Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif has had to weigh in to express the sentiment that current talks with the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) will yield results. However, despite this optimism, the latest issue in the talks, that of venue, indicates that the talks had not yet yielded the results they were supposed to, and are being undertaken by interlocutors who have to look over their shoulders at a third party. That Mian Nawaz had to weigh in at all was an indication that the talks were heading towards failure. However, that he spoke on the issue was also encouraging, for it showed that he was not exercising the politician’s prerogative of refusing to talk about something tainted by the miasma of failure.
Mian Nawaz made his latest pronouncement in Rawalpindi at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Metro Bus Scheme there. Though the link between the bus scheme and prosperity is not immediately apparent, there is enough of a relationship between the two things to justify it. This is apart from the relationship of militancy to Rawalpindi, through it being the closest large city to the TTP stronghold of the Waziristan tribal agencies. The MBS is designed to cover the route of the wagon linking the Twin Cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, which runs along the central artery of the Murree Road in Rawalpindi before entering Islamabad. The location of the TTP stronghold has gained importance because of its proximity to the federal capital, and has also generated one of its demands, the takeover of the Pakistani state. This was more obvious for the TTP because it was ideologically generated, with its geographic convenience being a secondary consideration. There is virtually no way that the TTP cannot demand the Islamisation of the system, and thus to enter into talks with it is foredoomed to failure because it cannot abandon the demand, while the government cannot concede it. The issue is not so much the system, as the government’s right to rule.
The issue of the venue for further talks is because of American drone attacks. Drone attacks are opposed (by the TTP and the Pakistan Tehrik Insaf) because of civilian casualties and because they serve as a hurdle in talks; the TTP leaders fear they will be subjected to drones if the US were to discover where the talks are to be held. This is the case despite the US’s assurance that it would hold back on attacks. The US’s moratorium is an act of self-restraint, and owes nothing to any leverage that either Pakistan or the Taliban might have over it. As its record shows, the US takes the robust view that such moratoria only exist to be broken. This means that the talks will only continue as long as the US feels that they are useful.
The utility of the talks for Pakistan rest on their bringing an end to the TTP’s disruption of law and order in Pakistan. The end of that disruption is seen as necessary to restore the law and order situation, which in turn will allow foreign investment to flow in and will lead to the kind of economic growth the PML(N) promised during last year’s election campaign. For the government, it is not simply a matter of creating an environment which will allow citizens to carry out their lives undisturbed, but of fulfilling a concrete election pledge. At the end of its tenure, if the present government has not improved the lives of the voters, it will not be re-elected. It should also be noted that Mian Nawaz Sharif is now reaching an age where he would not like to spend a tenure in opposition. He would also like to become the second Prime Minister in history to be re-elected The first was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in April 1977, but he was overthrown in July, quite apart from the election itself being made controversial by allegations of rigging. It should be understood that Mian Nawaz wants one result from the talks, and that must be the TTP not disrupting the peace of the country. This is probably the reason the TTP has been so coy about stopping its attacks. After all, it was as a result of those attacks that the TTP has won the position implicit in the talks.
However, as has been shown by the attacks accompanying talks, there are elements within the TTP itself, who are opposed to the talks process. This could be either because of the discomfort felt at the un-Islamic nature of the Constitution, or because of the intervention of foreign actors. While the former is a TTP problem, the latter owes more to the government allowing in foreign actors. However, while the Pakistan government seeks stability, other actors seek chaos. The TTP would like chaos because it is in disorder that it has the best chance of coming into power, which is its ultimate goal. The US is about to draw down forces from Afghanistan, and can only intervene in the region if there is chaos. After all, if there is peace and calm in the region, the US will not be needed to solve any problems. It seems that only the Pakistani government is interested, and the TTP and the US have an unexpected convergence of interests. The US inclination towards India is to be seen in this context, because the kind of support that the US is giving an Indian role in Afghanistan, is tailor-made to induce disorder in a region which is largely destabilized by India’s hegemonistic posturings. The Nawaz-Kerry meeting on the sidelines of the Amsterdam summit was important in this.
The US cannot escape from a role in the talks, not just because of its own wish to take part, but because the Pakistan government allows them a role. The US may wish to have a regime in Kabul that has more regard for its hydrocarbon interests than the Taliban showed, but that is not a Pakistani interest. As far as hydrocarbons go, the US also has interests in Iran, as does Pakistan. Pakistan may find its need for Iranian gas likely to provide the US another lever over it, but this is possible only if Pakistan allows it to do so.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.