Are Peace Talks with the Taliban a Waste?

In this state of near total anarchy in the country, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision to “give peace a chance” rather than going for military operations to weed out Taliban terrorists seems nothing but a waste of time.

nawaz-sharif-taliban-talksMuch to the chagrin of the Pakistanis, weary of ceaseless, deathly bomb blasts across the country, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has yet again decided to go for peace talks with the Taliban rather than the expected extensive military operations.

Especially in the wake of the simultaneous bombings across the country last week, including one at the Pakistani military general headquarters in Rawalpindi that killed 13 people including six soldiers, Pakistanis were convinced that this time there would be no show of leniency against the Taliban. But as it turned out, rather than the direly needed decision for operation-clean up Taliban, Sharif has again opted to exhibit cordiality.

The Taliban called this and the bombing in Bannu a day earlier, which had killed 20 people in a paramilitary unit, a retaliation for the military action in the Waziristan area. These back-to-back attacks on the military were viewed as the last nail in the coffin by a nation weary of the relentless chain of suicide bombings.

In this state of near total anarchy in the country, Pakistan’s decision to “give peace a chance” rather than going for military operations to weed out the terrorists seems nothing but a waste of time. Because judging by the previous failures of similar talks with the Taliban, it is doubtful that this latest peace initiative will get anywhere. The consensus of the public is that the Prime Minister is only fooling himself if he thinks these talks will yield any results.

The reason for skepticism in Pakistan is simple

The outrageous demands of the Taliban are either entirely unacceptable or totally out of doable boundaries. Give and take a few revisions, it is highly unlikely that the core demands will change this time around.

To start off, the Taliban demand a complete halt of the US led drone attacks over their territory. Pakistan finds its hands tied in this matter since the US remains mum over when, or if, these drone attacks are likely to cease. The Taliban also want Pakistan to sever all ties with the US and to keep out of its personal vendetta with the US.

In reality, this is the very war on terror of which Pakistan is a critical US ally. These are all instances of the non-doable demands. As for the unacceptable, there is the demand for constitutional reforms to make Shariah or Islamic law the law of the land, amnesty for all the arrested and under trial Taliban prisoners in Pakistan, and compensations for the families of the drone or military attacks victims in all the Taliban held areas.

This time the Taliban has made new provocations

The Taliban selected as their negotiating team three of their key commanders who are now under arrest. Though a change of plans might evolve, at present Mullah Fazlullah has chosen Muslim Khan, Mahmood Khan, and Maulvi Omar of the Swati Taliban to conduct the talks with the Pakistani team. Ironically, in order to come to the negotiating table, the three would have to be released first. If these three are confirmed as the negotiating Taliban team, this itself would be an extremely antsy issue for the Pakistani establishment to agree to and the public to accept.

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Also Sharif has asked a total laying down of arms and halt to all terrorist attacks for the duration of the talks. The Taliban in turn ask that there be no drone attacks during that time too. This is again a non-doable condition for Pakistan since it has no jurisdiction over the drone attacks nor can it plead or demand with the US to halt them. The reason why the last talks failed was because the drone attacks during the talks killed Hakimullah Mehsud, a key Taliban commander. This resulted in not only failed talks but an increased fury in the terrorist attacks within Pakistan.

Because it is unlikely for any talks to succeed unless there is a total ceasefire from the Taliban and halt of drone attacks, over which Pakistan has no control, it is of course quite clear that this new attempt at talks is likely to meet the same dire fate again. In the light of this scenario, the only way out of the mare’s nest, which the public also supports furtively, is to go for extensive military operations. This makes these new round of peace talks either a means to buy more time until military operations are launched or a total waste of.

Peace or war?

One can only commend Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif for the benevolence he has shown by attempting a peaceful resolution rather than declare war with the Taliban currently wrecking nothing short of a havoc throughout the country.  However, at the moment, Pakistanis exhausted from the terrorist bombings in the country that are killing hundreds regardless of age and profession need something more than a sweet show of grace.

The Taliban hold a long time devious grudge against Pakistan for being partners with the US in the war in Afghanistan and for being a linchpin US ally in weeding out terrorists from the Pak-Afghan border areas. Talks alone are unlikely to  root out this long festering grudge. Pakistan may have been a US ally in the war on terror but in the process, whether knowingly or knowingly, it has bought itself a personal war of its own.

It is time we stopped brushing the seriousness of the matter under the rug like dust. As it turns out, it isn’t dust that we were brushing under the rug, it is smoldering ashes that are now inflaming the entire country.

Aalia Suleman is a freelance writer from Karachi, Pakistan. She can be reached at aalia.suleman@gmail.com

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  • MvGuy

    Maybe Pakistan and Sharif can’t stop the drone attacks or that they have no control over the drone attacks… But saying they are powerless is wrong too! They can make them so costly that the Americans will relent and the Taliban will agree. The government only needs to tell the Americans, that IF any drone attacks strike Pakistan while the talks are happening, they will deport every American and anyone known to have associated with them to the no mans land border area, close the embassy, and there after, try any captured Americans as spies for treason. And if that doesn’t seem to get their attention, put some tanks out in front of their embassy with the turret gun pointing at the entrance, and enumerate a declaration, that if there any any drones attack on Pakistan soil, the turret guns will be fired into the embassy. Perhaps in addition to “convincing” the Americans not to sabotage any talks, it could regain some of Pakistan’s lost dignity and sovereignty for the government and the people of Pakistan

  • Aalia Suleman

    I hear what you are saying but it is all easier said than done. Pakistan is among the top ten recipients of economic aid from the US and also its key ally in the ‘war on terror’. Handling the drones with the level of hostility you mention will open a can of worms for Pakistan it is hardly equipped to handle. The country will not only start to dwindle economically but a hostile America will also immediately open the doors for India, that will eagerly slink in as a US partner in case of war. Nations sadly lose their dignity when they start accepting aid from any country. Fact is, we have sold our soul to the devil and there is nothing we can do about it. Lets see how the talks progress….