We will not negotiate through media,” announced a calm and unhurried Hakimullah Mehsud, in an interview to the BBC from an undisclosed location in Pakistan. The bald-faced irony of this appeared to be lost on Mr Mehsud, as he faced the camera recording his statements. While the government has tried to use every possible avenue to declare its intent to negotiate with militants, they have been paid back with blood, violence and a healthy helping of scorn heaped on the offer. Does that discourage them? Heavens, no!
Hakimullah Mehsud continued the tradition of triumphantly mocking the government, by insisting that it send its representatives to him, where he would dictate conditions for talks, on his own turf. As video of Hakimullah frolicking at the edge of a river, tossing companions into the river, and enjoying a leisurely afternoon lunch surfaced, bomb blasts in three provincial capitals were reported one after the other. Alongside Hakimullah’s protestations of being opposed to harming “Muslim lives and properties”, the attacks continue relentlessly.
If he is to be believed – which is not just inadvisable but given his politics and ideology, also impossible – he has no control over the militants carrying out these attacks. However, even if taken at face value by proponents of talks, it presents no reason to negotiate with him and his faction. Considering that the BBC was able to find him, surely the Pakistan army and intelligence services can manage it as well. With a $5 million bounty on his head, they would be richer for it too. Seems like a fair bargain.
But the government does not wish to find Hakimullah Mehsud and deal with him – despite having the capacity to. The fear that the blowback would be focused on Punjab is what is holding Mr Sharif back from doing what he knows must be done. The militants are not respectful of Mr Sharif’s fear, though. Their assault has arrived in the form of unprovoked attack, and not reprisal. Whether Mr Sharif has the appetite to fight it or not, the war has begun. With attacks in Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore, does the Prime Minister need further incentive to initiate military action?
While we bury our dead, Hakimullah continues a life of undisturbed leisure. The fact that he is free, living in security, and is unsought by the government, is an insult to the ordinary citizens losing their lives day after day to the battle the state refuses to face. Mr Sharif, act now. Or all will be lost.