Thursday, October 17, 2013

View from Pakistan: Talks with Taliban – A false narrative

Opinion 
By Ali Malik 
The author

Pakistan may be 'a troubled state' to anyone away from the country. But for people in the country, the ramifications of that 'trouble' matter more than anything else. And how are the events unfolding in today's Pakistan? 
In this brief but pointed column, Ali Malik tries to decipher some of the mysteries shrouding the relationship between the state of Pakistan and the entity called Taliban with help of some relevant recent developments. The victory of the Nawaz Sharif-led PML-N in this year's elections was popularly expected to bring respite to the Pakistanis by 'managing those relationships' with the Taliban. This assumption was based on the assessment that the brute force of the erstwhile PPP-led government in coordination with the US was futile in taming the Taliban. But will the things in ground change with the new government's policies vis-a-vis Taliban? This question becomes all the more relevant now in context of the proposed talks between the Pakistan government and the Taliban. Here is the column, reproduced from author's blog with permission.


Agree or not, but the Taliban have a system of Islamic Shariah in mind and they want to impose it across the globe. The motives may be political or ideological, but this is the gist of their movement. So let's talk Shariah. For one, are we fine with their interpretation of Shariah and ready to let go our way of living, no schooling for girls, women confined to homes, beard/ dress code imposed? And even if we are and say Nawaz Sharif reintroduces 15th amendment and becomes Amir-ul-Momineen, will their struggle end there? If your answer is yes, you need a reality check. If their guns impose a system, it will be they who will be ruling. So once Shariah comes, next demand will be that Nawaz Sharif or Munawar Hassan or Imran Khan or even Sami Ul Haq, for all their pity, step aside and let the true Men of Shariah (Taliban) rule. If you yield to the demand of the gun, it is the barrel of gun that will rule, it is this simple!
With clock ticking to a NATO withdrawal around the end of next year, the talk of talks with Taliban in Pakistan is diverting attention from a much needed military operation against militants. Confused by their surreal expectations and political opportunism, and suffering from lack of understanding of regional security paradigm, PTI and PML-N are pushing Pakistan to a security black hole.



For one, those advocating the dialogue have got the diagnosis wrong. For successful dialogue, first thing worth knowing is the demand of the other party. And the advocates of talks seem to have no clue of Taliban or their intentions.

First things first, Taliban are not tribal Pashtuns. True, many Taliban are Pashtun tribesmen but then there are equal number of Punjabis in their ranks and then sizable number from South Balochistan (Jind Ullah recruits) and Kashmir. And then, of course, is the foreign element of Middle East and Central Asia. So bracketing their struggle with Pashtun grievance is a gross mistake, and with it goes the argument of link of terrorism with drones.

Second, Taliban's demands are fuzzy at best. Move out of US's war on terror is one of them. Question one needs to ask is what will be the parameters of disengagement that will satisfy them. Will they be happy if Pakistan stops NATO supply lines? If so, why didn't terrorism end when Pakistan had the supply line blocked for many months post Salala? Will they be happy if Pakistan takes on drones? But drones were few and far between in 2005 and 2006 and a lot happened even then. In fact, some of the bombings took place (e.g. attack on New Zealand Cricket Team) even before the drones actually started. Do they want us to severe diplomatic ties with US and other NATO countries? Or do they want us to actually fight the NATO occupiers in Afghanistan? We do not know what they want and neither their advocates are shedding any light on it. And also, despite this fuzzy/slippery set of demands, even if Pakistan complies, will they be fine with Pakistan Army remaining in tribal areas and operating against the armed militias? Will they lay down their arms as a precondition or alongside? Anyone who answers yes to them is seriously mistaken.

Third demand is closest to their true intention. Agree or not, but they have a system of Islamic Shariah in mind and they want to impose it across the globe. The motives may be political or ideological, but this is the gist of their movement. So let's talk Shariah. For one, are we fine with their interpretation of Shariah and ready to let go our way of living, no schooling for girls, women confined to homes, beard/ dress code imposed? And even if we are and say Nawaz Sharif reintroduces 15th amendment and becomes Amir-ul-Momineen, will their struggle end there? If your answer is yes, you need a reality check. If their guns impose a system, it will be they who will be ruling. So once Shariah comes, next demand will be that Nawaz Sharif or Munawar Hassan or Imran Khan or even Sami Ul Haq, for all their pity, step aside and let the true Men of Shariah (Taliban) rule. If you yield to the demand of the gun, it is the barrel of gun that will rule, it is this simple!

And then, even if all of it is sorted out, are we ready to be fodder of a global invasion through Jihad that they propagate. They surely would not stop at conquering Pakistan. Their ambitions are global and thus we will be dragged into it.

Another key thing to realize is that for their military operations, Taliban rely on a network of drug-dealers, arms suppliers etc. According to estimates of intelligence agencies, Taliban and their local affiliates patronize a drug trade worth US$ 5bn or more per year. Their base is in it for mafia operations. A state can talk with insurgents and separatists but it cannot talk with mafias.

So putting the choice in naive terms of dialogue vs. no dialogue and our men blowing us for their anger against Americans is naive. The real question that we need to ask and the real debate we need to have is: are we ready to let go our way of life to comply with a system of living under Taliban and are we ready to be the fodder of a Global Jihad against the whole world? Or do we cherish our way of living and want to preserve and protect it while being engaged with the world at large? Are we ready to surrender to mafia or the only way out is to fight it? An honest answer is important but from naive or deceitful Imran Khan and Ch. Nisar one must, at least, ask for some honesty in framing the right question. 

And then the biggest problem with this dialogue initiative is the timing of it. By the end of 2014, NATO intends to leave Afghanistan. In the post-NATO Afghanistan, to have relevance (and relevance we need there) Pakistan needs to have support of most of 8 key power players there (Karazais, Haqqanis, Mullah Omar, Dostam, Punjsheris, Hazaras, and Kabuli establishment and business class). To reach this, support of Mullah and Haqqani is a must. But if TTP is strong and Pakistan cuts a deal with Mullah and Haqqani, the bargaining hand of the State of Pakistan will be very weak and because of their TTP connections, it will be Mullah and Haqqani who will be dictating terms to Pakistan and forcing us to support them for complete dominance of Afghanistan; a dominance they will eventually use to dominate Pakistan. So it is important for the State of Pakistan to get rid of TTP so that it is State of Pakistan that has a dominant upper hand in dealings with Haqqani and Mullah. With this, it can prevent them from dominating Afghanistan and force them to a broad-based power-sharing agreement that involves at least 5 of 8 power players and can protect its and its allies interests in Afghanistan. Window for that closes in December 2014 and Pakistan needs to break TTP's back before. Those advocating dialogue are buying time for TTP when time is what we do not have. In the guise of peace, to an Armageddon we are being pushed to!!!

Ali Malik is a Finance practitioner with special interest in infrastructure and economics. Always intrigued by innovation, he is also a student of history and geopolitics. More of his works can be found at his twin blogs Ali Malik's blog and Econowise by Ali Malik

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