Friday, April 18, 2014

Daily Times Editorial April 19, 2014

‘Wait and see’ After the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP’s) refusal to extend the ceasefire that expired on April 10, both the government and the TTP have nevertheless reiterated their desire for the talks process to continue. However, the government’s Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) after its meeting on Thursday underlined that the talks could only be continued if the TTP sticks to peace, otherwise force would have to be used (with an extra punch). Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told the CCNS that Pakistan was facing formidable challenges domestically and far reaching developments in the region. And he called a cabinet meeting on Friday to discuss the finalised proposals of the CCNS. The thrust of these proposals is that all options will be explored and all resources employed to ensure peace and security. National security is of paramount importance if the economic gains made by the government since it came to power and those in the pipeline were to be consolidated. Relations with neighbours would be strengthened. In this context the important statement was that there would be no interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, whose people were congratulated for holding a successful presidential election, with Pakistan committed to supporting democracy in the war-torn country. Also, relations with India would be promoted (after, of course, the general elections taking place there). The CCNS endorsed the vision of putting Pakistan on the crossroads of opportunity rather than conflict. The issue of the release of Taliban prisoners also came under discussion. In the current pause that has arisen in the talks process, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali intends to contact Maulana Samiul Haq and other members of the Taliban negotiation committee for an extension of the ceasefire. Chaudhry Nisar stated categorically that there could be no meaningful talks without a ceasefire. Maulana Samiul Haq and the Jamaat-i-Islami’s talks interlocutor Professor Ibrahim both advise patience, tolerance, and renewed efforts to get the talks back on track. The prime minister advised Chaudhry Nisar to address whatever grievances the TTP had in order to persuade them to extend the ceasefire and return to the negotiating table. The military on the other hand reportedly feels that the refusal to extend the ceasefire exposes the insincerity of the TTP vis-à-vis the talks. If the prime minister’s advice is heeded, these and other ‘differences’ between the civilian and military sides of the state should be resolved through the existing dispute resolution mechanisms, of which the CCNS offers scope for a free and frank discussion. Meanwhile the opposition in the Senate continues to harbour grave doubts and reservations about the government’s approach and strategy regarding the peace process. The question was raised in the upper house on Thursday what options the government had considered if the talks fail. The repeated comment was that the government’s approach smacked of dithering and lack of transparency in taking, at the very least, parliament into confidence. One cannot be sanguine about the TTP’s intentions or sincerity. However, such caveats do not apply to the government. Where the government can be faulted perhaps is in creating, through its ‘one step forward, two steps back’ peace process, a sense of drift or at the very least lack of strategic vision. If the CCNS outcome is examined, it is obvious that the government (and the military) have yet to move even one inch forward from their previous stated strategy of containment and retaliation towards the TTP. The containment idea implies bottling up the TTP in FATA, but who will guarantee there will be no repeat of the attacks in Islamabad and elsewhere in the country, given that it is widely believed (and has been endorsed by intelligence sources) that the TTP and its affiliates have sleeper cells dotted all over? As to retaliation, even with more punch, this is a passive reactive approach that leaves the initiative in the hands of the militants. Critics have been homing in on precisely this surrender of the political and military initiative to the extremists, with the government (and state) resembling nothing more than a punch-drunk boxer lashing out on the ropes against an opponent who is playing him for all it is worth. Strategic paralysis of this variety is a recipe for disaster.

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