Talks with Taliban always proved disastrous – by Farhat Taj



‘Imran Khan’s discourse on the tribal-Taliban connection is so ridiculously wrong that it does not deserve serious attention. Even the Taliban do not take Imran Khan seriously,’ says Dr. Farhat Taj in an interview with Viewpoint. Author of  Taliban and Anti-Taliban, Dr Farhat Taj frequently writes on Taliban militancy and Pashtun resistance to Talibanisation. Read on:

Should Pakistan government hold talks with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)?


Suppose there are talks. What conditions would you suggest for such a dialogue?

The government should have no negotiations with the Taliban from its present weak position. First, the Taliban must be bled to a certain level of weakness through targeted operations, eliminating/arresting the key leadership and damaging their terror infrastructure to a greater extent. There has never ever been any targeted operation against the Taliban in Pakistan (save the Swat operation). All the operation launched in FATA were half-hearted, ill-defined, ill-conceived.

Secondly, talks with the militants should abide by the Constitution of Pakistan, allowing a possibility of rehabilitation to rank-and-file militants who agree to give up violence. They must be helped, in order to rehabilitate them, [of course, on the condition of de-radicalisation] by providing suitable employment opportunities and so on.

Such measures are vital for a durable peace, pluralism and religious tolerance in the society. Forces of extremism can not be subdued without sending them single-mindedly strong message:  ‘the state will not tolerate their violence’.

Moreover, the families of people who have been killed by the Taliban deserve justice. Accommodating Taliban in the socio-political power structure without redressing the grievances of Taliban victims will be cruel. Taliban leadership must face trials for war crimes.

How do you view the stand taken up by politicians like Imran Khan?

Imran Khan’s entire discourse on the tribal Pashtun society and the process of terrorism in the tribal area is simply flawed. He views the Taliban terrorism as an indigenous phenomenon essentially emerging out of tribal society while the Taliban, in his myopic view, are some sort of ‘Pashtun nationalists’ taking revenge from people and the state of Pakistan for joining the US-led ‘war on terror’. His simplistic solution is: disengage from the ‘war on terror’ and Taliban will be deprived of any legitimacy. In the next utopian phase, he wants to reach out to the tribes to convince their militant young men to forgo violence. In his ill-informed view, the tribal people are armed to teeth and they would somehow defeat the Taliban and permanent peace will be restored.

There is no tribal-Taliban nexus in the tribal areas. If there is any popular and indigenous Pashtun resistance in the tribal area, it is anti-Taliban resistance. Many tribes have raised anti-Taliban lashkers through the tribal consensus and without any outside help. The Salarzai tribe in Bajaur and Turis in Kurram have defeated Taliban and Al-Qaida. Similarly,  Orakzai’s Ali Khel tribe [it consists of both Shias and Sunnis] scored a victory over  the Taliban. However, the state intervened and balance was tipped in the favour of the Taliban.

Over 1000 anti-Taliban tribal leaders have been killed all over FATA. This has led to the collapse of the tribal socio-political order in the tribal area. The tribal people have been displaced. For many years they have been queuing up in a disgraceful manner for humanitarian aid. If they are as close to Taliban as Imran Khan assumes, why don’t they go and join the Taliban who pay good salaries to their ranks and files. The tribal people have suffered and continue to suffer multiple genocides at the hands of the Taliban. There has been a cultural genocide (attacks on symbols of Pashtun culture: jirga, hujra and shrines), educational genocide (attacks on schools, teachers and students), economic genocide (destruction of public and private economic infrastructure in FATA), and of course literal genocide (killing of the tribal women, children and men). The Taliban in connivance with  the Pakistan army, have perpetrated these genocides. What more do Imran Khan and people like him want from the tribal people to prove that they are not pro-Taliban? Tribal people have no power whatsoever over the Taliban and that they are the biggest victims of the Taliban. Before anyone else in Pakistan, these unfortunate tribals deserve justice and state protection against the Taliban.

The most drone-hit areas in Waziristan are the areas inhabited by Waziris and Dawars. None of these tribes has been displaced. If the tribes are as strong as Imran Khan believe, he and his followers should have managed to go to Waziristan with the support of these tribes. Imran Khan claims that he has support of the tribes, if so, why did he and his ‘drone-fun-ride’ to Waziristan end up in Tank?

Post 9/11, FATA has been controlled by the militants and Pakistani military. People in the region have suffered greatly from the violence from both sides and therefore dislike and fear both as the recent Amnesty International report, The Hands of Cruelty, shows.

Talib or fauj yu da (Taliban and army is one and the same entity) is a common refrain in FATA and KP. Tribal people live in the permanent fear of both. They are not safe even when they move to the safety of settled areas. Those expressing their honest views on the military and the militants have been target-killed even in Peshawar.

Therefore, I think Imran Khan’s discourse on the tribal-Taliban connection is so ridiculously wrong that it does not deserve serious attention. Even the Taliban do not take Imran Khan seriously. They demanded guarantees for negotiations with the government from PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif and JUI (F)’s Fazl ur Rahman instead of Imran Khan.

There have been ‘peace deals’ between TTP and Pakistan army. How has been the past experience regarding such deals? Many commentators believe that TTP always exploited such deals to extend its influence. Your comments.

Yes, the previous peace deals were disastrous for the people in FATA and KP. They undermined the state writ and the militants extended their writ. This is what happens when states strike deals from a position of weakness.

How would the USA react to such talks? Also, when the USA is holding talks with Taliban, what moral authority does it has to oppose talks with Taliban in Pakistan [an objection often raised by Media Mujahideen]?

The US is pursuing its own interests in this region. If making deals with the Taliban is in its interest, the US would not pay any attention to the adverse humanitarian consequences of such deals on the people of Pakistan or Afghanistan. So, we do not have to blindly follow the US. Secondly, the Afghan Taliban’s network is based in Pakistan. We have to see what is in the interest of our people. Taliban are a threat to the people and the state of Pakistan. This threat has to be eliminated regardless of what the USA does.

The Afghan terror network is based and nurtured in Pakistan. This is a key problem obstructing peace in Afghanistan. Thus if someone in Afghanistan is holding talks with the Afghan Taliban with the view to encourage them to give up their connections with the military establishment of Pakistan, or to give up violence, talks with Afghan Taliban can be justified. But here too we have to remember that Afghan Taliban have committed gross human rights violation in Afghanistan. Are the Afghans ready to forgive and forget? This is an issue that Afghanistan has to deal with while negotiating with the Taliban.

Pak army has curiously been evasive on the issue of talks with Taliban following recent offer by TTP. What do you think is Pak army’s view on talks with Taliban?

This question should be put to ISPR.
But this evasiveness speaks volumes about military’s conduct vis-à-vis Taliban. Khakis are not evasive in the case of Baluch nationalists killed everyday. When the khakis want to do something, they just do it. It is misleading that the military looks to the civilian leadership for dealing with the Taliban. If so, when did they ask the civilian leadership about the state atrocities inflicted on the Baluch people. If the military wants to eliminate the Taliban, they know how to do it. They do not want it. The Taliban- some may be ‘bad’ among them- are by the end of the day military’s strategic assets for Afghanistan.
Seriousness, decisiveness and the civil-military agreement are needed the most. Pakistan has suffered terrorism for years. Country’s anti-terror law, the National Counter Terrorism bill, was approved by the parliament early this month only. This shows there is simply no anti-terrorism strategy.

All post 9/11 operations of Pakistan army against the militants in FATA have been poorly targeted or outrightly ‘fake’, in the view of many local people. The operations have led to large-scale human displacement and destruction of public and private infrastructure in FATA. Previously cleared areas have been retaken by the Taliban. Hence, intelligence-based targeted operations against the militants are needed.

The Pakistan army has been selectively targeting only those militants that are attacking the army and ignoring the activities of those who cross the Pakistan border for terror attacks inside Afghanistan. Banned jihadi outfits are carrying out public activities, including recruitment and collection of donation, in the country. There are no arrangements to disarm the militant groups.

If you oppose talks, what would you suggest as a solution to TTP menace?

Any durable solution to Taliban terror requires that Pakistan gives up the use of religion in state affairs. Also, it should give up Islamist proxies as foreign policy tools in Afghanistan and India.[ There is nothing on the ground that indicates so, unfortunately.] This means a complete policy shift is needed whereby a welfare state replaces a security state.

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