OVER A COFFEE : Negotiations: dangers of a Pyrrhic victory — Dr Haider Shah
The Taliban follow the creed where force is considered a necessary element for cleaning the modern day Muslim community of presumed un-Islamic additions
Every social action campaign launched by our media has proved short-lived lately. For instance a few weeks ago the Shahzeb Khan murder case was all over the media, as the arrogant killers were forgiven by the parents of the deceased under the Sharia law. It then was suddenly replaced by the shocking news of the dumping of a five-year-old girl after her alleged gang rape. The tragic news of killing of an army general in the line of duty along with a colonel and a sepoy in Upper Dir changed the headlines once again and now the church bomb blast incident in Peshawar has obscured all previous tragedies.
I am not surprised by the act of those who caused the mayhem in Peshawar. Whether one is a trained soldier or a terrorist, one needs some form of motivation to break the psychological barrier of killing other human beings. For soldiers, it is patriotism that motivates them to expose themselves to the risk of death. Some suicide bombers also get motivation through the Salafi doctrines of takfiri jihad that I would discuss in a separate piece some other time. What surprised and horrified me most was, however, the urge of TV anchors to present maulvis (Islamic priests) and muftis in order to prove that the Church attack was an unacceptable act of violence. One day I would need certificates of maulvis to know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. After Islamic Chemistry, Islamic Physics, Islamic Mathematics of Ziaul Haq days we now have the categorisation of ‘halal’ violence and un-Islamic violence.
The cataclysm in Peshawar was horrendous. But I see another tragedy as well. Political leaders, from bearded ones to clean-shaven ones, appear bewildered, clueless, apologetic, terrified, and stupefied. While the attackers are chopping off our fingers, one by one, we dream of peace and security by any means. A few months back, in a video message, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) was named specifically by the current ‘Amir’ of the TTP as a party that would be targeted. Later, a blast killed many JI supporters but the JI chief, Munnawar Hassan, was always found reluctant to even name the TTP as the possible attacker. Similarly, the present KP government did not mince words condemning the police and prison forces for their inability to safeguard the DI Khan Jail but it could not gather courage to condemn the attackers. More recently, Imran Khan expressed grief over the martyrdom of Major General Sanaullah Niazi but, like always, did not deem it necessary to condemn the killers, even though the responsibility had been claimed by the spokesperson of the TTP. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also keeps blowing hot and cold over the issue.
While the criminal gangs have been elevated to the status of ‘stakeholders’, the ordinary people of Pakistan, the real stakeholders, have no idea what lies in store for them. At least they deserved to be told about the red lines that the extremists were asked not to cross if the negotiations had to go ahead. And what is the timeframe of the peace process?
Many analysts express their fear about the failure of the negotiations. I am rather more scared by the prospects of successful negotiations and all that they would engineer for Pakistani society. We can view the future scenario from three dimensions of political, social and economic consequences if the Taliban are given political legitimacy as a result of peace talks. We should not forget that the Taliban follow the creed where force is considered a necessary element for cleaning the modern day Muslim community of presumed un-Islamic additions. The period of peace is, therefore, a strategic period of reorganisation for these outfits. As their status will be legitimised they will open their cells all over the country. They will initially focus on those cities where local complaints against state of affairs are more numerous. The Taliban cells act as a bunch of God-fearing, ‘good guys’ who advocate against un-Islamic activities like CD shops, appearance of women in public and the like. Once they feel confident of their capacity they would then turn to destabilising the local writ of the state. The educational institutions will feel the greatest backlash. Even as banned outfits, their cells are reportedly working in many universities. More worryingly, uniformed forces are reportedly also infected. When they are allowed to work openly they would further infiltrate law enforcement organisations and educational institutions.
The Afghan Taliban will have a significant role in the new power arrangement in the post-2014 Afghanistan if the peace negotiations between the Taliban and the US prove fruitful. In that scenario, the Afghan Taliban will use the Pakistani Taliban as a driver of influence in their relationship with the Pakistani government. Emboldened by their own experience, the Afghan Taliban will further spread their jihadi literature in Pakistan. As the KP government has publicly stated that learning about jihad is important for all Muslims, the re-energised Taliban will find the environment friendly and enriching for working towards long-term strategic goals. The best-case scenario painted by some supporters of negotiations might give us some peace in the short run. However, by letting the preachers of hate and violence go public with the stamp of approval by the state, we are releasing dangerous beasts from the dungeon. The peace agreement, if paraded as a success, might end up as a pyrrhic victory for Pakistani society.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org