THE state is talking to the Taliban again — but this time in rather different circumstances.
The last time the government tried to negotiate with the banned TTP, it did so from a position of weakness: the TTP was in the ascendant, the TTP was regularly attacking state and society and the TTP was the one issuing preconditions. Now though, as the government negotiates with a breakaway Mehsud faction of the TTP, there are marked differences.
For one, the military operation in North Waziristan Agency has scattered the TTP and denied it a vital base from which to organise and plot attacks against Pakistan.
For another, the state is attempting a dual track of dialogue and fighting — exactly what should have happened before, given that keeping the pressure on militants could cause them to yield at the negotiating table more quickly and also abide by any agreement reached.
As for the possibility of a negotiated peace with certain sections of the Taliban, the priority of the state should be to ensure the Taliban factions are not simply looking to buy time to regroup, reorganise and, eventually, emerge to challenge the state again. And while there is nothing inherently wrong in seeking to negotiate with any enemy, there need to be certain red lines.
For one, many of the groups that have, over the years, reached a settlement with the state have tended to do so while simultaneously vowing to take their fight outside the territorial boundaries of Pakistan. That usually has meant concentrating on neighbouring Afghanistan in recent times. But that never has been, and certainly is not now, in Pakistan’s overall security interests.
Negotiations must not allow militant groups to continue to exist on Pakistani soil with a mission of destabilising neighbouring countries or even beyond.
At the same time, the Pakistani state should impress on the Afghan government that the problem of reverse sanctuaries — Pakistani militants hiding out in border regions of Afghanistan from where they plot and organise attacks inside Pakistan — cannot be allowed to grow.
Time and again Afghan and Pakistani officials insist that the only way to ensure regional stability and peace is to eliminate all sanctuaries, but then quietly do things — or look the other way in times of crisis — that nudge peace and stability a little further out of reach. Militants are a danger to everyone. Allowing some to survive if they focus elsewhere is not a winning strategy.
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