Peace talks which finally got underway last week between the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan’s Taliban militants, could not have come at a more delicate time for Pakistan’s key internal interests and the strategic future of its surrounding region. The event has coincided with reports of Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai being already engaged with the Taliban in clandestine peace talks, meant to protect his own interests beyond 2014 when the bulk of US-led western troops are due to depart from the country.

For Sharif, engaging with the Taliban has been far from easy. He ran part of his election campaign last year, promising to launch peace talks with the Taliban to end a decade-long conflict centrally emanating from the country’s semi-autonomous tribal belt in the northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province along the Afghan border. Describing the conflict as a “gigantic terrorism problem” for Pakistan, Sharif once implied that a military victory over the effectively ragtag group of militants could not be achieved. Months later, three inter-related trends are clearly obvious.

First, Karzai’s approach to the Taliban following Pakistan’s release of high-ranking Afghan Taliban leaders in its custody, clearly proves that even the Afghan leadership cannot keep itself isolated from the very same force that it once replaced. Following the New York terrorist attacks known as 9/11, Karzai was installed as Afghanistan’s leader to replace a Taliban leadership structure forced out in a US-led invasion. Yet, years later, it is undoubtedly clear that the objectives of the US invasion have just not been achieved while the Taliban remain an important entity to be reckoned with.

Second, Pakistan’s own political and security dynamics have forced Sharif to opt for peace talks with the Taliban. To any observer of Pakistan’s trends, it is clear that the peace talks may not necessarily lead to a sustainable peace, though going through this process is essential to demonstrate to Pakistanis that their ruling structure essentially exhausted all avenues before turning to a full-scale conflict. Unlike Afghanistan where the Taliban leadership structure appears to be in control of the bulk of the hardline clerical movement, Pakistan presents a different picture. There are up to 60 groups which together form the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, the umbrella outfit which leads the movement. Unless proven otherwise, even assembling a majority of the hardline groups on a common page will be difficult. Since Sharif made his peace offer after becoming the prime minister, the Taliban have hardly responded in kind. The number of attacks using techniques ranging from IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to suicide bombers easily demonstrates that a sizeable community among the Taliban have no appetite to give peace a chance.

Finally, Pakistan’s political trends, both in the short-term and the long haul suggest that the Taliban way of life which seeks to dominate society using a radicalised interpretation of Islam, has few takers among mainstream Pakistanis. Time and again, Pakistanis have proven their aversion to hardline views by rejecting them in successive elections. If the case would have been radically the opposite, political parties which have campaigned in the name of hardline values and religion would have gained a more central place in Pakistan’s parliamentary politics. Given that Pakistan’s societal disdain for the Taliban view of the world is clear, leaders like Sharif also need to clear their own perspective. Seizing the moment to seek a negotiated end to Pakistan’s internal conflict will indeed be the most desirable way forward. But given that it takes two to tango, the Taliban have so far been unwilling to accept reason and back away from their ultra-harsh stance.

While this debate continues, there must also be reconciliation with Pakistan’s bloodied history of the past decade. The Taliban indeed have blood on their hands of thousands of innocent Pakistanis killed in senseless attacks. For Pakistan’s top leaders, a powerful reminder must be the once a year ceremony which takes place just outside the army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi to remember those who laid down their lives in the fight against Taliban. There are also the cases of numerous unsung heroes scattered all across the country who were killed in attacks.

Without an unconditional acceptance by the Taliban of the writ of the Pakistani state, any peace agreement must be unacceptable. Conceding even some of the seemingly peripheral demands of the Taliban will be a grave let down to the memory of Pakistanis who have been sacrificed in this conflict. More importantly for the future of Pakistan, any concessions will only set a gravely dangerous trend that will demonstrate that taking up arms by organised militant groups eventually pays off.

A fight to the finish may be unpalatable to some. And yet, there is no other way to successfully end the longest and perhaps the most dangerous conflict besieging Pakistan. The government must turn to lessons served by other conflict-stricken situations where only a successful end to the conflict in favour of a state has preserved the way of life preferred by most of its citizens. One way or the other, the Taliban attacks on Pakistan must be confronted decisively and forcefully.

 The writer is a political and economic analyst. Gulf News.