The recent All Parties Conference (APC) on terrorism has decreed that the government should negotiate peace with the Taliban! The intentions of our political elite are honorable however the methodology to achieve the ends of this (non) policy is clearly questionable. The government’s chosen policy option lacks a profound sense of perception and understanding of the issue. It has no inkling of the horrendous consequences were this policy to fail.It is a globally accepted maxim that governments never negotiate with terrorists! Is the government then going to violate this universal truth? Does it have valid and compelling reasons to do so? Is this the best policy option available to secure Pakistan’s vital national interests comprehensively? Are there alternatives with better chances of success available? Will the ends justify the risks being taken now?The monumental folly here is that with this particular policy option the initiative has by default and effortlessly passed onto the Taliban. The government seems to have missed this very subtle but most critical and potentially decisive consequence of its policy.Has the government actually forced the Taliban onto the negotiating table or is it the other way round? It actually blinked and called for the talks. What position of relative strength will it negotiate from now- stronger or weaker? It has failed to realize this very subtle point, too. This will and probably has already decided the tone and tenor of the negotiations to be held and their likely result; and perhaps even the ultimate cost to the nation! Not surprisingly, the Taliban have readily snatched the initiative and already demanded the withdrawal of troops from FATA and the release of their prisoners.Are they already attempting to carve out the future boundaries of an Islamic Emirate astride the Durand Line? Clearly Mian Nawaz Sharif’s advisors and think tanks have erred in a massive way. The APC was premature, ill considered, poorly conceived and even unnecessary at that point in time; and its main decision of achieving peace through negotiations with battle hardened, hard boiled terrorists reflected political and strategic naivety of a notoriously poor quality. Its objectives are likely to remain stillborn! Mian Nawaz Sharif’s advisors should have drawn lessons from recent history. They should have studied and noted the steely resolve, the iron political will, the unwavering courage and commitment to the country, the overwhelming military strength, the determined nationalistic political and military leaderships with which the British bludgeoned the IRA, the Indians desecrated the Golden Temple and stomped all over the Khalistan movement and the Sri Lankans blasted the Tamil Tigers into oblivion. When it came to vital national interests and security no holds were barred. They went in straight for the jugular and snapped it without fear or favor.The policy of negotiating with the Taliban from the outset is beset with many basic flaws. First, one must never negotiate anything with a terrorist group. It gives them the authenticity and credibility they crave for and which must of necessity be denied to them. Second, Pakistan must always and only speak to the Taliban from a position of unassailable strength and superiority in all dimensions. Third, the Pakistan government must unequivocally and credibly promise unacceptable punishment, pain and losses to the Taliban if its terms and conditions are not met. Fourth, the Pakistan government must understand one very fundamental truism itself; why should the Taliban listen and obey it if they consider themselves to be equal or superior in strength than the state of Pakistan? Fifth, the Taliban will only listen to the government if they are proven to be the overall weaker side and appear ready to submit to the law of the land. Sixth, by offering to negotiate with the Taliban the government has made them its own equal. Realpolitik would have had Pakistan rather dictating terms to them. Seven, who would act as credible guarantors of any agreements arrived at? The Taliban are untrustworthy having reneged on earlier agreements so often and so brusquely. And finally the Taliban would always retain the option of going back to their errant war mongering ways. This interlude would only allow them that vital and critical time and space to rest, regroup, replenish, recruit and prepare for the next phase of their operations, perhaps in the post December 2014 period!Pakistan, on the other hand, will have to rejoin battle but now against a rejuvenated and reinvigorated adversary.The government should have sequenced its actions correctly. It should have formulated a well-considered National Security Policy (NSP), a consequent Counter Terrorism (CT) strategy and then should have created the desired operational environment through a multi-dimensional approach comprising mutually supporting military, political, diplomatic, informational, ideological, psychological, financial, logistical and above all moral and ethical dimensions. Then through a series of concentric rings the Taliban should have been isolated at the global, regional, Af-Pak (including the mining and fencing of the Durand Line and blocking off all inter-agency movements in FATA) and domestic levels and brought under relentless and synchronized multi-dimensional pressures. Once weakened sufficiently then the APC should have been convened and its political and moral might employed from a position of genuine strength.Regardless of the Taliban’s response the government would have been in a win-win position. Were they to agree to negotiate then the government would have done so from a position of unassailable strength. Were they to choose not to submit then the APC could have authorized the government to bring down the full force of all the elements of Pakistan’s power onto them without wasting any time. That would have been a national effort in the truest sense of the term.As of now, the Taliban will not accept defeat or concede; and Pakistan will not let them succeed or secede. A stalemate and perpetuation of the status quo is the least desirable outcome for both sides. One side will have to give way at some stage. And Pakistan cannot afford to be that side!Perhaps a reappraisal of the policy is in order.The writer is a retired brigadier and a former defence attaché to Australia and New Zealand. Currently, he is on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).
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The writer is a retired brigadier, a former defence advisor to Australia and New Zealand and secretary general of Pakistan Forum for Security and Development.