Talking peace with militants who operate in violation of the Constitution of Pakistan; whose ever morphing entities massacre minorities with impunity; who behead soldiers and play soccer with their heads; who have external lines of logistics and support; and who represent a narrow and militant version of religion imported through foreign legions unwelcome in their own lands, is an issue come alive. As mainstream religious parties (representing TTP) and rightists vie to take hardened positions on the issue, the broadcasts at large widen fissures in a society already polarised on sectarian and political lines. The Objective Resolution of 1948 and Islamic clauses of the Constitution will be a subject of heated debates within the negotiating teams, between political parties and diverse segments of Pakistani society. This is a bad omen that could lead to further violence amongst groups and sects in Pakistan.

As negotiations progress, their speed and fluidity will impact on the future of the state itself. Already, many theories and simplifications on terrorism are proving to be wrong. A combination of delusions, emphatic emotions and compulsions of making political mileage have led most political parties to lose sight of national interests for petty gains. Each actor is prepositioned to extract its pound of flesh.

The simplification of direct US intervention in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s complicity with USA, and drones has lost relevance. With the declaration of USA to minimise drone strikes in Pakistan and confine them only to Al Qaeda and foreign militants appears to have had no effect on the TTP strategy.  They are looking far beyond this argument to assert their legitimacy in the agencies of Pakistan and perhaps into the main land. In an article titled Conflict of Ethnic Vulnerability (Nation, 27 June 2013) I had warned: -

“The recent activity on the status of Durand Line, TTP sanctuaries in Afghanistan, nationalist card being played by President Hamid Karzai and the melting pot that is Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) warrants, that the nation must be apprised of the vulnerabilities and challenges therein. Having failed to nibble into Pakistan’s integrity through the Baloch separatists, strategists have now turned their eyes on the north-western areas of Pakistan. The absence of an inviolable international border along AFPAK lends credence to this threat”

Chickens have come home to roost and the nation will have to pay a price for having gone to sleep through toxic scripts. Facing such challenges, it is doubtful if Islamabad will be able to reassert itself in a situation it hastily created for itself.  

First, the entire exercise and the manner of the process dampen effects created by the threat of the use of force; a legitimate right of the state in asserting its writ. The hastily organised team, informed of its representation through the media had no time to neither gel nor grasp the enormity of its challenge through in-house briefings. The team neither represents the political nor the sectarian diversity within Pakistan. At least two members are known to share the sentiments of the rightists. Using layers of surrogates TTP is emboldened, opaque and rigid.

Secondly, it was always difficult for Imran Khan and JUI (F) to negotiate on behalf of TTP. PTI despite its stance on violence and drones continues to represent the moderate stream of Pakistani politics. A No by Imran Khan was always on cards. JUI (F), heading the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) had to swallow pride to be led by JUI (S) group. Their names were pot shots taken by TTP to expose certain groups and widen cracks. It appears they succeeded.

Thirdly, reports coming after the first meeting were discouraging. Would the government cede its authority and sovereignty before non-state actors; or to accept their escorts to FATA and provide helicopters till the closest proximity? If yes, it means that the government has ceded its responsibility to militants and therefore its writ over areas it is constitutionally mandated to secure. Recap Voila Federation (Nation. 20 July 2013): -

 “Pakistanis from FATA and many parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have become refugees in their own country… Over 30 years of violence in the region, influx of Afghan refugees and creation of internally displaced Pakistani has widened psychological scars in a region historically exposed to crosscurrents of invasions. I dread if recent events become a continuation of Pashtun folklore”.

It is this deprivation and conditions set by TTP that threaten to set dynamics for new frontiers and a step towards deconstruction of Jinnah’s Pakistan.

Fourthly, TTP policy and brinkmanship is well planned by its handlers. Their demands of meeting the prime minister, army chief and DG ISI are outrageous and reek of contempt. Their definition of sorash zada (lawless) areas also needs elaboration. Is it a maximalist position they are taking at the outset that would mellow with time or is it meant to widen the conflagration of flames within the country? In addition, does it by implication pressurise Pakistan and Afghan Taliban towards reconciliation with Hamid Karzai and his men?

Fifthly, how would Taliban transit from their ambivalent representation to a more transparent face? Does Maulana Sami ul Haq represent the actual front or is there a hidden team too. Where do Maulana Shah Abdul Aziz and Maulana Fazal ur Rahman Khalil figure in this entire gambit? Beyond these surrogate fronts, when will the real nine member team become visible and approachable? These are questions that would be addressed in course of time. But TTP seems to be in a hurry. They wish to have their cake before the snow melts in the agencies.

Lastly, all negotiations are preceded by posturing and lobbying. It seems the government has done nothing and thoughtlessly acquiesced on TTP terms or did it? Certainly, the Prime Minister indicated willingness to bend the Taliban way by appointing TTP’s ideological father to revive talks. Under pressure from unknown quarters he had to withdraw. TTP shrewdly chose him as their points-man.

It appears that other than constitutional bounds, there are no Red Lines or non-negotiable. Even the term ‘within the bounds of constitution’ keeps doors ajar. As debates in Pakistan indicate, the Islamic clauses within the constitution and their enforcement will become a hot topic and cause of divisions within Pakistan. Under the existing mechanisms, the Federal Shariat Court and CII are precisely meant to suggest just that. So, does Pakistan at this point of time afford to lend credence to the interpretations of TTP and their cahoots in the mainstream to touch this hornet’s nest?  It cannot, but is doing just that. It lacks a comprehensive policy.

In July 2013, a US official summarised the bleak prospects of the visit by John Kerry to Pakistan by stating: “They (Pakistan) are working on their own counter-terrorism strategy. We just need to wait and see what they come up with internally and how we can coordinate both in our bilateral relationship and with joint cooperation.” Unfortunately, Pakistan has so far dragged its feet on this very important subject. Two days ago the government extended three anti-terrorism ordinances amid roars from opposition. It means it has no intentions of drafting a counter terrorism policy. Either the government lack capacity or is deliberately positioning to reap advantages through this situation? Think.

Meanwhile, the dance of Pakistani politicians with flames continues.

n    The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist and a television anchorperson.