Over the past some week’s the nation has been abuzz with comments and speculations about the talks between the government and TTP. Social commentators, political pundits, and legal scholars have all been cautiously approaching the ongoing negotiation process (its controversial participants and elusive mandate) with measured caution. Everyone is acutely aware of the importance of these talks. But no one can speak, with any certainty, about the possible outcomes.

From the details available, the government’s committee, in its initial meeting with the TTP negotiators, presented five points: i) the talks should be held within the framework of the Constitution; ii) the scope of these talks be limited to the troubled areas, and not extend to the entire country; iii) violence, and all other such activities that hamper the dialogue be stopped; iv) the authority of the TTP negotiators (and its monitoring committee) be made clear; and v) dialogue process should be quick and speedy.

The TTP’s demands, much more elusive, seem to be based on a single point: that ‘Sharia’ (TTP’s own interpretation of Sharia, that is) be implemented as the supreme law of the country.

These demands present a number of structural and ideological issues: Is the government willing to surrender the Constitutional mandate at the feet of a terrorist organization? Will militancy – cloaked as Sharia – be accepted as the supreme law across Pakistan? Or even in some portion of Pakistan? And if so, are we not setting a legal precedent that persistent terrorist activities are a legitimate way for militants to bring a Constitutional regime to the negotiating table? Are we, as nation, willing to surrender our most sacred freedoms to anyone who holds a gun to our head? Are suicide attacks a recognized negotiating technique in this land?

And will the process really stop violence, once and for all? Will all the splinter groups adhere to a peace accord? Will the Shia-Sunni violence end? Will hate-spitting madrassas be shut down? And in case this does not happen, will the State resort to military options?

Also, just as pertinently, if TTP is really a terrorist organization, then are those negotiating on behalf of this organization – holding their brief – also terrorists? And if so, in case of a breakdown of the negotiations, will the government be willing to prosecute them as being complicit with terrorists?

This last set of questions, bring us to the important issue of who, from among our ‘regular’ civil society, have been nominated by TTP to be their negotiators. And why?

In the initial list of personalities suggest by the terrorist organization, names such as Professor Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, Maulana Yousaf Shah, Maulana Abdul Aziz, and Mufti Kifayatullah, are no surprise. Their disdain for the State of Pakistan, its laws, and its progressive people is a matter of public record.

The fifth name, that of Imran Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, raised a number of eyebrows (among the few who still believed in him as a liberal), and got giggles and ‘I-told-you-so’ (from all others who have been insisting that he is Taliban Khan). The fact that Khan has refused to become a part of the terrorists negotiating band, is irrelevant. All that matters is that the TTP had full confidence in him to represent their point of view. Entirely. Relentlessly. Unapologetically.

Imran Khan’s response? He has still not come out to condemn and oppose the TTP as a mass-murdering organization. He has still not made any move, or taken any policy step, that declares (to the TTP) that he is not in bed with militants. Being their sympathizer (as terrible as that might sound) is one thing. But to have gone to an extent that the terrorists invite you to become their face, their team, their negotiator, is a different story altogether.

Much of this connects back to the existential threat faced by PTI – a party with a (partially) liberal base, that follows policies of the extreme right. PTI, ever since October 2011, has had trouble defining itself. The initial stance of the party was that, while all others are corrupt, members of PTI are clean. Soon thereafter, however, this idea got obliterated with people such as Aleem Khan and Khurshid Kasuri in its ranks. Then PTI tried redefining itself as the only party that is ‘democratic’ in nature, but this claim fell apart when, during internal party elections, opposition to Imran Khan, Javed Hashmi and Shah Mehmood, was looked at with disdain. And finally, just as PTI was attempting to place itself as the party of ‘peace’, the greatest mass murderers in Pakistan have asked Imran Khan to be their representative.

PTI’s supporters, the liberals hailing from the posh areas of Lahore and Karachi, and having an intimidating presence on social media, seem to be the only ones not getting the joke. Even while most – if not all – of them disagree in their heart with Imran Khan’s stance on TTP, they do not summon the courage to voice their dissent. Having sworn fidelity to the charisma of the man – which, cannot be denied – these supporters make excuses and find justifications for their leader’s inexplicable stance. Their arguments range from the benign to the ridiculous; from encouragement of giving peace a chance and listening to the TTP, to outright defence and sympathy for the TTP. Even if TTP’s ideology obliterates the very fundamentals of how PTI supporters live their own lives.

PTI – the party and its supporters – need to come to terms with the fact that they have gotten it wrong this time. That while the Lal Masjid clerics, and their supporters, may endorse the TTP’s stance, the PTI cannot. That even if their leader insists upon such a stance, it is the responsibility of his supporters to correct this course. Because in case the young liberal supporters of PTI, in their desire to stand by Imran Khan, start to support the TTP demands, the entire fight of liberalism in Pakistan (against forces of violence) will be lost.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He  has a Masters in Constitutional Law from  Harvard Law School.


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