The offer of talks by the Tehrik-i-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP), is, to all intents and purposes, a non-starter. For one thing, it does not trust the army, which it accuses of going back on agreements it had signed with the TTP in the past, nor, for that matter, the government enjoys its confidence. For another, the preconditions it has set for talks have little chance of being accepted. President PML-N Mian Nawaz Sharif, one of the three guarantors it has sought for ensuring that the two sides (the government and the TTP) would implement the agreement they reach, would be hard put to hold out the assurance. His own experience with the ruling PPP does not inspire in him the required confidence to get involved in the issue and play any role. Nawaz Sharif, talking to members of the Pakistan Journalists Forum at his house in Jeddah, on Sunday, where he had gone for Umra, said that the PPP had not fulfilled any promise it made with anyone. He added, however, that the TTP had, first of all, to elaborate what it wanted.

Spokespersons of the other guarantors, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Jama’at-i-Islami (JI) Amir Syed Munawwar Hassan, which the TTP has named, have also spoken. Only the JUI-F has termed the offer a ‘positive development’ and suggested that the government constituted a jirga of tribal leaders and representatives of political parties for the purpose. The JI Secretary General Liaqat Baloch remarked that the government, not the army, should handle the issue; for the use of force was no solution. Therefore, he felt the government ought to first take the army on aboard before taking any decision.

The Taliban’s other precondition is the release of three of its key members from Pakistan’s custody. They would form part of the negotiating team and even head it. Even if this condition is met, the other would prove too difficult to meet. Besides, the government conditioned the TTP’s earlier offer of talks made last December on its laying down the arms. Negotiations are a civilised means of settling disputes, which even the US that came to Afghanistan to eliminate militants, has come round to holding talks with the Taliban. But, Pakistan lacks a well thought out policy and does not have a clear idea of how exactly to rip out militancy from its heart. Negotiations without them being one facet of an overall strategy, will only be construed as a sign of weakness.