The participants in the All-Parties Conference convened by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday in Islamabad were probably not even aware of the symbolical significance of the day. On September 9, 2001, suicide terrorism, which was extremely rare in the region, claimed its first major victim in Afghanistan. Ahmed Shah Masood, who had emerged as the most powerful leader of the Northern Alliance, was fatally wounded at Khawaja Bahauddin in the north-eastern province of Takhar and succumbed to his injuries on September 15. Since then suicide bomb attacks have recurred with alarming frequency, particularly in Pakistan.If subsequent intelligence reports are to be believed, the Al-Qaeda assassins, who had posed as TV journalists, had insisted on an interview with Masood at the latest by September 9. They were frantic, almost hysterical, because they had to get out of Afghanistan in order to meet “an important deadline.” Two days later, the fateful events of 9/11 occurred. Analysts are convinced that there is an unmistakable linkage between the two incidents but this has never been conclusively established and will remain, at best, an unproven theory.
The only thing that can be said with certainty is that Al-Qaeda was born, with the will and consent of the so-called free world, in Peshawar on August 11, 1988. It served the purpose of reversing the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. When this was achieved the free world basked in glory. Communism collapsed and the ramparts of the ‘evil empire’ came tumbling down like the walls of Jericho.
But Al-Qaeda had tasted blood. Its next jihad was the defeat of the “godless” west and the extermination of the “infidel” regimes of the Islamic world. After the Soviet withdrawal it shifted to Afghanistan from where it planned and executed the 9/11 attacks. The details are available in a letter dated September 10, 2010 to Osama bin Laden from his former associate and close friend Abu Muhammed Al-Libi Noman Benotman.
The response of the international community was immediate. Within four weeks the US began intensive bombing of the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan which enabled the Northern Alliance to enter Kabul by the end of 2001. This was accompanied by the UN-mandated, US-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda relocated to the tribal areas of Pakistan where it was joined by local extremist outfits and the region was transformed into the epicentre of terrorism.
Since then Pakistan has bled and it has bled profusely. No less than 45,000 of its citizens, inclusive of military personnel, have lost their lives in terrorist violence perpetrated by the Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). After Nawaz Sharif was sworn in as a third-time prime minister on June 5, there has been a startling increase in the tempo of terrorist outrages. Despite this it took him 96 days merely to convene an APC. The outcome of the meeting was a 1,120-word resolution which, according to an insightful analyst, reads like a “document of surrender.”
The text scrupulously avoids the use of the term Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and instead the outfit, which does not accept the constitution of the country, has been described as a “stakeholder.” The last paragraph of the resolution, therefore, authorises the prime minister to “initiate dialogue with all stakeholders forthwith.”
This was immediately welcomed by the spokesman of the TTP, Shahidullah Shahid, who said that a detailed response would be given after a meeting of the outfit’s shura but he also observed that “the APC declaration does not obstruct our objectives.” The deliberations of the shura, chaired by the TTP leader, Hakeemullah Mehsud, commenced on Thursday and could continue for several days. The government is ecstatic with this reaction and believes that the ice has been broken. This will depend on the extent to which it is willing to compromise in order to accommodate the TTP’s “objectives.”
The APC organised by former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on September 29, 2011, was attended by 58 leaders of various political parties. The participants adopted a 13-point resolution which stated unambiguously that the “guiding central principle” of policy would be to “give peace a chance” for which “Pakistan must initiate dialogue with a view to negotiating peace with our own people in the tribal areas.” The spontaneous response of Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, the feared deputy commander of the TTP, was that the talks would only begin if the government enforced the Shariah and terminated its cooperation with the US.
In this context the last line of Monday’s resolution authorising the prime minister to commence the negotiations reads: “Guiding principles should include respect for local customs and traditions, values and religious beliefs and the creation of an environment which brings peace and tranquillity to the region.” The implication of this spineless formulation is that the TTP will have a free hand to impose its skewed interpretation of Islam and the Shariah in the areas under its control. A close Hakeemullah Mehsud aide commented, “We have taken the government’s offer seriously.”
Memories are short. In its eagerness to commence peace negotiations with the TTP, the leadership of the country seems to have forgotten the hideous events in Swat in 2009. No sooner had the former ANP-led provincial government signed a deal for the enforcement of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulations on February 16, 2009, with Maulana Sufi Muhammad, the militants quickly advanced into the neighbouring Buner district from where the Taliban commander, Mullah Nazeer Ahmed declared: “The day is not far when Islamabad will be in the hands of the mujahideen.”
No political party in Pakistan, not even the ANP whose key leaders and workers have been ruthlessly slaughtered by the TTP, has been consistent in taking on the terrorist outfit. On September 23, 2011, for example, it issued a bold statement in which it appealed “for an all-out effort by the government of Pakistan to root out terrorist groups, their supply lines and infrastructure on Pakistani soil.” But six days later this did not stop the ANP leader, Asfandyar Wali Khan, from going along with the “give peace a chance” resolution of the APC convened by Yousuf Raza Gilani.
At the beginning of this year when the TTP offered negotiations, the ANP, which at the time led the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa coalition, organised an APC on February 14 which was attended by the leaders of 27 political parties. A few weeks earlier its senior minister, Bashir Ahmad Bilour, was assassinated and the ANP had declared that “extremism and terrorist violence is a threat to the very existence of the country…it will be an exercise in futility to appease the terrorists.”
The ANP’s resolve again proved short-lived. Although the final document of the February 14 multi-party conference only used the word ‘terrorism’ once and that too in the context of compensating the families of those who had been killed, the resolution was scornfully rejected by the TTP. Within 24 hours it targeted the former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister in a failed suicide attack.
Two weeks later on February 28, 2013, yet another APC was convened. The organiser this time round was the JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman. The meeting was attended by all political parties except Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. The outcome was a five-point resolution, the central feature of which was a grand tribal jirga for negotiations with the TTP. Particular care was taken to avoid such words as ‘terrorism’, ‘militancy’ and even ‘militant’. This was acknowledged and welcomed by the political shura of the TTP.
But its former spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan qualified this by adding: “Since real power rests with the Pakistan Army, therefore, we are waiting for a response of the military authorities.” He also expressed satisfaction that the APC had unanimously reposed confidence in the tribal jirga and then explained the TTP’s objectives: “We are from the Pakistani nation and they are from us. We waged jihad for the implementation of Shariah in the country and the Pakistani people are fully supporting us in this struggle.”
The implication is clear. The constitution of Pakistan is unacceptable and will have to be replaced by the TTP’s distorted interpretation of Islam and its laws. This is non-negotiable. What precisely does the government hope to achieve by initiating talks with those who reject the basic law of the land?
The writer is the publisher ofCriterion Quarterly.