The Government of Pakistan has displayed a lamentable lack of clarity in thought and purpose while dealing with the scourge of terrorism in general and the TTP in particular. It has neither demonstrated the political will nor the moral or physical courage to tackle the issues squarely.

At the moment it seems to be running second to the TTP with the initiative clearly with the adversary.

The government has neither a viable National Security Policy nor Counter Terrorism (CT) and Counter Insurgency (COIN) strategies in place. It has neither a well-defined desired end state to pursue nor well enunciated ways and means to get there. If, as we all believe, the government’s desired end state is peace then it can only adopt one of the two possible ways available to achieve it - either through talks or through war. It must choose one. It cannot continue to flip-flop from one to the other and then back again. It is bound to lose strategic direction and balance if it has not done so already. In statecraft, events must occur in the correct and logical sequence and order. In this case it ought to be the use of force for the government to get into a strong and unassailable position from which it must impose its will onto the adversary. Certainly not vice versa.

The government’s indecisiveness is bound to have far reaching and devastating strategic effects in the immediate as well as distant future. It has already wrought to naught the impact of the surgical strikes carried out so effectively by the PAF and Pakistan Army Aviation. These strikes had forced it to seek a ceasefire. The government ought to have maintained the momentum of these surgical strikes and moved in some ground troops to force the TTP onto the talks table and then imposed its will upon it. It should have spoken to the TTP from a position of unassailable strength. Strangely, it let the opportunity slip by. Rather incomprehensibly, it opted for a feeble reactive policy instead of a strong proactive one.

This state of indecisiveness has further caused the shifting of the initiative from the Armed Forces of Pakistan back to the TTP. The surgical strikes had initially wrested the initiative from the TTP. So very cleverly it offered a ceasefire for four weeks only, thus putting a stop to the punishment it was receiving from the air. Naively, the government agreed to it and effectively passed the initiative back to the TTP. It has now come up with outlandish demands including the vacation of the South Waziristan Agency by the Pakistan Army. Could it be a possible prequel to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence and the establishment of an Islamic Emirate? Imagine the impact where some states inimical to Pakistan recognize this so called Islamic Emirate? Such possibilities, not too far-fetched, ought to be forestalled immediately.

The decision to accept the ceasefire was a very poor one indeed. It was ill-timed and ill-considered. First, the TTP got time to recover from the shock and awe of the surgical strikes which had taken out a number of their leaders. Second, it guaranteed that the government would not attack it for at least four weeks. Third, this allowed it time to rest, reorganize, rearm, re-equip, regroup and reposition itself; and most importantly disperse and secure its human and material assets from the deadly aerial attacks. And finally it allows it time to work out strategies and tactics to defeat the threats posed by the PAF and Pakistan Army Aviation.

Most critically, it allows the TTP time to possibly acquire Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs) and similar weapons and munitions to counter the very real and potent threats posed to it by the PAF and Pakistan Army Aviation. The emergence and devastating effects of the stingers on the Af-Pak battlefield during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan are still very fresh in our minds. Are we providing the TTP with the necessary time and space to repeat history albeit with us on the receiving end this time? Is the TTP an asset of the RAW-NDS combination and further supported by MOSSAD, the CIA and MI6. Is it beyond the TTP’s benefactors to provide them with such arsenal on short notice? If actualized it would take the war on terror to an entirely different dimension with devastating results for all. As it is, Mullah Fazalullah, the Ameer of the TTP, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, Khalid Khorasani etc are all ensconced and based in their safe havens in Kunar-Nuristan and getting unlimited and unrestricted succor there. The government should pre-empt this possibility by not allowing the TTP the time to acquire, absorb and employ such and similar arsenal against its Armed Forces. Indecision at this point in time will have even more disastrous consequences later on.

And finally the hallowed talks; this approach has innumerable variables and countless unknowns hidden within it to make the entire exercise an endless, perplexing and possibly futile one. What does the government intend to achieve by way of talks? What will be the disposal of all these terrorists? Will they agree to their demobilization and disarming without a whimper of protest? Will they give up all the weapons, equipment and munitions of their free will and accord? Will the TTP and its affiliates denounce and give up their avowed aims of establishing an Islamic Emirate in the Af-Pak Region and a universal caliphate? Will they accept Pakistan’s constitution and become its law abiding citizens through verbal persuasion alone?  Will all the foreign fighters lay down their arms and go back to their respective countries? And the list of queries goes on and on.

If the answer to any one of these queries about the TTP is in the affirmative then the PM may continue on his endless merry go round of talks. If not, then he must be more decisive and courageous and take the right decisions to secure the future of the coming generations.

n    The author is a retired Brigadier, a former Defense Attache’ to Australia and New Zealand and is currently on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).