Today, we’re all about talks. Negotiations towards a civilized solution to an uncivil problem. Dialogue towards the end of an insurgency unlike any other. Should we give the Taliban a chance to change their ways or wreak vengeance upon them, is the question that dominates fashionable discourse in cafes and chai-stalls across the country. The arguments are cyclical and often tell you nothing new. There are four chief schools of thought around the question of the talks.

The most influential is the one that champions their cause and is propounded mostly by ‘establishment cronies,’ certain journalists-who-also-happen-to-be-members-of-the-negotiating-committee and The Common Man.

However, this group is plagued by the perception that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf let it’s voters down by cozying up to terrorists. This is a bit of a misrepresentation. Indeed, it was Imran’s stated objective, nay campaign promise, that he would open dialogue with Taliban militants and his actual constituency knew full well what that entailed. Those who claim to be disillusioned with the party because of its soft stance on terrorism are guilty of a crime of ignorance: they campaigned and voted for their own image of what a party should be, without paying much heed to what the party was saying itself. Now, when that party begins to deliver on its electoral promises, they are crying foul and alleging all sorts of sorcery.

Next in popularity is the liberal-esque critique of the Talibs’ track record with ceasefires and attempts at negotiation. This view is most common among newspaper columnists and talk show pundits, who are mostly the same people, really.

A third angle is the cautious distrust of anything civilian, found predominantly among military personnel past and present, along with their immediate family members. In a country with a standing army of nearly 600,000 with nearly as many in reserve, that’s a lot of households with subscriptions to the NDU’s quarterly journals.

Fourth and most foul is the Right-wing band of Nazi brothers who still believe that the Taliban are misunderstood, well-intentioned mujahids who are not “against Pakistan” and are spurred on to these heinous acts by either a third party (i.e. India or Afghanistan) or are engaged in holy war against the occupying forces of the United States of Great Shaitan.

This last group has, to their credit, the support of some real heavyweights, such as the Interior Minister of the country, the chiefs of nearly all religious parties, both Ansar Abbasi and Orya Maqbool Jan, as well as the dashing former Right-Arm Fast (around the wicket) bowler from Mianwali-upon-Zaman Park. Here, they’re all doing what heavyweights do best: leading a misguided charge of the sabre-toting Light Brigade on the windmills of artillery-equipped all-terrain terrorists.

Their stance is clear. If the US and the Afghan government can negotiate peace with their Taliban, why can’t Pakistan do the same with its scholars of doom?

This, I’m afraid, is a false equivalence, for three reasons.

Firstly, because the TTP are actually on Pakistani territory. The Talibs of Afghanistan are as far from US soil as a hillbilly from hygiene. Therefore, the US has no direct dog in this fight, geographically speaking. On the other hand, the ‘soldiers of peace’ massacring innocents in Pakistan are very much operating off Pakistani soil and have established a strong foothold within the territory of said country. The US objective here is a simple cut-and-run from the Afghan theatre without too big a mess, which is why it is supporting the talks. If it ever came to the question of terrorists on their own soil, the US government would not blink before firing a cruise missile up their posteriors. The UniBomber and Timothy McVeigh are chilling reminders of that old Hollywood adage, “The United States does not negotiate with terrorists!”.

Secondly, the TTP don’t want to talk, they want power. The demand for their own peculiar brand for Shariah – discounting the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which grants sovereignty to Allah alone – is nothing but a powerplay. But I’m afraid that much like our cricket team, the powers-that-be-hair-transplanted aren’t too good at sizing up power plays and fail to see things as they really are. Instead, they put their eggs in the sincerity basket and have Chaudhry Nisar coddle these murderers no end. Shameful, but again, completely in line with the party’s stated objective.

Thirdly, and most importantly, there is no viable example of a case in history where a sovereign state actually recognized the legitimacy of and negotiated with a group that had been declared “enemies of the state”, or kaladam in our terminology. That’s like asking India to negotiate with the Naxalites or the Khalistan Liberation Movement, or expecting Iran to sit down to dinner with Jundollah or the Mujahideen-i-Khalq.

Those who use the Irish Republican Army-slash-Sinn Fein example as a shining parallel seem to forget their basic logical failing: that in this case, Pakistan is not the occupying force. If that were true, then the IRA model would work here. But it’s not, and it doesn’t. The right honourable Zarrar Khuro, an eminent journalist and social media user par excellence, when asked about his opinion on this argument, said, “It is my considered scholarly opinion that people who quote this example know f*** all.”

I think I agree. We can’t talk to terrorists. We must fight them, in the trenches and on the beech heads. We must fight, to survive.

 The writer is a former journalist currently working in the development sector.

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