If Amir Mir’s latest reporting on the military vis a vis the Taliban insurgency is to be assumed to be correct, and taking a broad view of events and statements from senior military leaders over the past couple of years, I lean towards believing it to be correct, then the military seems to have turned a corner. That is, one way or another, the military has finally come to terms with there being no two types of Taliban. Barring rogue elements either within the military itself or within its intelligence agencies, the strategic thinking at top levels appears to have adjusted to not only common sense, but also to the ground realities apparent for years. After years of considering the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network as assets, the military has reluctantly given an ultimatum to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network to either cease their support of the TTP, or to face consequences.

On April 17, Mir wrote: “The Pakistani establishment has made it clear to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network that the time has come for them to choose between the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the state of Pakistan, if they want to stay friends with Islamabad…The warning from the establishment was prompted by the growing cooperation among the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network and the Pakistani Taliban, which has reinforced the martial power of TTP in its current conflict with the security forces of Pakistan.”

This new strategy of the military has not come about because suddenly it has become aware of this fact of support and cooperation amongst the Pakistani and Afghan militants. For some time now, most of those watching the insurgency have been aware that the Haqqani network, itself in a sanctuary in North Waziristan provided by Pakistan, has been providing a safe haven and logistical and financial support to the TTP and other militant groups fighting the state of Pakistan. For a number of potential reasons, the military seems to have recognized that the cost it has been payingis not going to bear the dividends it had hoped for.

Firstly, the Karzai government and the National Directorate of security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence agency, began to demonstrate that two could play at a game. If Pakistan was going to destabilize Afghanistan with its support of Pushtun militants in the grab for power post U.S. withdrawal, then Afghanistan could repay the favour with harbouring and helping Pakistani militants’ bid for power in Pakistan. Not only is Mulla Fazlullah, the current TTP head, the beneficiary of Afghan hospitality, but his second in command was nabbed by NATO forces whilst being escorted by the NDS only a few months ago.

Secondly, contrary to expectations Afghan general elections have taken place relatively smoothly and none of the front runners are either Pashtun or sympathetic to Pakistan. Years of support to the Afghan Taliban has resulted in naught, and the government that will be formed in Afghanistan may at the most give some share of power to the Afghan Taliban due to its nuisance value, given it is still supported by Pakistan. Hence the time has come for the Pakistani military to exact the support from the Afghan militants in return for the leverage to negotiate a chair at the power sharing table, and demand a termination of support to the TTP and its affiliates.

Thirdly, now that the military has recognized the box it is in, U.S. and Pakistan interests have begun to converge in its eyes and it can expect help from the U.S. in the hammer and anvil approach to Pakistani militants if it reciprocates and provides the anvil for the hammering of the Afghan Taliban.

Thus, however the military arrived at its conclusions aside, the fact remains that its ultimatum to the Afghan militants spells ‘you’re either with us, or against us’ - and that this is the end of the road.

Worryingly and unfortunately for this country however, now that the military has gained clarity and is on the same page as the public in its desire to crush militancy to allow peaceful and democratic governance of the country, is that the political government of the day and the PTI, the largest political party in opposition, have co-opted the TTP so to speak. Chaudhry Nisar, the interior minister, and PTI leader Imran Khan are indistinguishable from their statements with regard to the TTP. Whilst the Prime Minister does not make clear statements on the issue, his actions speak volumes. Both of these three (sic) want to not only negotiate with the militants, but have also deemed militants as stake holders, and want to shackle the military and military power from being used against the TTP and its affiliates. Meanwhile, no one knows what the government or Mr. Khan want to negotiate away.

Whilst on the one hand the government and Mr. Khan expect the military to fight in the field and sacrifice their lives, and can see how innocent security personnel and officers (from police, military, the FC, the Rangers etc.) are still being butchered by militants, on the other hand the military’s hands are being tied behind its back. This is the most cruel and unjust treatment of not only the armed forces but also of the law enforcement agencies. How long does the government think the armed forces will remain willing to be offered as sacrificial lambs to the altar of its political expediencies and cowardice? The anger being reported from within the junior ranks of the military at this duplicitous co-option is undoubtedly justified. And the tension between the military and the PMLN government is owed in no small part to it. On this issue, the military and the public appear to be on the same page. And ironically, the public’s representative government is on a page of its own. That is the most dangerous position a civilian government can put itself in.

 The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist.­

Email:gulnbukhari@gmail.com

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