PML-N President Mian Nawaz Sharif has still hung back from giving the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) the guarantee it wanted from him, for talks with the government, but has welcomed the talks, and asked the government to initiate the process without wasting time for the sake of much-needed peace and reconciliation. Mian Nawaz, along with Jamaat Islami Amir Syed Munawwar Hasan and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, had been asked to guarantee the agreement reached in the talks with the government. This was one of the preconditions laid down by the TTP in its latest offer to talk to the government. Mian Nawaz is not alone in withholding his guarantee, for the other two did not extend theirs. However, his position is different, for not only is he the only former Prime Minister, he is also the only one who might again become Prime Minister. In a statement issued in Lahore on Thursday, he also explained why he was reluctant to give any guarantee: the track record of the federal government. Clearly, he had in mind the fate of the Charter of Democracy for which he and his party blame the PPP.

President Asif Zardari’s declared untrustworthiness in Mian Nawaz’s eyes now stands in sharp relief to the PML-N chief’s unquestioning belief in the TTP’s offer of talks being sincere. The TTP is not just an outlawed militia which has targeted the Pakistani state relentlessly, but it also continues to name and target political parties whose members sit just across the aisle from the PML-N Chief’s own party members. It is surprising and not a little distasteful that Mian Nawaz said what he did, without any justification or reasoning offered.

Militancy has caused enough loss and suffering, economic and human loss, and trouble. Everyone is in favour of peace. But at what cost? Now that there is to be a drawing down of foreign troops in Afghanistan, the TTP sees the need for talks. The government must respond at once, and just as it will not leave other issues to the incoming government, it should not leave this also. If the TTP wish to be engaged, a stringent set of conditions, including surrendering arms, must be pre-imposed. No prisoners must be released, unless they are beyond the Afghan border, where they are free to join talks to form government. Their place in Afghanistan is undisputed. In Pakistan, they will find none.