As if 19 wasn’t a good enough number, the government has announced the release of another 13 non-combatants linked to the TTP to appease it further. This goodwill gesture further exposes the actual thrust of the Nawaz government’s policy of talking to the terrorists. After all, what has the TTP done for us lately to deserve such goodwill symbols? Why is our elected government so eager to be blackmailed by what is essentially a half-baked umbrella for disunited rag-tag bands of militants hiding behind the name of Islam?

Goodwill gestures are all very well but what about the crux of the matter? What, after all, are we discussing with self-professed terrorists shielded by the TTP umbrella? Isn’t it about time the government got past the niceties and got down to discussing the actual business of these talks? The militants have used the TTP platform and the so-called talks to seek concessions without budging an inch from their original position, and this was to be expected. What is strange, however, is that so far the elected government has not gathered enough courage to so much as ask them to budge from it.

The Interior Minister had another meeting with the dialogue committees nominated by the government and the TTP yesterday to discuss the next round of talks. Chaudhry Nisar was reported as saying that the government expected the TTP to bring a “definite agenda” to the table— as if it was a well-guarded secret. More interestingly, he promised that the government would also pinpoint its expectations from these talks. Why are these expectations still shrouded in mystery when they should have been spelt out loudly and clearly on day one?

Why is the government reluctant to spell out what its mantra of staying within the parameters of the Constitution basically implies? To begin with, the Constitution of Pakistan requires the militants to lay down their arms and stop preaching hatred against minorities and Muslims who do not subscribe to their coercive and misguided interpretation of Islam. But we don’t hear the government telling the TTP about these basic expectations. What we hear instead are announcements of goodwill gestures and statements that tell us that the ‘dialogue’ is headed in the ‘right’ direction. It doesn’t seem to matter that the Nawaz government is yet to spell out, clearly and categorically, the coordinates of this mysterious direction.

What is the point of talking if we never come to the point? Or is the government confused about what it is expected to achieve through the dialogue: bringing the TTP to understand the implications of staying within the Constitution. Instead, it would like us to be thankful for the ceasefire announcement by the TTP and hopeful that the pro-talks groups within the TTP would help us trace their anti-talks associates who violated it by continuing their trademark acts of terror. Surely, this is not how a constitutionally elected government, backed by a military that has proven its capacity to send the militants scurrying for cover, dialogues with self-professed terrorists out to convert the world and kill those who resist.

To everyone but the government, the definite agenda of the TTP is quite clear. It would like to turn parts of Pakistan’s territory into no-go-areas for the Pakistan military, a sort of safe haven for militant groups under its banner where their activities would be unhindered, where they’d be free to impose their worldview with a gun on citizens left to their mercy, enlist and train new recruits, and make preparations for taking over the world, beginning with Pakistan. The TTP would also like the government to release the terrorists apprehended by it instead of proceeding against them in accordance with law. And what is the TTP willing to do for us in return? Nothing, really!

The farcical ceasefire announcements are little more than ransom-seeking tactics of a murderous blackmailer. We know what precipitated the first ceasefire announcement by the TTP which, before the recent targeted military operation, thought there was nothing wrong with holding a dialogue with the government of Pakistan and killing Pakistanis simultaneously. We also know what the ceasefire basically means: the militants would continue to perpetrate terrorist acts but instead of taking credit for them, the TTP would distance itself from such acts, letting one of its associates claim the honor.

The six-day extension is meant to work as a blackmailer’s sword hanging over our heads. This is what the TTP is basically saying: Meet our unconstitutional demands or we’ll start a killing spree all over Pakistan, targeting unarmed civilians in mosques, mazaars, churches and markets and personnel of Pakistan’s law-enforcing and security agencies wherever we can. The government might wish to project its talks with the TTP as a dialogue aimed at peace within constitutional parameters, but it clearly comes across as negotiations with a blackmailer to settle the ransom.

So why is our government so eager to lavish love and legitimacy on the militants without any indication on their part that they are open to the idea of laying down their arms and bringing an end to their hate-filled preaching? These are basic constitutional requirements and there is no point in talking to the terrorists if they are unwilling to accept these requirements as red lines that are not to be crossed. What the Nawaz government’s ‘dialogue’ initiative has done so far is to provide reprieve to the militants on the run, release their men and give the TTP respectability as the officially recognized interlocutor for militants. By doing so it has strengthened the TTP shura. It seems determined to provide more flesh to the blob-like phantom of this TTP umbrella and unite the rag-tag hordes solidly under it.

Different reasons have been attributed to our elected government’s soft spot for the TTP. Some say that the government leaders have been threatened by the militants of attacks against their persons and their families. Others insist that the 1.5 billion dollars were meant to aid not only the Syrian rebels but also their brothers holed up in our tribal areas. Whatever the reason, this soft spot is a security risk for the state of Pakistan.

The writer is a freelance columnist.