Strangled By the Good Taliban-Bad Taliban Noose

BY ABBAS NASIR

WHEN Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan makes statements such as a “majority of Taliban” are pro-Pakistan and pro-peace, who’d be surprised to find the interior minister in the critics’ cross-hairs?

However we castigate him and with considerable justification, the bitter truth is that he represents a much wider malaise: a lethal mix of denial, obfuscation and the conspicuous absence of a spine that has marked our handling of the existential threat posed by religious militancy.

Of course I was appalled to hear the interior minister saying in parliament that the majority of the Taliban are not “inimical” to Pakistan and are supportive of the so-called peace process. In fact, when he focused on the details of the Islamabad court attack (and I don’t have facts at my disposal to contradict him on who killed the judge), it was clear he was trying to somehow absolve the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) of the blame.

Earlier the same day, reporters ideologically aligned to the interior minister carried reports from ‘credible’ (yet unnamed) sources that intelligence agencies had not even found a hint of the TTP’s hand in the Islamabad carnage. It is these very reporters who normally don’t shy away from being sceptical of the intel apparatus’s competence and ability.

Wish to know what my problem is with this attitude? Ask some of the loved ones of those thousands slaughtered by terrorists. Ask the father of Fizza Malik, the young lawyer, for whom the world should have been her oyster, mowed down in the court attack. I have heard her family members speaking on the media. She is but one among some 50,000.

I have heard the parents and children of our fallen soldiers expressing such resolve to stand up to terror that it would shame our dithering civil and military leadership. This dithering has another dimension as the battle in the media is demonstrating: creating an air of mythical invincibility around the militants.

Just count how many ideological backers of the militants appear on various media platforms, pleading for understanding of their cause, seeking legitimacy for them and, of late, warning us of their military prowess. On the other hand, some influential voices in TV programmes and in op-eds seem to give the impression that the military is straining at the leash to finish the monster it midwifed to life.

Sadly, in this whole scene somehow the government seems to be missing and is often savagely rounded on by critics who feel any more procrastination is going to be fatal for the Islamic Republic. While our elected leaders have failed miserably to provide leadership when it is so, so badly needed, it shouldn’t have to also bear the cross of others’ sins.

I think it is rather cleverly now trying to broaden the scope of responsibility for the imminent disaster by asking the army and its intelligence apparatus to sit on the committee which is due to hold direct talks with the TTP, if Nisar Ali Khan is to be believed, next week.

Perhaps, the formation commanders’ meeting on Friday fine-tuned the military’s response though admittedly it wouldn’t have been an easy task. Daunting, in fact, when viewed against what are reported to be diametrically opposed analyses of what’s in the national interest by the ISI’s Afghan and counterterrorism sections, for example.

When pro-military analysts are blasting the government for wasting time in talking to the TTP because it is an Al Qaeda-inspired, ideologically-driven terror group, they say very little about where the concept of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban originated. Even today we have no idea where the military stands on relations with Mullah Omar, for example, and the Haqqani network.

The government may have opted for talks out of fear of a backlash in the Punjab which, it feels, arch-rival Imran Khan would inevitably cash in on. But, while carrying out punitive surgical strikes to placate its angry rank and file who are being battered by the militants on the frontline, has the military spelt out its view on the emerging Afghan scenario?

The answer is categorical: no. But it should, given that this would inform its decision to make a decisive move against the TTP. Hopefully, our military planners aren’t still deluding themselves by differentiating between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban.

They are all for one, one for all. Otherwise, how could Mullah Fazlullah and his band of murderers have thrived in Taliban-controlled areas in Afghanistan for so long and why would Mullah Omar not issue a single statement condemning TTP atrocities against Pakistani civilians?

This is of paramount importance as a post-US drawdown scenario in Afghanistan would see a role — perhaps power-sharing — for the Taliban in provinces contiguous with Pakistan. And if the whole policy isn’t carefully calibrated it could explode in our faces if the TTP finds safe havens on Afghan soil as the Haqqani network did in Pakistan.

The battle against the forces of darkness has to be fought on many fronts, from reform in the education sector to poverty alleviation programmes, but the most crucial first step has to be to defang the monster.

The talks are doomed unless the TTP makes huge concessions. But seeing what must appear to it a spineless adversary with no appetite for a fight, will it? On the other hand is the state ready to act to put down this existential threat? Really wish I could say.

-the writer is a former editor of Dawn

-by arrangement with dawn.com