Saturday, March 15, 2014

Daily Times Editorial March 16, 2014

Bombings and peace talks In two bombings in Peshawar and Quetta on Friday, 19 people were killed and between 60 and 80 wounded. While the attack by a suicide bomber on the outskirts of Peshawar targeted a police armoured personnel carrier, a bicycle bomb exploded in the heart of Quetta, reportedly aiming to target the security forces. Whatever the targets, the ordinary citizens going about their business were the largest set of casualties. Ahrarul Hind, which describes itself as a splinter group that has broken away from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and earlier attacked the Islamabad courts complex, claimed responsibility for both attacks. Ahrarul Hind said it was opposed to the talks the TTP is engaged in and had not announced any ceasefire. Therefore it would continue its attacks until the imposition of ‘sharia’. The TTP distanced itself from the attacks, saying it would respect the ceasefire announced by its shura (leadership council). As usual, critics of the whole peace-through-talks approach of the government were quick to question the claims of Ahrarul Hind and the TTP that they had nothing to do with each other any more (if they ever did). There are only two possible and logical explanations for the anomaly that the TTP is ostensibly ‘talking peace’ while its splinter groups are continuing to wage war against the state: either the TTP has lost control over splinter groups like the Ahrarul Hind or this is a tactic to shift blame from the TTP for the continuing attacks while the ostensible peace process is unfolding and allow the latter to maintain plausible deniability. It is not beyond the realm of possibility, however, that the terrorists have resorted to the time-honoured tactic of talking while fighting while retaining a thin fig leaf of rogue splinter groups being responsible for the attacks. If this proves to be the case, the question arises whether the outcome of talks with the TTP, even if they arrive at some ‘compromise’, can honestly be described as ‘peace’. Nearly 7,000 people have been killed in attacks by the TTP and its affiliates since 2007 when the TTP emerged, more than 120 of them since the talks process started in late January. Either this describes talking while fighting or highlights the probability of the war continuing even if some accommodation is (temporarily?) achieved with the TTP. Meanwhile the Taliban-appointed committee has resurfaced after meeting the TTP shura somewhere in North Waziristan with the news, announced by Maulana Samiul Haq, that the TTP is prepared to hold direct talks with the government through the latter’s newly reconstituted talks committee. However, the caveats put forward by the TTP once again throw the announcement in doubt. Maulana Samiul Haq says the TTP wants the army to withdraw from South Waziristan so that the talks can be held there, insists on its demand for the imposition of sharia according to its narrow, literalist, violent views, and has once again trotted out the demand that the women and children of the Taliban in custody be freed. Withdrawing the army from any of the areas it has cleared of terrorists, especially South Waziristan, would negate the blood and sacrifices of the armed forces in driving the terrorists at least partially out of their former strongholds, which would also allow the Taliban to once again impose their control over such areas through the barrel of a gun. Sharia of the kind the TTP wants is unacceptable to the people of Pakistan, not to mention it is against the constitution and the democratic system of the country. The women and children prisoners’ release demand has already been refuted by the army as having no reality. If these demands constitute preconditions for the talks, what are the bets they will not take off, let alone arrive at any conclusion? And even if they do, the government still owes it to the people to explain what the contours of such a ‘conclusion’ would be. All in all, the confusion is worse confounded, with the government sanguine about its approach and the people puzzled, angry, and resentful of the government’s lack of will to tackle the amoeba-like terrorists head on.

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