Talks with Taliban: A football club playing a game within itself ? – by Harris Khalique

So there are seven people at the time of this going to the press who will have met to informally initiate the process of dialogue in order to discuss the ways and means of bringing peace to our country – four from the side of the government of Pakistan and three representing the Taliban. Rahimullah Yusufzai, journalist, Rustam Shah Mohmand, former diplomat, and Major (r) Amir, former intelligence official, will be coordinated by Irfan Siddiqui, another journalist and now special assistant to the prime minister, to represent the government’s point of view.

The full Taliban committee is yet to be named but in the first instance, they had named five people to speak on their behest. Two out of the five, Mufti Kifayatullah and Imran Khan, did not take up the offer. The three acting currently like the Sinn Fein for the Taliban are Maulana Samiul Haq, Prof Ibrahim Khan and Maulana Abdul Aziz.

In this scenario, who is negotiating on whose behalf? It looks like a football club playing a game within itself. I’d say Belfast vs Belfast in this case. If you look at the seven people, barring one, they are all clearly pro-Taliban. Mohmand has had leanings towards a process of dialogue at all costs, looking the other way when the suffering inflicted on innocent Pakistanis over the years was to be condemned equivocally and in clear terms – thousands of women, men and children of all faiths, sects and social backgrounds who had nothing whatsoever to do with the war on terror or Pakistani government’s partnership with the US.

Major (r) Amir is not only famous for his active participation in a notorious operation to overthrow a democratically elected government, he has credentials similar to any intelligence official who manipulates and manoeuvres to gain by hook or crook the latent objectives of the deep state. Irfan Siddiqui’s writings about the Taliban, within Afghanistan and then their later projection into Pakistan, are well-known.

While I respect the views held by people if they do not resort to or profess violence and understand that eventually it is up to the politicians sitting in the government and parliament to sign off any deal, it is still important in this scenario to note that none of the negotiators nominated by the government can actually be taken to represent the victims of terrorism.

There is no representation of Sindh, Balochistan or Seraiki Wasaib in the committee either; terrorist acts are not just restricted to Fata, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. Fata and KP are worst hit, no doubt, but Sindh and Balochistan have remained far more vulnerable than Punjab.

The nomination of three mainstream politicians and clerics by the Taliban to represent them simply confirms what Munawwar Hasan, amir of the Jamaat-e-Islami, said some days ago – that there is no difference in what the Taliban want and what he wants, except that he does not agree with the means applied by them to impose their writ. Hence, Prof Ibrahim Khan of JI took no time in accepting to represent Taliban. Maulana Samiul Haq boasts being the teacher of many Talibs and their commanders. He wanted to be named by the government to lead the dialogue process. When that didn’t happen, he took up the offer to represent Taliban.

The nomination of Maulana Abdul Aziz, the imam of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, causes no confusion for anyone. He said more or less the same thing some years ago what Munawwar Hasan of the JI has reiterated recently – those Pakistani soldiers who were killed fighting the Taliban are not martyrs. Aziz had also issued an edict against fighting the Taliban.

Therefore, the people who begin the process of dialogue from both sides are largely the same in ideological terms, only with some political differences among themselves but again, I insist, within the remit of the same ideology. The most interesting thing is that the four people nominated by the government (barring one perhaps) and the five nominated by the Taliban could have been nominated by either side. So who will negotiate on whose behalf is a resolved question at an ideological level.

And it is not just that the whole group is provincially lopsided, another issue is who would safeguard the beliefs and culture of those who, in aggregate, majorly outnumber the schools of thought represented among the negotiators, leave alone the non-Muslims who have found only one true champion of their rights in our political history, the erstwhile father of the nation.

Therefore, the ideological outcome of the dialogue process is a settled issue even before the dialogue begins. However, some tweaks to the ideological resolutions may well be made in parliament once they are drawn up and presented. The differences may only emerge when it comes to the brass tacks – when bringing a halt to attacks of all sorts (be they on soldiers or citizens), laying down arms, releasing prisoners, negotiating spaces for political power, control over land and resources, etc will be discussed between the government and the Taliban. For that, the teams nominated by both sides have neither any proper knowledge nor the requisite authority. Here, the boys will enter.

Finally, the closure to the process of engagement between the two sides will be brought about by the prime minister and the boys in uniform. I have not touched upon the extraneous factors, from the neighbourhood or from across the Atlantic. The negotiators neither have any control over them nor any agency to speak to them. That will also be done by the Nawaz Sharif government and the boys in uniform.

As far as the JUI-F and the PTI’s nomination and then withdrawal from negotiating on behalf of the Taliban is concerned, Maulana Fazlur Rehman found it difficult to be a coalition partner of the federal government and then have a representative advocating the Taliban. To me it seems this will have little effect on his constituency. However, if the government wanted some sane clerics from the same school of thought which is represented currently on both teams, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi could have been better choices.

For the PTI, the Taliban did to Imran Khan what his foes couldn’t do in so many years. I deliberately say ‘foes’ as Khan and his supporters were never mature enough to differentiate between their adversaries and their critics. Khan has wanted to represent everyone, from the ultra-right to westernised liberals, in order to become the prime minister of Pakistan.

Most of Khan’s followers were confused and will remain so due to a warped sense of history and a limited understanding of politics. I have always maintained that I respect the Taliban and the JI much more than the PTI for being clear in their objectives. You can speak to them and fight with them, negotiate physical and intellectual spaces with them, give in to their power or prevail upon them. The PTI can only give their best wishes to the peace process, as they have.


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