I want an end to terrorism whether it is through dialogue and reconciliation or through full use of force” said Nawaz Sharif in his first address to the nation on August 19. In August 30 issue of the Newsweek, the magazine’s comment was: “given the intransigence of the militants, Sharif’s option of full force may come quicker than Pakistanis can prepare for”.

This observation has not come true. Instead the Pakistan Prime Minister held an all parties conference (APC) which unanimously decided to opt for a dialogue. Somewhat unexpectedly, the offer is unconditional and has the endorsement of the army chief, General Parvez Kayani.

The question is: will the option of dialogue yield the desired results or will the initiative peter out as the case was with the previous APCs.

Critics and detractors are vociferously skeptical of the viability of the adopted approach. Night after night, in the TV discussions (and forcefully written columns in the English language newspapers) they have been raising all sorts of points, citing the failure of the previous attempts to hold talks with the militants. How can you hold a dialogue with those who do not accept the country’s Constitution, are unwilling to subscribe to the democratic system, those who kill innocent Pakistanis, blast security installations and personnel, blow up schools. And last but not least, they demand the imposition of their own version of the Sharia. There are so many splinter  groups of militants: who would you talk to, what will be the agenda, how much would you be willing to concede, what possibly would be the terms of engagement? These and many other questions are put forward to make out a case against the holding of talks.

Imran Khan who consistently has been pleading for engaging the Taliban, firmly disregards these objections and considers that the war with the militants was forced on Pakistan by a military dictator, under pressure from Washington. It has been America’s war thrust on Pakistan. There were hardly any suicide bombings prior to Musharraf’s starting a military operation in the FATA. The tribal people all along had been loyal to Pakistan and have in the past unhesitatingly volunteered to help the government and the military whenever the occasion arose to defend the country. Hundreds of thousands of them have been displaced and thousands killed by Pakistani forces and American drone strikes. They have been repeatedly provoked and pushed to react and resort to violent acts against the Pakistani government and the people.

Stop this senseless war, says Imran. Hold a dialogue with them. Take up the drone attacks internationally as these are illegal and violative of a country’s integrity and sovereignty.

It redounds to Nawaz Sharif’s credit as the head of the country’s government to have evolved a consensus decision to enter into talks with the Taliban. And also (with Imran’s help) bring the army chief to accept the approach favoured by the leading politicians. One may here recall what General Kayani said on April 30, 2013 when he spoke on the occasion of Youm-e-Shuhada (Martyr’s Day): “I would like to ask all those who raise such questions that if a small faction wants to enforce its distorted ideology over the entire nation by taking up arms and defying the constitution of Pakistan and the democratic process and considers all forms of bloodshed justified, then does the fight against this enemy of the state constitute someone else’s war? Even in the history of the best evolved democratic states, treason or seditious uprisings against the state have never been tolerated and in such struggles their armed forces have had unflinching support of the masses; questions about the ownership of such wars have never been raised”.

Mention may also be made that in December 2012 the TTP Commander Hakimullah Mehsud had offered to have talks. “We” he said in a videotape “believe in dialogue but it should not be frivolous. Asking us to lay down arms is a joke”. A month or so later, Ehsanullah Ehsan, TTP spokesman in a videotaped message expressed willingness for conditional peace talks with government. He proposed that Nawaz Sharif. Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman and Munawar Hassan act as guarantors. He also asked for the release of three Taliban leaders. The offer was shot down by Rehman Malik the Interior Minister.

The APC offer for peace dialogue has already evoked a positive response. “We welcome the unanimous decision of the All Parties Conference about the peace talks with the Taliban. It is a satisfactory development and we too are ready to hold a meaningful dialogue with the federal government, said Shahidullah Shahid a spokesman of the TTP. The Pakistan Taliban are holding a Jirga to discuss the pros and cons of the proposed talks, added Shahidullah.

One may, further, mention General Parvez Kayani’s statement with regard to the APC held on September 9 that both the government and the armed forces were on “the same page” on the issue of talks with the militant groups.

It is now for the PML-N government at the highest level to do their home work and examine various aspects of the possible points and demands to be raised by the Taliban. Some give and take is bound to take place but there should be no compromise on the supremacy of the Constitution and the writ of the incumbent legitimate Pakistan government. Every effort must be made to ensure that this opportunity is not lost or frittered away.

Nawaz sharif’s other well-done initiative, in Karachi too must yield good results. It should not be allowed to be sabotaged by any of the political parties howsoever troublesome.

Any wrong step or weakness in effectively managing the challenging situation there would be disastrous and will do tremendous damage to the economy and integrity of the country. Karachi has to be cleansed of the menace of terrorism, extortion and blackmailing once and for all—whatever it takes so to do. A word of appreciation of the way the interior minister is struggling to handle the law and order situation. He is indeed a source of strength to the prime minister who has taken upon himself to ensure that Pakistan no longer has to suffer on account of the terroristic threats from the Taliban, the religious extremists, the foreign and other anti-Pakistan elements. Having been a businessman himself, Nawaz fully understands that without security, no society can make any sustained progress. One also must appreciate the considered cooperation extended by the army chief to the civilian government at this critical juncture.

    The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a political and international relations analyst