Pakistan : Negotiating With Taliban, Should It Be A Taboo?
While talking to a knowledgeable intellectual who has authored books and articles on reforms, development and governance also, I learned many important points in order to reach a more peaceful environment in Pakistan today. Post war on terror and Swat operation, it seems that although the Pakistan army has managed to clear many strongholds of the Tehrike Taliban Pakistan, many co-existent militant networks remain. These are based in Punjab, loosely in some parts of Sindh and are as such are not easily categorized or traceable. The recent Lahore bombings are a clear evidence of their swift reach and access to urban Punjab and their ferocity and ability to inflict wounds on the state and its ordinary citizens. Though , the recent blurts of the Punjab chief minister speak volumes about his parochial and somewhat confusing stand on the Taliban issue, there is an undercurrent of reaching out to the militant forces that are inflicting unbearable damage on innocent people of Pakistan. The doors of talks and negotiation should never be closed. Take the example of the Sein Fien, Irish Republican army. Despite the almost impossible scenario of reaching a peaceful solution, in the long conflict ridden, bombed out, murder ridden streets, a final peaceful solution was found and Ireland limped back to a normalcy. The conflict was so bad that the children across a street were divided and a very dangerous and death ridden political scene was the norm. Thank God, in Pakistan no such scene is there at least in larger towns. The Green Chowk murder scenes are also taken care of post Swat operation by the Pakistan army.
All violent conflicts, especially in the modern era have been solved only by negotiations and talks. Pakistan also needs a very well negotiated and widely inclusive peace talks .Only one example of that of Bader Meinholf operation by the German army , police and intelligence is not possible for Pakistan due to its various constraints and deficiencies.
There are a very large number of people who are of banned outfits and banned organizations, which freely access and are part of the community of politicians and parliamentarians in the Punjab. Recent news and television reports of the incumbent Punjab interior minister is a case in point. Pakistani society is very intertwined, complex with close linkages between families, biradaris and villages. This is very apparent in the Punjab province. These groups if militant also, are still operative and are not really bound in a very rigid way. Simply wishing them away will also not solve the problem.
The Taliban are also a militant force, though they may not pretend to be an army and basically put a face as only implementers of the Islamic Shariat in order to gain legitimacy of the existence and gain favor from the ordinary masses. Post Bajaur, Waziristan and other area operations, some success has been achieved in inflicting some damage and containing some strike capability of the militants in NWFP, but a large population still remains un- convinced and with the Taliban ideology, which again appears confused and abstract. They were really not anti –Pakistan initially and as reflected by Sufi Muhammad’s post Nizam e Adl show of force, appeared totally limited in a regional context to Swat and Malakand. These other areas in NWFP also seem to be populated and led in a similar way. As a large number of women and children were displaced in the Bajaur operation. There is now a dire need for prevention of further displacement and difficulties for these vulnerable groups. The purpose of the military operation was to secure peaceful environment in these areas where the larger population is not militant but becomes hostage to militants and their ideology (no matter how vague or misplaced) over a period of time. As the displaced population has to go back and be rehabilitated safely in their areas, a negotiation with militant groups, in this case, the Taliban becomes relevant. No wars are really won or lost. All are resolved through negotiated settlements. As the Taliban were initially created by us, the time has come to negotiate a peace deal with them and resolve the conflict so that the displaced people are rehabilitated.
If suicide attacks are an indicator, the recent spate reflects the need and justification to open a dialogue. The beauty of democracy and politically diverse groups’ plurality is in dialogue and negotiated settlements. The militant and violent groups that were are our very own creation in a fascist way, will gradually be finished and dissolved only if we open a window of getting back to normal polity for them. How can they give up their desperate violent acts if we do not offer any window of dialogue for them? I am sure there are many among them who are sick and tired and just simply want to get back to normal life of being a Pakistani .citizen. ( I personally know one such family who has seen death and destruction by joining the militant Taliban. Their pain agony and loss has destroyed their and the children’s lives).
By this appeal I am not asking the military to stop their operations without achieving their objectives and begging the Taleban to spare us. I simply mean that a dialogue should be started so that the path to peace becomes defined and clarified and the poor population of Pakistan areas that are directly affected and also the areas that are under threat of suicide bombings are able to start their lives again.
Only today, while shopping at a shopping mall in Karachi, Clifton area I came across three boys of Pathan origin, residing in Tapu, near Shireen Jinnah Colony, trying to clean my car. They were from ages 14 to 16, innocent and young, so poor, with no future, no education. I gave them some petty cash and was wondering as to why should they not become suicide bombers? They would at least have some ideology, paradise for a future abode, some cash 10-20 lakh rupees for their families? Some justification for being born even. I may sound terrible, but the dust ridden clothes, their innocent beautiful faces, the hopelessness in their eyes, while other people with blackened windows in cars with dubious number plates shopped around in luxury malls, made me feel so guilty, helpless and wanting to do something for the poor people of Bajaur, Waziristan and other such areas. As these boys and I have seen even smaller, begging here in Karachi, cannot even speak Urdu, shows that they have come down to Karachi recently. What future awaits them here in these slums, shanties? Should not these people be able to go back to their areas and given some decent schools or a living? If we do not think of peace and negotiations this problem of militancy and these violent groups solvency will remain and we will never be able to contain violence.
The people of Pakistan are very brave and resilient. They have great courage and ability to rise from the ashes and be able to make something for themselves. Given the chance again, the people especially of the NWFP will again contribute to Pakistan. Only this time we have to really extend the political parties and democratic system to all closed tribal areas and use development as the tool mall over NWFP. Only political voice and amalgation with the rest of the frontier province will curtail the tendency of the people to join non-state or anti-state forces. Providing education and developing infrastructure for economic activity will change their mafia, cartels, smuggler groups and recently militant activities. Only if healthy choice is given for jobs and lifestyle will this impoverished and violence ridden area be rehabilitated. This also stands true of the Punjab. Here also the education and economic opportunity aspect has to be addresses on a priority basis. The power groups which post Afghan jihad have taken a religious façade, have to be deflated only through education and employment. Southern Punjab has to be rehabilitated by bringing in land reforms or providing some mechanism of absorbing the masses in economic activity that is not cartelized by the big landlords. The political economy of Southern Punjab has to be recognized and given a new dimension. Maybe Cooperatives as Akhtar Ali writes in his forthcoming book.