Now that the elected Houses are in place, it is time to turn to the problems they face. That is something already being done by those who won. And when the results came in to show that the PML-N had won, there appeared an overwhelming consensus that the issues of loadshedding and terrorism were the ones on which the new government had to act most urgently.
It was, perhaps, because these two were such leading problems that one was the foremost domestic issue, and the other the foremost foreign policy issue, with it being deemed by the electorate that both had not been properly handled by the government, and thus it had become right to bring about a change.
The PPP was deemed not to care enough about the energy shortage and to have failed to end terrorism, despite its closeness to the USA. The PML-N spent its days from winning to taking office in mulling over the energy shortage, but it has been the militants, who, by withdrawing their offer of talks, have suddenly made that problem appear more intractable.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had extended the talks offer well before the election, and the PML-N was a long way from winning, but it named three persons it would accept as a guarantor for those talks: Mian Nawaz himself, Syed Munawar Hassan (the Jama’at-i-Islami chief) and Maulana Fazlur Rehman (the JUI-F chief).
The TTP also engaged in an anti-election campaign, which extended to attacks on election rallies and candidates. Special targets were the PPP and its allies, the ANP and MQM, and though they were later included, those parties’ respective nemeses, the PML-N, the PTI and the Jama’at were spared. However, one of the acceptable guarantors, Mian Nawaz Sharif, was elected Prime Minister, and the PTI was elected to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government. Yet, before the talks could be held, TTP Deputy Commander Waliur Rehman was killed in an American drone strike. This made the TTP withdraw its talks offer.
In a recent interview, President Asif Zardari did not sound very hopeful about any talks. In fact, he referred to the Irish rebellion, and the talks of the British government with the Irish Republican Army to draw the distinction between militants and politicians, which sounds suspiciously like the ‘good Taliban/bad Taliban’ dichotomy drawn by the USA in the early part of their involvement in Afghanistan.
The problem the government faces is that it is not in control of the talks. First, it has no real control of who it talks to. The talks of the USSR in the previous Afghan conflict - the famous Geneva talks - were with the Pakistan government. However, now neither the Pakistani nor American governments are talking to any government. In the Geneva talks, the Pakistan government was initially a military regime, succeeded by an elected government that had resulted from partyless elections. However, whatever the provenance of the government, it did represent a state.
Also, Pakistan was assumed to represent the mujahideen, and needed no talks with them to justify its representation. At present, the Pakistan government does not need talks to be representative, but to stop the TTP continuing operations within Pakistan. At a certain level, this is a negation of the recent elections, for it means that the TTP represents something, though it was not part of the recent elections.
Another problem that has revealed itself is that the USA has a veto on these talks, through the drone strikes. Throughout history, envoys’ lives and liberty has been secure. The worst that could happen was an unsuccessful return (and, perhaps, punishment for failure from the home government). However, now the USA raises the prospect of envoys being killed. And, that too, by a party not involved in the talks. The only restraints on the USA are the availability of targets and effect on any talks it may itself be conducting. That it will have to hold talks is inevitable, because it must withdraw by the end of 2014. There are already two problems with that.
First, the US drawdown is for domestic reasons, not because of any success or failure in the theatre.
Second, it pays no attention to its partners in the region, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
There is every prospect of talks already rendered opaque by the lack of a suitable interlocutor, being rendered messier by these factors, and thus failing to yield what the Americans want most, a so-called safe exit for their forces.
At the same time, though the TTP rejects the recent elections as un-Islamic, it also sees the results as supportive of its positions. Certainly, the PPP’s policy of supporting the USA seems to have been decisively rejected. However, the TTP may be reaching the point where its interests may differ from that of the Pakistani people. The TTP wants to win. The Pakistani people want an end to the terror. The PML-N also wants an end to it, but is obliged to consider the PTI-led coalition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
That it is in alliance with the Watan Party there means it has on board the Minister of the Musharraf era, its chief, Aftab Sherpao, cannot be of as much help as it seems, because the PTI got the votes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of those who are not happy with the religious parties, nor with the secular parties - neither of which succeeded in ending the drone strikes.
The PTI has got merely one province to serve it as a launching pad for power in the whole country. There must be no mistake that while the PML-N used Punjab for this purpose, its candidate, Mian Nawaz Sharif, had two terms as Prime Minister to show. The PTI would not like the PML-N to fail to stop the drone strikes because that would lead to the failure of its only government to solve the problem. But if it succeeds, it would take the credit.
The PML-N may adopt any attitude it wishes towards talks, but it will find that the PTI will do its best to be involved. It will thus become, like the USA, another presence at the negotiating table on the government side. The Taliban will do their best to use this to gain advantage. This, of course, assumes that talks take place. That will be a function of how much the Taliban want talks. It should not be forgotten that the first public offer came from the TTP, not the government. So is the withdrawal of the offer. This is another area in which the government has lost the initiative.
On the face of it, the government has lost the initiative and got too many presences at the negotiating table. There would only be its consideration of the national interest keeping it talking. That should be the interest guiding it, not the wishes of the USA.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.