Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Feb 5, 2014

Optimism and reality Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif continues to express optimism regarding the talks with the Taliban even while events are raising ever new questions and leading to more and more scepticism about the talks getting started, let alone reaching any acceptable conclusion. Although the prime minister has staked his own reputation and standing on the outcome by saying he will personally oversee the whole process, assisted by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, the portents are not good. After the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan and the JUI-F’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman announced on Monday that they were pulling out of the committee nominated by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the former shielding its leader behind the argument that Rustam Shah Mohmand of the PTI was already part of the government’s team and the latter objecting to Mufti Kifayatullah being nominated without the JUI-F being consulted, the TTP expressed its disappointment at the development. No surprise, their replacements the TTP is said to be contemplating are none other than Orya Maqbool Jan and Ansar Abbasi. So the parade of the TTP’s Trojan horses continues. So far all the TTP’s nominees, original and contemplated new, are people well known for their leanings towards the Taliban. Imran Khan may have found it too embarrassing to be seen as a Taliban representative at the talks, but Maulana Samiul Haq, Professor Ibrahim Khan and Maulana Abdul Aziz do not have any such compulsions. If the committee is not added to, these three worthies will be the Taliban’s negotiators. As if all these early hitches were not enough, the Maulana Samiul Haq committee objected on Tuesday to being kept waiting for the government committee to meet it all day Monday. The prime minister’s point man on the government’s committee, Irfan Siddiqui responded that his committee was ready to meet the Taliban-nominated committee immediately. His explanation for the glitch was that the Maulana Samiul Haq committee having been shorn of two out of five members, the expectation was that the Maulana would now consult the TTP before proceeding further. For all practical purposes therefore, the talks stand suspended even before they have begun. Meanwhile the debate about the talks continues to swirl in and outside parliament. Senators on Monday came down hard on the government for its inability to protect the lives and properties of citizens, with no clear path in sight of how it intends to tackle the law and order and terrorism problems. In fact, they described the government as a mere spectator while people were dying every day. The Senators were also alarmed by the lack of coordination between the federal government and the provincial governments, all of whom seemed to be going in different directions. The Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Syed Khursheed Shah of the PPP wants a timeline for the talks (i.e. not an open-ended and possibly interminable process). However, he fell for the conspiracy theory that the grenade attack in a Peshawar cinema on Monday was carried out by some mysterious ‘third force’ since the TTP had denied responsibility (a view startlingly close to that of Maulana Samiul Haq). If Shah sahib had not jumped the gun he would have discovered that the Jundollah group, a terrorist organisation operating under the umbrella of the TTP, did claim responsibility. That ‘claim’ may well be a tactic the TTP has worked out to deny all responsibility for any attacks during the (for the moment halted) talks process so as to keep its image squeaky clean. However, anyone who falls for this trickery would be very na├»ve. While the MQM Rabita Committee presses Imran Khan to take up the task of being part of the TTP’s negotiating team, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is clear about who we are; not the Taliban certainly. His thoughts on terrorism, despite the security threats to him and his family and party, are refreshingly honest and straight. More politicians should emulate his example. Only then can Pakistan have any hope of turning the corner against the terrorists. The prime minister met COAS General Raheel Sharif on Monday amidst speculations the army is unhappy about the fact that the government has put all its eggs in the basket of the talks while the troops are being threatened and attacked by the terrorists. It may be a knee-jerk response rooted in our past to think that therefore the army and the government are at loggerheads. A more prosaic but perhaps more accurate view may well be that the army is itching to strike back at the terrorists but is prepared to wait until the government’s peace initiative runs its course and political support for military action is assured.

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