Monday, February 17, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Feb 18, 2014

Peace talks deadlock The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Mohmand Agency spokesman Omar Khurasani made the horrible claim on Sunday night that his organisation had slaughtered 23 FC personnel that they had kidnapped in 2010. Khurasani tried to justify the barbarity by arguing this was done in retaliation for the Taliban’s prisoners being killed in custody. This later claim was roundly rejected by the security authorities. Naturally the horror, recoil and condemnation of this barbaric act flowed thick and fast, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah all condemning the heinous act and making clear that the Taliban could not expect to get away with such killings while pretending to be engaged in peace talks. Reportedly, the Mohmand TTP was not in favour of dialogue with the government. But nothing can justify their murder of prisoners in their custody. The incident shows that the TTP are cowardly terrorists who do not even have any notion of honour where helpless prisoners in their custody are concerned. Talking to such people seems an exercise in futility and only self-delusion. Professor Ibrahim held a press conference after the government’s negotiating team did not turn up for a meeting with his Taliban appointed committee on Monday. While hard pressed not to justify the FC personnel’s massacre, he still tried to advocate the Taliban’s case, trying to shift the onus back onto the government. However the shadow of the massacre was too dark even for the most eloquent defender of the Taliban murderers. The denouement was that Professor Ibrahim signed off by asserting that the government was preparing a military offensive against the TTP. Certainly the talks deadlock in the wake of the massacre of FC personnel would seem to suggest that the option of military operations has become inescapable, as we have argued in this space it always was. The TTP has been harping on since the talks started on its core demands, which include the release of some 4,000 of their prisoners, withdrawal of the army from Waziristan and stopping all actions against them before a ceasefire could be contemplated. The prisoners demand has been modified by restricting it to the release of women, children and the elderly. But this too has been refuted by former interior minister Rehman Malik, who said no women or children were in the custody of the authorities. Meanwhile attacks against anti-polio vaccinators and their security detail continue in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as attacks on the security forces in FATA and the province. Clearly then, the facts speak of a TTP, fractious and divided as an umbrella group as it is, wedded to keeping up pressure on the government through terrorist attacks even while it ‘talks’ through unempowered intermediaries. Although the government seems in its public pronouncements to be taking a harder stance on the terrorists’ continuing attacks while the pretence of talks continues, it is still far from clear whether it has seen the light and understood the logic of those who have been advocating action against the terrorists as a necessary condition for meaningful talks. So far, the government has appeared on the back foot and the TTP enjoying all the initiative, both on the battlefield as well as in the political sphere. That may have changed and be changing daily with the unrelenting series of attacks the TTP has been carrying out since the talks began. We have believe d from the very outset of the talks effort that whether the government likes it or not, the TTP will eventually force it out of any illusions about the possibility of peace through talks alone, and force its hand vis-à-vis tough action against the TTP. The next few days will tell if that moment has arrived or not. In any case, whatever the timing of the almost inevitable military action against the TTP, the government and the military should put their heads together to prepare for the military operations and the anticipated retaliation by way of terrorist actions in the rest of the country.

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