There’s something incongruous about holding a dialogue with the TTP. Despite being an ‘umbrella’ organization, its canopy doesn’t cover all groups. They have varying names and geographical origins, but common purpose. Yet the few that stay out can derail peace. No group is too small to attract national or international attention and outrage. Such is the power of modern arms when even a single man with a high-powered weapon can wipe out hundreds before he is shot down.

Fighting units have to be equipped and have an endless supply of ammunition and replacements. These cost more than fighters’ wages or bounty. Paymasters must have deep pockets. Who are they? -- Each and every group? Can’t they get better jobs without risking their necks? Apparently not.

There’s seemingly a chain of actors and intermediaries leading to the ultimate brains, necessary to keep their tracks covered. The more the visible enemy look like us (minus the unkempt beards), dress like us, eat like us, speak the same lingo and even live among us, the more easily we are made to see their point of view, and deceived and thrown off course. And since mercenaries drawn from among neighbours cost a negligible fraction of modern armies, it can go on indefinitely. Infiltration is the key.

It’s hard to label the enemy. Even criminals and terrorists have families and homes, or at least a government to rebel against. If some groups don’t, how are they representative of a society? When groups don’t have a country or an economy or a specific territory or resources to fight for, their objectives can be suspect. Anyone can cook up a convenient cause or ideology. And hate ideology does not fit in with the rationale for Pakistan.

Who exactly, and which powers backing them, are we trying to talk to? When militants kill with impunity, it doesn’t suggest they’re looking for peace. Far from being ‘jihadis’ in the reformative sense, they are more likely mercenaries, doing someone else’s bidding for a price, looking to kill all hope so that people can’t fight back.

There’s no doubt that Imran Khan means well. But there’s too much wishful thinking involved. He seems over-confident where he should be cautious. Taliban groups seem to be mushrooming, depending on their funding and strategy. They have disconcerting outreach. Their targets have been comprehensively civilian and military. What message did they convey with the Peshawar church attack? Is it different from the hundred-odd attacks in the first hundred days of the Sharif government, despite the claims for peace negotiations?

Imran Khan must consider that today’s warfare has changed considerably since World War II, even though they carpet-bombed and wiped out entire cities at the time. Much of the world has been experiencing a state of war since 9/11 – an ongoing “low-intensity” World War III, as some astrologers put it. They’re worse than ever. There’s more guerrilla warfare; far more targeting of civilians. No fixed dates for starting an offensive, and generally preceded by propaganda and false flag operations. -- All so much cheaper and more effective than all-out war.

How often has it happened that the Taliban have agreed to peace talks, … only to be followed by another gruesome attack. Imran Khan complains that there is some quarter that deliberately throws a spanner in the works. He is right. But his thinking should proceed its logical end. Peace isn’t their objective – but simply making us believe that it is.

Of course he and the PM may keep reiterating a desire for peace, but not by letting our guard down. The very fact that suicide bombers were used in Peshawar against an uninvolved minority shows bad intent. They could have been misguided, brainwashed fanatics, or they could have been victimized in an equal measure: trapped by their poverty into being pawns of ‘religious’ groups to do ‘God’s work’. Or because terrorists give them a choice between volunteering to become suicide bombers – or having their families massacred along with themselves.

Is the Prime Minister to blame for our present plight? No, although he may be faulted for unfortunate decisions. For that matter, it’s not the KP government’s fault either – unless, as reported, they failed to heed intelligence warnings of an imminent attack.

Why do some leaders like Bush and Obama indulge in war-mongering like it’s a career opportunity just like Bush the senior, Reagan, Johnson, and others whose names have faded.

Robert Green, who writes on war history and strategy, notes (or quotes) that:

“People will always try to take from you in negotiation what they could not get from you in battle or direct confrontation. They will even use appeals to fairness and morality as a cover to advance their position. Do not be taken in: negotiation is about maneuvering for power or placement, and you must always put yourself in the kind of strong position that makes it impossible for the other side to nibble away at you during your talks. Before and during negotiations, you must keep advancing, creating relentless pressure and compelling the other side to settle on your terms. The more you take, the more you can give back in meaningless concessions….”

That’s not what we’ve been seeing on our side, although the Taliban seem to have got the idea.

The writer is a former journalist and currently director of The Green Economic Initiative at Shirkat Gah, a rights and advocacy group.