by Ayaz Amir
With the announcement of a Taliban address in Doha, Qatar, and the Americans welcoming this development, the window for military action in our Waziristan has finally slammed shut. The army wasn’t about to launch any operation – no fear of that – but even the tantalising possibility that at some point in the future vacillation would give way to decisive action now evaporates.
The scales have shifted. With the Americans engaging, however fruitlessly, with the Taliban in Doha, the Pakistan Army is in no position (psychologically) to undertake any kind of military operation in North Waziristan. The army can play around with the status quo in that embattled region – huffing and puffing and losing more officers and men to Taliban ambushes, six of our soldiers killed in an ambush this Wednesday – but the status quo, rail against it as we might, has come to stay.
Time was on the side of the Taliban, as it always is on the side of any force engaged in irregular warfare. And the Pakistan Army and a confused nation, their thinking split down the middle, have missed the bus. For us that is the significance of the Taliban gaining, at long last, virtual American diplomatic recognition – which is what this latest development amounts to.
A triumph for Mullah Omar and a problem for us, because Mullah Omar’s resurgent emirate, waiting patiently for the Americans to depart, now extends, like a dagger, into Pakistan – in the form of Hakeemullah’s Waziristan.
Let us not lose heart too much. This is not history being rewritten, only history being reversed. The kingdom of Kabul once held sway over the territories constituting our north-west frontier. Maharajah Ranjit Singh (sorry for bringing up his name again) pushed the Afghans back and the British inherited Ranjit Singh’s kingdom. That is how the new state of Pakistan came into possession of those frontier lands.
But through an historical process, starting with the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 and leading up to the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Pakistan’s control over those territories stands immeasurably weakened.
Strange the workings of history – our military geniuses under Gen Zia sought strategic depth in Afghanistan. It is the Taliban and Al-Qaeda which have acquired strategic depth in Pakistan.
The Americans are about to talk to the Taliban not to get them to lay down their arms and ship them to the Solomon Islands, but as a face-saving exercise. They want to exit Afghanistan sans too much humiliation. In so many words they are telling the Taliban, look we are getting out; make our departure easier. That’s it, if only we could read the writing on the wall.
Hamid Karzai has more sense than we do. Look at his anger: he knows he’s been used and the Americans, for all their tall talk, are about to talk, if not cut a deal, with his sworn enemies. And he’s frothing at the mouth, without this having the slightest effect on his paymasters.
At least Karzai knows what is what. We get used like a box of tissues again – the first time under Zia, the second time now – and still think we are ‘stakeholders’ in the Afghan game. There’s no end to our talent for make-believe, even as the tide of history is being reversed.
The war constituency has shrunk for other reasons as well. The Nawaz Sharif government at the centre is for talks with the Taliban. The new interior minister, Ch Nisar, can make cutting remarks about the role of the intelligence agencies in Balochistan, perhaps with justice; but expect him not to utter a word of condemnation about the Taliban. That’s never been part of his book.
Nawaz is no longer a ‘fundo’. He’s come a long way from his Zia political origins. The true ‘fundo’ in the higher echelons of the PML-N is Nisar. It’s just our luck of the draw. For five years we had the Lucky Irani Circus in the interior ministry, now closet ‘fundo-ism’. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claims responsibility for the recent carnage in Quetta. The interior minister says there will be a conference on Balochistan very soon.
Imran Khan of course, as we all know, is the leading champion of talks with the Taliban. And as if all this was not enough, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, to great applause in the media, says in the National Assembly that the army should get out of the tribal areas.
As things were, the army had little appetite for an operation against the emirate of North Waziristan. With the political mood being what it is, what appetite there was would also have disappeared. And Gen Kayani is now a lame-duck, his extended term about to expire this autumn.
So what remains are talks. For this we have to understand the nature of talks. They are either between the victor and the vanquished, in which case the victor lays down terms and the vanquished has little choice but to accept them; or talks are between equals (or near-equals), in which case there is give-and-take, you accept some and the other side accepts some.
What idea of talks is there in the minds of the peace lobby? Surely they are not thinking that Pakistan is the victor in this conflict. It is not. This means several things: that Pakistan will be in no position to dictate terms; that Hakeemullah Mehsud is not about to come down from the hills and surrender; and the Taliban are not about to lay down their arms. So what then will we be discussing?
An end to terrorism and suicide attacks…and the Taliban will say, fine, we end terrorism, you end military operations and become more serious with the Americans about ending drone attacks. Give-and-take, between two sovereign and equal partners…both sides get a respite, which will be a good thing. But the implications of this should be clearly understood: the notion of our sovereignty in those areas will have vanished, all the more so with the Taliban ascendant once more in the kingdom of Kabul.
If there is a growing consensus that there must be peace at any price, this is the road down which we go. No formal surrender, to be sure, just the essence of surrender. But if cumulative folly has brought us to this pass, and the Pakistani state is still unwilling to change its ways, why complain? Accepting the inevitable is also a form of wisdom. It would help, however, if Imran, Nisar, Achakzai and Fazlur Rehman were made part of our negotiating team. The chance of passing the buck, and not taking responsibility, would then be minimised. More fascinatingly, seeing the Taliban make asses of these worthies and run circles round them would be a sight not to be missed.
The army, however, should get no ideas. There is no Mustafa Kemal in its ranks and this is not a Kemalist army in any case, in ideological terms the army as confused as the high priests of ideology on the outside. So for the sake of the army any blundering that must be done was best left in the hands of civilians.
(I hate to say it but the way we are going about the task of nation-building, in the fullness of time we’ll be left with three things: Punjab, the bomb and defence housing authorities.)
Any leader worth half his salt, what would he have done after the Jhangvi-perpetrated killings in Quetta? He would have spoken out, given some direction to a stricken nation, taken some sort of action against the wellsprings of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorism in the holy land of Punjab. Not here, where the prime minister performs a vanishing act, leaving the field to his verbose Himmler.
Tailpiece: Soon after the austerity budget, all 33 ministerial chambers in parliament were redecorated with new two-ton air conditioners, new LCD TV sets, fresh flooring, redone bathrooms, all on an emergency basis, an example of austerity the nation can be proud of.