It is better for a hundred sheep to be

led by a lion than for a hundred lions

to be led by a sheep

When President Obama sought the opinion of political leaders on the Syria crisis, did he call an APC? No, Sir, he called the Congress. In Britain, David Cameron called Parliament. This is because the Parliament itself is a perpetual All Parties’ Conference. Every political party with even one seat is represented there, then why do you need an APC every so often? If you are going to call an APC at the drop of a hat, then disband the parliament.

Let me tell you why an APC. In the Parliament the debate on any issue can be very prolonged; on the other hand APC has only a single day for the whole exercise, and yet you get a joint declaration. The delegates would not even have had the time to read the four-column declaration properly, let alone discuss it, yet the government can claim they all signed it.

Be that as it may, the All Parties Conference (APC) declaration was bad enough; the follow-up during the last few days has been a lot worse. The government had said they would not lay down any pre-conditions for the talks; they presumed that the Taliban also would not put forward any conditions. Yet the latter have come up with two preconditions: that the government should release Taliban prisoners, and the Army should vacate the Tribal Areas. This means that the government should not only unilaterally forgive all the thousands held for heinous crimes, but should also surrender the tribal areas to the Taliban. What will then be left with the government to give during the talks?

Perhaps to add force to their demands, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan have killed a Major General, a colonel and a sepoy in Dir, and accepted responsibility. Further, the lethal attack on the general’s convoy was just one of four deadly attacks on army personnel on the same day. All this while the idea should be to scale down violence to prepare the way for talks. When a jounalist pointed out that demands for vacation of the tribal areas and release of prisoners are pre-conditions, the Taliban spokesman said no, these would be confidence-building measures (CBMs). But one may then ask: is the killing of top army officers also a confidence-building measure?

The APC declaration was so weak, it was a non-declaration. It said, ‘Thousands of innocent lives have been lost in the war, by drone strikes and by NATO supplies blowback.’ This is ridiculous. How can you lay stress upon the dozen or two drivers of NATO supplies drivers who were killed, or the drone victims? 40,000 have been killed by militants. Why did the government not have the spine to say that tens of thousands have been killed by the action of militants? If you cannot even speak, how would you then negotiate?

Again, the declaration says ‘Local customs must be respected’. It should first have said that everything will be done under the Constitution; it could then have been added that local customs may be respected to the extent possible.

This is a strange rebellion. Over 35,000 of our innocent civilians, and about 5,000 valiant soldiers have been killed by the militants. Yet even today our authorities are double-minded over action against the terrorists; they need APC’s. Then why did the people elect you?

The rebels keep killing our citizens in the thousands; we do nothing in return. We don’t even properly count and document the dead for some future memorial. Our near-total inaction is strange in view of the fact that at Swat, where a proper military operation was carried out, peace was restored and life has returned to nearly normal. Are we afraid that an operation in Waziristan might also be equally successful?

To my mind the question simply is: how can we countenance the presence in Waziristan of the present situation i.e. an independent emirate? Either recognize the emirate and exchange ambassadors, or remove the emirate; it is as simple as that. The trouble is that as the militants profess to work in the name of religion, some in the establishment, and in the religious parties, develop sympathy for them, never mind the 40,000 innocent persons they have killed!

I feel that, specially after the latest targeted killing of our army officers by them, no benefit is to be gained by talking to people whose minds are made up; who want you to release all criminals and vacate FATA not as a result of, but as a prelude to, talks. If the rulers are very keen to talk to them, well they may do so. However, the demands of the extremists will be so outlandish that no state would be able to accept them. In that case, in Heaven’s name, use the full force of the armed forces to restore the writ of the state.

P.S.: There is light at the end of the tunnel. According to latest reports, while appreciating the need to give peace a chance, the Army is preparing for targeted operations inside Dir and Waziristan. This is as it should be; if the militants are not willing for a ceasefire during the talks, and mount four attacks in a single day, why should the army just keep taking the flak? The next few weeks or months will decide the issue. The people are solidly behind the government and the armed forces.

The writer is a former principal of the King Edward Medical College, and former president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Pakistan.