Dialogue with Taliban not an option
Friday, February 06, 2009
by Farhat Taj
I wanted a reply to my email from Masooda Bano to have a better idea of her argument for dialogue with Taliban. She provided the idea through her article dated 31 January and I am afraid that she fails to see my point – and also seems to be quite ignorant of the ground reality in Pakhtun areas.
Of course, this is not to say that outsiders do not have a right to express their views. But this shouldn’t be at the expense of the truth and shouldn’t mean a distortion of reality. What we need right now is not only informed debate but also debate that is responsible and objective because anything otherwise has the potential to mislead public opinion. Hence, my advice is to people to visit these areas themselves and see for themselves what the reality is – and this is essential particularly for those who want to write on the the region.
My main point – which was that why should the government negotiate with a party that clearly has no respect for the law of the land, Islam or the code of Pakhtunwali and which has repeatedly violated all three in the most brutal manner? – was not responded to at all.
How can one possibly have a dialogue with a person who believes that Shias must be killed and who has actually killed many Shias? How can one negotiate with someone who enjoys beheading people, and has beheaded people — like the Swat Taliban who every day announce on their FM radio the names of all those that they behead?
Also I never suggested that the military operation should be aimless. It should be targeted and based on actionable intelligence. I ask this in respect to the wishes of thousands of Pakhtun with whom I interact in person or through emails and phone calls. The fact of the matter is that the intelligence is there but it isn’t – or wasn’t – being acted upon. Also, I never said that the identities of the Taliban groups and their leaders are unclear. What I did say though was that the groups are too many and their demands too outrageous for any government to accept.
Secondly, dialogue and peace deals with Taliban have been a recipe for disaster for the Pakhtuns. Take for example, the peace deals that were signed with the Taliban in North Waziristan. Despite their existence, killings are happening there, women are barred from applying for CNIC cards, female education and music are banned, and the entire tribal leadership has been killed or made to flee from the area. Furthermore, safe passage is provided often to sectarian terrorists to Kurram and Orakzai agencies and we all know what has been happening there. Journalists who have observed the negotiations and deals claim that usually there are two agreements – one written, the other verbal. The written agreement, if implemented, would in fact restore the writ of the government. The verbal version however is that both sides agree not to disturb the other which means that the Taliban can in fact do as they please as long as they don’t target the security forces. Unfortunately, it is the verbal one that is usually implemented.
Moreover, the Musharraf government was playing a double game, i.e. it joined the US led war on terror and on other hand it allowed the Taliban to consolidate its power. As a result some of them went out of state control. What is happening between some Taliban groups and the state is a power game where one side wants to enforce the law of the country and the other wants to replace Pakhtunwali with a Wahhabi way of life. Take for example, Baitullah Mehsud. He believes he has conquered and become ruler of South Waziristan and has put in place courts, a system of taxation and many other things that one would normally see as part of an organized government. And hence one would have to be very naïve to think that he would give all this up now as part of a dialogue process.
How many conquerors in the past have surrendered their territories through dialogue, especially when they believed that they were in a more powerful position? Most Pakhtuns believe that Baitullah will never surrender South Waziristan unless his power is weakened or broken and it is re-taken by force by the state and its army. Most Pakhtun also believe – as do probably most other Pakistanis – that the state army is far more powerful than Baitullah’s and can defeat the latter especially when the people of Waziristan are also not happy with the Taliban.
In my view it is the less-informed analysts who are pushing for dialogue with the Taliban – the ordinary Pakhtun are most certainly not in favour of this. I may be criticized for this but I will also say that it is the less-informed analysts who seem to be making the same mistakes that contributed to the disasters of our past. Before the fall of East Pakistan, many non-Bengali analysts in the media were saying that soon the situation would be controlled and we know what happened then. I should also point out that I have come across many nationalist Pakhtuns who are so frustrated and angered that they would rather deal with the Taliban on their own or wouldn’t mind allying with other entities which display less of a reluctance to deal with this scourge head on.
I would therefore humbly request the army chief to ignore the calls for dialogue with the Taliban and initiate surgical and targeted operations, in line with the wishes of the terrorised people of NWFP and FATA, to eliminate the Taliban and destroy their headquarters and hideouts.
The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo, and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (The News)