By Awais Saleem
It’s official. Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has elected a new chief. In doing so, it has displayed such uncanny clarity regarding its path ahead that it is difficult not to envy it. By choosing a leader who is known for his extremely hardline stance and a personal history of hostility towards the State of Pakistan, they have made their violent intentions quite clear.
If there was any confusion as to what kind of conclusions can possibly be drawn from Mullah Fazlullah’s elevation, the new TTP chief himself has minced no words in rejecting the idea of holding peace talks and making it evident that the battle-lines are drawn. The hopes for a negotiated peace settlement, as some have argued, are thus nothing but daydreaming.
The TTP has given this message loud and clear at a time when Pakistan, despite being torn by terrorism for over a decade now, continues to search for the right kind of narrative – let alone strategy – to combat it. Much of the debate in the aftermath of the killing of Hakemullah Mehsud (Fazlullah’s predecessor) in an American drone strike last week betrays logic. It has only highlighted the disarray with the ranks of ruling elite when it comes to a counter-terrorism strategy while also compounding the existing confusion within the society.
While the soft stance of politicians like Imran Khan, Syed Munawar Hasan, Molana Fazal-ur-Rehman and the likes towards militants is already known, the way they have gone berserk in portraying Hakeemullah and TTP, at war with the State of Pakistan, as heroes, certainly raises alarm bells. These leaders do owe a clarification or two for equating the killing of a most-wanted criminal with the sacrifices given by thousands of innocent Pakistanis and soldiers in this valiant fight.
However, it is the abject manner in which the central government, represented by interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, has chosen to align with these TTP sympathizers that raises the red flag. When a State starts falling prey to populist jingoistic narrative, this can’t be taken as anything else but meek surrender. Half the battle is in the intent, which this government has looked like losing from the word go.
Whichever way one tries to analyze possible reasons for this official posture, it appears mind-boggling. If the Nawaz government is doing it out of the fear of losing the right wing’s support to more radical parties, it is risking the country’s very existence. In case the government believes that burying its head in the sand will save it from TTP, they are again mistaken. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, holding fort in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has tried it and lost three of its legislators (including a sitting law minister) so far in just four months. Just how they refuse to learn their lessons, despite the TTP giving an emphatic snub to their ‘lovey dovey’ overtures, is a debate for some other time.
Lastly, if the regime thinks that the killing of a terrorist can be used for gaining leverage in diplomatic relations with the U. S., in a replay of hyped reactions after Osama bin Laden’s killing in May 2011, this is as bad a strategy as one can think of. The ethical and legal considerations surrounding drone strikes as well as the violation of national sovereignty are indeed genuine concerns, but how can that be allowed to give credence of anti-state elements is quite perplexing. These are two entirely separate issues and must be dealt as such.
The policy of appeasement has been counterproductive previously, and it is highly unlikely to work in future. Mullah Fazlullah himself played the role of the wrecker-in-chief when a peace agreement was negotiated in 2008 between his father in law, Molana Sufi Muhammad (head of the Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi) and the provincial government (Awami National Party) of the time for imposition of Shariah law in Malakand. It didn’t take TTP long in violating the terms of agreement that eventually led to the military offensive in order to cleanse the valley of militant elements.
More recently, Pakistani security apparatus has been raising concerns over Mullah Fazlullah’s activities in Afghanistan, allegedly in sync with Afghan intelligence, to wage terrorist activities in Pakistan. Just days after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made his intention to hold talks with TTP, Fazlullah orchestrated the attack in which Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Niazi (G.O.C Swat) was martyred. Prior to that, he masterminded the attempt to kill teenage prodigy, Malala Yusufzai last year.
Thankfully, Malala survived, but the militant ideology that has been so pervasive in today’s Pakistan, owing to these jumbled priorities by the politicians and sections of the media, has continued to thrive. With Fazlullah’s elevation to the TTP throne, this ideological battle has become official. There is no clear answer as to what the result will be, but the initial signs are dangerous and don’t inspire much confidence.
Desperate times, it is believed, call for desperate measures. Present times are indeed desperate for Pakistan but the measures to confront such an arduous challenge are nowhere in sight. Shallow sloganeering and point scoring will serve nobody’s purpose. This war requires immense clarity of thought and impeccable courage to take action. It will not be won by any half measures. But the way things are going, merely calling for a rational approach, sadly, sounds like asking for too much.