Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Daily Times Editorial March 12, 2014

Now another committee The government has embarked on another round of committee formation for negotiations with the Taliban. According to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali, the new four-man committee will be the official negotiator of the government and will consist of three to four senior bureaucrats. In the light of the rejection by some political parties of the idea of having army representation in the committee, Chaudhry Nisar categorically said no army man would be part of the committee. However, an army officer would be detailed to liaise with the committee and provide intelligence and other inputs. The army would be part of all decisions taken by the committee, the minister clarified, perhaps to allay any impression that the army was not fully on board. The new committee is expected to draw members from FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Meanwhile the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), having been asked by the government to name its representative for the committee, preferably Chief Minister Pervez Khattak in the government’s eyes, nominated MNA Gulzar Khan, himself a retired bureaucrat with long experience of FATA and tribal affairs, as its representative on the new committee. The PTI had Rustam Shah Mohmand as its representative on the now disbanded previous committee headed by the prime minister’s advisor on national affairs Irfan Siddiqui. No explanation has been forthcoming for the dissolution of the previous committee, what it had achieved in its relatively brief existence, or why it is being replaced. Speculation in the media has pointed to the disagreements between the members of the previous committee that had of late become public as the probable cause of the decision. The government and Irfan Siddiqui have been at pains to put the best face on the development by arguing that the committee had fulfilled its role in advancing contacts between the government and the Taliban and now its role was over. No such ‘limited’ role or mandate had been mentioned at the outset or the later activation of the committee. Perhaps the government has taken to heart the criticism that the committee was powerless to take decisions and a long, inconvenient, ineffective conduit for negotiations. If the new committee is truly empowered to take decisions, it may see a less inglorious existence. While Imran Khan is still fixated on drones and this being the Americans’ war despite the former having paused and the latter’s pain being inflicted on our bodies and souls, he stated that the proposal for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to set up its office in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would be settled in consultation with the federal government. While many sceptics see the present ‘lull’ as a tactical pause by the TTP to regroup, the media exposure of the TTP and other extremists is a worrying concern since it projects the Taliban’s point of view, thereby violating the time-honoured approach not to allow the terrorists the oxygen of publicity. At the same time, certain media houses have been attacked, others threatened by the Taliban unless they toe their line. Ignoring the terrorists would be a better outcome if the media would dispense with its normal obsession with ‘breaking news’ in recognition of its national duty. Even if the new committee gets off the ground and the three days contacts (why three?), according to Chaudhry Nisar, lead to deciding the venue for the talks to follow, what the government needs to explain to the people is the agenda for the talks. Ambiguity may be good sometimes for conducting sensitive negotiations between parties with polarised positions, but the concerns regarding the Taliban’s stated position that they do not recognize the constitution or the democratic system and want them replaced by sharia according to their lights, a version unacceptable to the vast majority of the people of the country, dangles like a sword above our heads. Secrecy in delicate negotiations may be good, but the government owes the people some explanation what it hopes to achieve as an outcome of the talks and what it may be prepared to concede to the terrorists.

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