LAHORE - All members of the current parliament, belonging to treasury as well as opposition, deserve the highest award for their matchless failure to work out a policy about dealing with the militants even after eight months of the installation of the new government.
Both sides are as divided and confused today as they were before, which shows their collective indecision and intellectual bankruptcy. Needless to point out that the nation has to spare a good part of its annual budget to feed these ‘white elephants’.
At a meeting of the PML-N parliamentary party in Islamabad on Monday, the prime minister was quoted as saying that support for operation against the militants is growing while the backers of talks are declining in numbers. It was decided that the final strategy would be worked out after taking all political forces into confidence.
In other words, no decision could be taken on the issue, although the Taliban had reiterated their offers for talks only a day before.
It is hard to say how much more time will the government take to reach a final and irrevocable decision.
But if pro-Taliban parties stick to their declared policies, a consensus for an operation will be very difficult to evolve.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, whose party JUI (F) is now a coalition partner with the PML-N, is opposed to an operation against Taliban. He proposed a ceasefire only a day before.
The Jamaat-i-Islami is in favour of talks.
The PTI stresses talks but says it will also back the army in case of any operation.
Even the PML-N, which has a soft corner for the Taliban, wants to find a solution to the situation through negotiations, although under pressure from other parties it reluctantly keeps the talks option on the table.
The delay in starting talks with the Taliban or launching an operation to crush them is more disturbing because this is the third time that (Dr) Nawaz Sharif has returned to power and his previous experience as prime minister – and before that two terms as the province of Punjab – is not reflected in the process of decision-making.
It was expected that the law and order situation will start improving and the militants will find no place to hide immediately after the change of government. But it appears that the present rulers are experienced only in delaying matters, not expediting them. Or, perhaps, for well known reasons they are focused on privatization of important state institutions and are left with no time for this matter.
People remember that an all-party conference was held five months ago (in September) to formulate by consensus policy about the Taliban. The participants decided that peace should be given a chance before going for an all-out operation against them. The idea was that serious talks should be held with the Taliban to bring an end to the senseless killings and suicide blasts in various parts of the country.
In the light of this mandate the government was supposed to devise a strategy for talks. But, so far, neither talks could be started nor an operation. When the two sides were going to share the table, a drone attack killed the TTP chief, providing the Taliban with a justification to withdraw from the process.
In such a situation the killers have a free hand to strike at a place and time of their choice. The army cannot be held responsible for this wavering attitude of the government because they have declared that they will follow the policy worked out by the political leadership.
The prime minister’s meetings with Maulana Samiul Haq or others for talks with the Taliban have only added to the confusion. An official statement issued after Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s meeting with the interior minister that the ‘father of the Taliban’ was never tasked to open channels of communications with his pupils forced the cleric from Akora Khattak to dissociate himself from the process.
The Taliban are giving the government a tough time. Sometimes they say they are ready to hold talks with the government. But then they kill innocent people in suicide blasts, negating their earlier message.
The government doesn’t know what to do. At times it talks of peace with peace-lovers and use of force against others.
The confusion deepens when the Taliban set such preconditions for talks as are difficult for the government to meet. For instance, talks will be held only if the drone attacks are stopped and the army is withdrawn from the tribal areas.
Everyone knows that the government is opposed to drone attacks and it repeatedly called upon the United States to halt them. The US has also been told that these attacks violate the country’s sovereignty and are also counterproductive. The prime minister had taken up the matter personally at a meeting with President Obama, but the US policy remains unchanged.
While it is not clear what policy will ultimately be decided by the government, killings went up during the year 2013.
According to a Conflict Monitoring Centre report, insurgents fighting against Pakistani state carried out 47 suicide attacks during the year 2013 in which 701 people, 451 of them civilians, 129 security forces personnel, six pro-government Razakars and 115 militants were killed.
Pakistan witnessed 376 suicide attacks since 2002 when first suicide attack was carried out after 9/11. According to Conflict Monitoring Center’s tally, 5,710 people were killed in the country during last eleven years.