by Siddique Humayun
Should we negotiate with murderers? How else do you stop a generation gone astray? The society within the country remains divided.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has waged a bloody war against the state of Pakistan since 2007 in which thousands of civilians have died. It has threatened the mass media in the country to publicize its motives and its actions and in case the media has shown responsibility, which hasn’t been their usual behavior, it has turned to social media in hopes that its videos of beheadings would go viral – and they have. Today, it has gotten on the negotiating table with the government, in vain hopes of achieving legitimacy.
The TTP is led by Maulana Fazlullah, better known as Mullah Radio, for he started to preach his teachings in Swat Valley through his own radio channel. He successfully led the insurgency in the valley and took absolute control of it. Opponents were often beheaded, sometimes their heads attached to the bottom of their feet and hanged to a pole on the Green Square – now disgracefully known as Khooni Chowk or Bloody Square – in Mingora, Swat. The year was 2007.
Negotiations were out of question. The government launched a military offensive and the Taliban were rooted out of the valley as swiftly as they had come. To this day, the valley remains thankful to the Pakistani army for their liberation. At the time, Fazlullah was the leader of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TSNM), an organization trying to implement its version of the Shariah within the country.
But then, that was gone. Pakistan had a bigger menace to deal with: Baitullah Mehsud and his band of religious fanatics, the TTP. With hundreds of suicide attacks in public places, at religious centers, on civilians and on the military, the TTP had made its mark within a few years. Mehsud died in a drone strike in 2009 and Hakimullah Mehsud, his deputy, took charge. He was killed in a drone strike in November 2013.
Instead of drum rolls, in came Mullah Radio with a few suicide attacks as his entrance music. Under his leadership, the TTP initiated a spate of violent attacks on the Pakistani military. Perhaps, he had not forgotten the humiliating defeat at the hands of the army in Swat. With over a 100 soldiers and civilians killed in terrorist attacks, the TTP gained the attention it so desperately needed. The government agreed to negotiate as long as all “hostilities ceased to exist.”
On Feb. 6 2014, the first such meeting took place in Islamabad. The government laid down five pre-requisites: that all talks be held under the constitution of the country; that there is a ceasefire, effective immediately; that the sphere of the talks remain within the areas of violence; that the Taliban clarify the role of their nine-member committee; and that no one protracts. The TTP picked religious leaders from within the society who sympathized with their agenda. One of them is the infamous leader of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, Maulana Abdul Aziz, who gained notoriety in July 2007 when he was arrested trying to escape wearing a burqa.
Should the government of Pakistan negotiate with murderers? How else do you stop a generation gone astray? The society within the country remains divided. There are those who want a replica of the Swat military operation and do not trust a word that comes out of burqa-wielding warriors of faith, and then there are those who believe you cannot suppress an ideology. And terrorism is just that.
Perhaps what we need is a counter-extremist teaching. Should we let innocent civilians perish until we can raise a generation of moderate citizens to replace the TTP? The government of Pakistan went ahead with the talks because if there was even an inkling of hope to achieve peace, it was worth a try. A hope that the Taliban would keep their word and at least until a settlement was reached, the violence would stop
Did the violence stop? Of course not. While one face of the TTP gained its legitimacy by reaching the negotiating table with the state, the other continued its attack on military personnel and civilians. Three weeks into the talks the attacks failed to stop. The negotiations failed, as expected. The interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said in a press conference today that the leadership has decided it to be “unfair to continue the talks any further,” as the TTP refused to lay down its weapons.
So with the failure of the recent talks, the Taliban have achieved yet another victory. They have demoralized the nation, they have gained media hype, they have brought the government to its knees and they have continued to do what they do best, kill. Is it then time for the Pakistan military, its army and its air force, to conduct a serious offensive on the TTP in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of the country? The answers are never easy. The violence just doesn’t seem to end. But Pakistan has reached a point of no return and as Julius Caeser said when he crossed the Rubicon, alea iacta est – the die is cast.
Siddique Humayun is a policy analyst and journalist from Islamabad, Pakistan. He is a Pulitzer-Moore Fellow at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism who is interested in writing about society, culture, politics and international relations. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @siddiquehumayun