The debate sparked off in the media by the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike misses the most important point: who should decide about Pakistan’s counter-terrorism strategy? Is it not the prerogative of the government of Pakistan? Even if we are not satisfied by how the PML-N government is going about it, does it make any sense to argue for letting a criminal, and waning, super power determine the direction of something so crucial for our future?

Whether talking to the TTP is a good idea or not is not the issue here. Personally, I’d tend to agree with those who argue that there is little room for discussion with a terrorist organization that has killed thousands of Pakistani citizens and espouses a violent and warped sectarian ideology. The terrorist groups under the TTP umbrella should be dealt with an iron hand. At the same time, for it to be effective, the decisions about the ‘when’ and ‘how’ of such a crackdown must be taken by the government of Pakistan in close consultation with the security establishment that is expected to execute it. It can’t be left to the whims of a two-faced global badmash.

The criticism that the PML-N government has been sluggish and hopelessly inept at devising a comprehensive counter-terrorism policy is also valid. It has so far appeared to be more interested in appeasing the masters that pay its bills; bending over backwards to facilitate the dialogue process for Afghan transition rather than focusing on catching the raging bull in its front-yard by the horns. For months it seemed in a state of paralysis. And when it finally moved, it convened yet another All Parties Conference to garner for itself the crutches of national consensus and a license for talks. Even after that, there was more talk about talks rather than any real movement in that direction.

Instead of teaming up with PTI that heads the government in the crucial Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and whose leadership has been advocating a dialogue with the terrorists for years, the PML-N government brought in Maulana Fazlur Rehman for the dialogue, someone who inspires little confidence due to his wishy washy posturing and closeness to certain TTP factions. Instead of sending a clear message to the terrorists by ending the moratorium on death penalty and hanging those convicted of terrorist activities, the PML-N government renewed it. Given the fact that the terrorists on death row are those who have been convicted despite the weak laws, shoddy prosecution and various other hurdles in the way of bringing terrorists to justice, this move becomes even more confounding.

The government, as well as the PTI and the army, have all reiterated that the dialogue with the TTP would remain within the constitutional framework and the military option would be exercised in case talks fail. However, the government seems to be taking forever to determine how far these talks would take us. Of course, it is the government’s prerogative to decide how it would like to tackle this issue, but it does not have the luxury to take forever in deciding which groups are willing to work within Pakistan’s constitutional framework and hence worthy of accommodation and which groups must be crushed with military force for being hell-bent on creating a barbaric state within our state.

According to the Federal Interior Minister, the TTP chief was killed a day before a government team was scheduled to meet him to start the much-touted and much-delayed dialogue. He’s also disclosed that the government had asked the US to hold its drone killings while the dialogue was underway. Critics of the government say that this is all hogwash and the government’s dialogue initiative was going nowhere. In either case, the recent drone strike has taken away the pressure on the government to show results. The criticism of its lackadaisical approach was mounting and it was expected that it would have had to either win over some TTP factions or reconsider the dialogue option. It can now blame the US for staying in a limbo.

One could take a positive view of the turn of events as well, but only if the government takes concrete actions to justify its hard talk about reviewing Pak-US relations. Has the government really woken up to the deceptive games the US-led war machine is playing under the garb of war on terror and is it serious in its resolve to change the servile course it had embarked upon since assuming office? Or is the present outburst meant for public consumption, thundering about breaking free from the US stranglehold while the business goes on as usual?

Although it was clear as daylight even before the recent drone attack, the fallacy of cooperation between the two countries to counter terrorism should now be conclusively laid to rest. It is obviously a one-way street that can only lead to disastrous consequences for Pakistan. The US imperial interests in Afghanistan spell trouble with a capital T for Pakistan and the region, and the US is clearly only interested in a ‘cooperation’ that exclusively furthers those interests with nothing in it for Pakistan except some imaginary carrots.

Whether Hakimullah Mehsud was evil incarnate or someone willing to accept the writ of the state is not the point here. If killing by US drones could end terrorism in Pakistan, it would have ended long time ago as the global badmash has been at it for years. The point is that for our counter-terrorism strategy to be effective, it is the Pakistani leadership that must take control of it. If the government feels that it must give peace a chance, it has every right to explore that option, though not endlessly. It must also start hanging the convicted terrorists on death row so that those it is talking to understand clearly the constitutional framework. In any case, whether we talk to them or send them to hell in a military operation, the US must not be allowed to meddle in the process.

The writer is a freelance columnist.