The four-member committee formed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for the purpose of holding negotiations with terrorists has started working, or so we are told. The announcement of the committee, which was made in the National Assembly by the PM himself, came as a surprise to lawmakers as well as the wider public. Since previous attempts by the federal government had ended in vain, as the militants kept playing too hard to get while boosting their murderous campaign aimed at common citizens and security personnel, common sense dictated that the leadership would consider a different option; a military operation. But, of course, that was not to be.
We cannot tell for certain whether the decision to give peace yet another chance was due to the lack of consensus in the Parliament or lack of clarity and confidence on the part of the PM, or perhaps both of these factors. But, there is no doubt over the fact that it was the wrong decision, and time will only further endorse this view. It is interesting to note that there is not a single politician in the committee. There are two journalists, one former ambassador to Afghanistan and a former intelligence officer.
Questions have been raised over the selection of members of committee, particularly with regards to Major Amir and Rustam Shah Mohmand. They have chosen to represent the government, but it is feared that they might be overeager to listen to the TTP’s side of the story, which strikes a chord with them if one is to judge their stance from talk shows and interviews. Members aside, there is also confusion over the fact whether a red line has been defined for the committee. A day before make the announcement, the PM had said that the government would only talk to those groups, which accept the constitution of the country. Furthermore, he had added that dialogue could not work until the militants did not halt their activities.
Then, it is only reasonable to ask whether the PM has informed the committee of this minimum agenda. Will this the same as the last time, when the government kept insisting on making progress in peace talks, while the militants continued to kill people left, right and center. Red lines have to be clearly defined. Will militants accept the constitution and the institutions that derive their legitimacy from it? Will they declare a ceasefire if they wish to settle the dispute? Do they have any comprehension of individual liberties? Negotiations require compromise. The members of the committee must know that the people of this country cannot and will not change their lifestyle because some religious fanatics want them to. We do not want a repeat of the Swat episode, where a territory of the state was handed to them to do with it as they saw fit, and we all remember what followed.