PTI And ‘Immediate Peace’

After fighting and signing peace agreements – intermittently – for more than a decade, why are we no closer to a solution in dealing with the Pakistani Taliban? The problem lies in our national tendency for wanting immediate results of our liking.
Our short-sighted focus on immediate gains results in the formulation of plans that unravel when the consequences of our actions begin to play out. Thus, all gains made in the initial stages of military operations and peace initiatives are ultimately unravelled with the country back to a violent and bloody square one.
We are, once again, bent on making the same mistake in our approach to the latest overtures for dialogue with the militants. So strong is our expectation for immediate results; immediate overtures from the militants; immediate cessation of hostilities; immediate agreements; that the first act of violence since the unanimous resolve of the APC for talks, or the first demand for Shariah by the militants throws us back into an embarrassing state of national hysteria.
We will measure the militants’ sincerity, reasonableness, radicalism, barbarism, and ruthlessness against our unrealistic yardstick of expectations and in a few months’ time condemn them to yet another ‘decisive’ military action to ‘re-establish the writ of the state’.
However, in the true spirit of consistency, the new military operation will again be planned and executed with the sole focus of seeing immediate results. Having achieved those immediate results, there will be celebration and we will wrap ourselves in yet another warm and inviting blanket of false security. TTP and Fata, negotiations and war, will go off the radar and we will return to business as usual.
In the meanwhile, the militants, who would simply have dispersed in the face of the military onslaught, will regroup and re-establish their chain of command. Soon enough a suicide bomber would successfully penetrate into a densely populated settled area in Pakistan and blow up civilians and security and government personnel.
After a couple of attacks, politicians who were pro-dialogue and drowned into silence by the increasing intensity of the war cries will begin resurfacing saying ‘I told you so’. And so, the cycle will continue, the talk-shows will go on, politicians will continue bickering, the economy will go on plummeting, and Pakistanis will continue dying.
July 2014 will arrive, the US will pull out of Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban will re-establish themselves as the dominant political and military force in the country. They will be the sole power in the part of Afghanistan that borders us. Imagine what that does to the bargaining power of the local militants by the time Pakistan once again comes around to the idea of pursuing dialogue.
How do we stop ourselves this time from pursuing dialogue with the militants while carrying unrealistic expectations of immediate results? The onus rests on our media and politicians. Our media carries the potential to play the most vital role in making us realise past mistakes and steer debate in a manner that forces our politicians and intelligentsia to think not only of the short-term but also the long-term consequences of our actions. They should also ensure that an in-depth debate on the topic is a regular feature of the air waves and not one that appears only in the aftermath of a gruesome bomb blast.
Among the political leadership, the PTI is in the best position to take the debate away from an emotional and reactionary quarrel. The fact that the party won the majority of seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on the back of its pro-dialogue stance leaves no doubt that it has a clear mandate for pursuing dialogue with the militants from the people most affected by the violence.
The PTI’s elected representatives from KP and Fata are also in the best position of playing the vital role of informing the media and the public about the reasons people in their constituencies support dialogue and oppose military operations.
Silence or confusion from the PTI, the most vociferous supporter of dialogue with the militants, by default turns the debate in favour of the pro-war camp. While matters of war and peace lie with the centre ultimately, the PTI’s elected representatives are duty-bound to their electorate to make the strongest possible case for pursuing dialogue and abandoning the tried and tested route of countless military operations. Instead of waiting for the centre or another APC to present a way forward that the PTI may end up having reservations with, it should already be actively selling its own plan to the country.
Imran’s suggestion for opening a Taliban office in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the ensuing befuddlement among some senior PTI leaders reveals the lack of clarity within the party on the domain and range of the talks it purports. It is high time the senior PTI leadership took an active role in supporting and building on Imran’s vision for peace and reconciliation rather than playing the role of silent spectators. They should conduct internal war-game sessions and come out with a unanimously agreed and concrete proposal for talks with the militants.
The plan should be detailed enough to brief the nation about what demands to expect from the militants; how far the PTI thinks the country should go in accepting the demands and with what preconditions; what the resulting implications will be; and, most importantly, define the yardstick, timelines and milestones for measuring the success of the talks.
The PTI must not forget that more than its promises of good governance, accountability, and social and economic development it was its unambiguous anti-war stance and unyielding support to the pursuit of dialogue with the militants that won the party overwhelming electoral support in KP.
The party’s failure to aggressively put up a strong case against another round of military operations in Fata will overshadow any good legislative and economic work it does if the law and order situation in KP stays the same. Blaming the centre and pointing instead to the good work it did in other sectors will not come to the PTI’s aid and it will be left with little option but to say good-bye to a second term in KP.