The slow-moving zigzag TTP-government talks hit the rocks when the TTP Mohmand chapter announced that they had executed 23 kidnapped FC troops.

Reacting sharply to this, talks were suspended under the condition that they would only be assumed if the Taliban agreed to an unconditional cease-fire. Maulana Yousuf Shah, the coordinator of the Taliban intermediary committee, has called for keeping the dialogue process on track despite the setback.

The air-force attack on targets in North Waziristan and the Bara area of the Khyber Agency is said to be a retaliatory action and not part of a real military operation. Indications are that the prime minister is still willing to give talks a chance provided the TTP sincerely agrees to stop attacking soldiers and civilians and dissociates itself from factions unwilling to stop the violence. With no positive response from the Government regarding the Taliban condition of ending the killing of their fighters, the talks stand at a deadlock.

While those who oppose talks are pressing the Government to use force, the Nawaz Government (as well as most of the other political parties) has not given up the dialogue option altogether.

Everybody agrees that Pakistan’s major problem today is terrorism. Not only is there no security in the country, the economy which is already in dire straits cannot possibly improve in this environment.

According to a report released by security officials on Wednesday, as many as 460 persons—civilians and military—have been killed across the country since September 9 2013 when the all-parties conference mandated the government to go for talks. Of them, 308 were civilians and 114 belonged to the military while 38 were police officials.

The time has come for a firm and final decision on peace. Most of the Taliban are Pakistanis. We have to remember that they lived once as peaceful citizens of the state. It was not until the military operation in FATA began that the evolution of this citizenry began. The Pashtuns of the tribal areas hit back, as they historically always have. A virtual war started. Tens of thousands lost their lives on both sides and the armed Pashtuns turned into enemies.

We must work hard to win back these angry, estranged countrymen; not just by talking to them but also by helping them return to the peaceful conditions under which they lived before the war began. Thousands of them have been displaced. Thousands of them have lost their families. Many of them are being exploited by Pakistan’s enemies in various ways. Life has been frightfully disrupted in their areas and the old administrative systems and institutions have fallen apart. The tribal areas need to be provided funds and technical assistance to, and the mantra of deterrence, development and dialogue must be translated into reality.

We must realise that all our endeavors must focus on bringing peace and how to achieve that peace is the overwhelming and vital question for Pakistan today.

The military option will mean more killings, more disruptions, more spending of funds and more terrorism all over the country. Spread over a decade or so, it has already spawned waves of terrorist attacks all over the country; something we just cannot afford more of through military design.

We must devise a policy of engagement, we must be open to meeting the FATA Pathans’ legitimate demands, work hard for their welfare and development and convince them that they are welcome to return to their homes with the help and cooperation of the people and Government of Pakistan. As for the hardened anti-state killers and subversive elements including foreigners, they must be identified using every technological and other resource available to us. There is no place for them in Pakistan. We must move fast. As the Americans exit Afghanistan, conditions could further deteriorate there, giving rise to a problematic situation in Pakistan especially in FATA, KPK and Balochistan.                   

Talk to the Taliban. Listen to them. Attend to their legitimate grievances. Provide for them. Look after them. Educate them. Make them aware of their rights under the Constitution.  And go all out to sort out, with a firm hand, the miscreants and anti-Pakistan elements. Follow a statesmanlike approach. Do not get provoked if they misbehave.

The proposed course may appear to some as naive. But let us not forget that the alternative would be fraught with an enormous loss of life, funds and property and many more years of violence, instability and economic misery.

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