the place. They say what they like and there is no counter narrative. In fact appeasement and media shenanigans act as force multipliers for them. That we are a soft state is perhaps the understatement of the year, not even traffic laws can be enforced. What do we propose to do?
  • Security now includes economic security, water security, food security, human security, as well as territorial, internal and external security. Where do we stand with regard to each of these and where are we headed, given our record population growth?
  • Can we wait for judicial and police reforms or do we tackle the threat with what we have? Who gives us a National Threat Estimate after co-coordinating the output of all intelligence agencies? If we ever get a threat estimate, who will develop response options and decide on the one that is to be implemented by orchestrating all the national resources?
  • Why do we not tackle the problems we face frontally? By, say, banning hate speech of all kinds; ask aliens to leave or hunt them down; deport them; strangle financial inflows, clean up institutions; make kidnapping and extortion a federal offence and override all local constraints to tackle them?
  • Our problem has been a lack of governance and this is steadily and rapidly eroding the environment. The point of no return is approaching. A feeble government and a centre weakened by the 18th Amendment, zero human security; rapid economic decline; growing income disparity; uncontrolled violence and criminality, etc, all point to a massive denouement of the state.

Mr Yuri Fedotov of the UN Office for Drugs and crime has warned that Afghanistan could well become a narco state after the withdrawal of NATO. Seeing the war lords flexing their muscles there are many who think that a descent into civil war is possible in Afghanistan. The last thing that Pakistan wants is for the combatants in Afghanistan to find strategic depth in Pakistan and for the TTP to draw sustenance from across the border. Pakistan is rightly supporting the reconciliation and peace process in Afghanistan. We should do the same within Pakistan if feasible. The dialogue option if it is to be seriously pursued must be turned into a properly fleshed out proposal. Wars are brought to an end by politics but politics have to safeguard interests and for this reason a contingency plan for the worst case scenario must be worked out in tandem with the dialogue proposal.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)