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Pakistan: Gov’s backroom deals with TLP

Friday 12 November 2021, by siawi3


Bloodlust or common sense?

Abbas Nasir

Published November 7, 2021

One of the lasting images of Count Dracula played in the 1958 version of the horror film Dracula by Christopher Lee was blood dripping from his teeth and down his chin after he claims his victim as his glazed, bloodshot, wide-open eyes stare into the distance.

Of course, you’d be well within your rights to ask about the relevance of that image today particularly as these lines are usually dedicated to an analysis of the contemporary political scene with all its daily twists and turns.

That image jumped into my mind as I first read allegations of how ‘liberals’ were disappointed by the agreement between the authorities and the rampaging Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in Punjab as the liberals would have preferred bloodletting.

Yes, those making these allegations included the usual suspects in the media whose disdain for the ‘live and let live liberals’ is bordering on the insane. But joining them and then becoming the leading voice in this chorus was one of the most eminent ulema in the country.

Known as ‘Mufti-i-Azam Pakistan’ in Barelvi circles, you’d immediately recognise him from the immense anxiety he caused over two decades while people waited for him to confirm whether or not the Ramazan or Eid moon had been sighted anywhere in the country and whether the following day you needed to fast or celebrate Eid.

The pliant tools of the past are becoming increasingly aware of their own power.

So, when Mufti Munibur Rehman formerly the chairman of the moon-sighting Ruet-i-Hilal Committee was reportedly drafted in by the army chief to defuse the crisis caused by the TLP-PTI stand-off and he apparently delivered, his wrath was directed at a couple of ministers in particular and the liberals in general.

Read: Red Zone Files: Does Mufti Muneeb see a future for himself in the TLP?

I bet when he used the term bloodthirsty liberals, he saw an army of Count Draculas with the blood of TLP demonstrators running down their chins. Why else would he deride liberals thus? All that the liberals and all peace-loving of Pakistanis wanted was to see the law upheld and peace restored.

Just as Mufti Munibur Rehman wanted when he endorsed military action against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan which was shredding the country’s law and shedding innocent blood in the same name and for a cause not dissimilar to the TLP’s.

As for me, I hate labels and am not even sure whether I am a liberal, or leftist or some other denomination. But what I do know is that spreading chaos invoking the name of the Divine and His beloved final Prophet (PBUH) is repugnant to me.

I wish to assure Mufti Munibur Rehman and some of my revered journalist friends, with whom I have stood shoulder to shoulder for the cause of truth and the right to articulate it freely, that bloodlust is not among my long and abundant list of failings.

To remove any ambiguity allow me the liberty of listing some of my failings. I do feel pain like many Pakistanis I know that Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa was castigated and made to swim through an ocean of fire for merely pointing out the most obvious reasons for conflict and chaos in society in his Faizabad TLP dharna (November 2017) detailed verdict released in February 2019.

Need I recall at any great length what he said? Should you need to refresh your memory, not only has the detailed judgement but also a succinct piece carrying the main ‘takeaways’ from the detailed judgement of the two-man bench, authored by Justice Isa. Justice Mushir Alam was the other member.

Read: 10 major takeaways from SC’s Faizabad sit-in judgement

One could argue that February 2019 was less than three years ago and the verdict’s implementation could not have happened in such a short period of time. The argument would carry weight if the state hadn’t wasted so much energy and time hounding the judge for calling a spade a spade, instead of making a serious effort to learn lessons from his judgement.

What is even more ludicrous is the state’s wilting will in tackling extremism in society and not waking up to the perils till the nose starts to slip under the water. Then, the state springs into action, and not just those on the front lines but all citizens pay a heavy price for the delayed action.

Look at the progress in rolling out the so-called National Action Plan devised and agreed on after the APS Peshawar massacre of 2014, a tragedy where terrorists slaughtered scores of innocent schoolchildren with bone-chilling, ruthless brutality.

The 20-point NAP, inter alia, called for countering hate speech and extremist material, a ban on glorification of terrorists in the media, dismantling the communication networks of terrorists and reversing the trend of militancy.

You need only watch Nadeem Malik’s TV interview of current Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid when he was an opposition leader where he glorified former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer’s murderer ahead of the 2018 elections to realise what happened to NAP.

The bitter, the very bitter, truth is that militant groups and extremism have been used as tools of foreign, national security policy and domestic politics, political engineering. This ‘roll them out, reel them in’ strategy has run its course as what were malleable, pliant tools of the past are becoming increasingly aware of their own power.

With tensions running high between the erstwhile same-page power centres-turned-adversaries, who knows if the latest round of TLP unrest was again meant to be used as a lever for prying open closed doors and options. If that was the case, it was myopic to say the least.

Experience tells us that Dr Frankenstein can create a monster but inevitably loses control over it. What was once a low-cost option of inflicting maximum damage on adversarial forces has become way too unpredictable, volatile and hence dangerous to deploy.

The only way going forward is not backroom deals that can’t be disclosed for fear of judicial scrutiny or shame or whatever reason. Let’s concede in the national interest that the hybrid system has been a miserable failure and the only way forward is via a duly representative parliament and transparent decision-making.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.



Making peace with militants

Zahid Hussain

Published November 10, 2021 - Updated about 4 hours ago

DAYS after surrendering to the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, the government has announced a month-long ceasefire with another banned terrorist outfit. We are told that there has been substantive development in the ongoing negotiations with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), brokered by the Afghan Taliban. But we still don’t know on what terms the so-called peace is being negotiated with a terrorist group that had declared war on the Pakistani state and had killed thousands of people.

According to a media report, the group wants the release of several hundred militants, many of whom were involved in terrorist attacks, before the start of negotiations. That would contradict the government’s claim of having made significant progress in the talks. The information minister says that the negotiations are being held under a constitutional framework. But there is no clear answer to the question of how the state can talk peace with a group, which is banned as a terrorist outfit and which has not surrendered.

Editorial: Talks with the TTP, who murdered thousands of Pakistanis, still remain shrouded in mystery

There was no cessation in hostilities while Pakistani security officials engaged in talks. Just days before the ceasefire announcement, an ambush in North Waziristan claimed the lives of four soldiers. Scores of soldiers have lost their lives in renewed terrorist attacks over the last few months in former Fata. Such an escalation in violence raises questions about a tentative truce delivering peace.

It appears that it is the state that has virtually surrendered to a group that is also on the list of global terrorist networks. There is no indication yet that the TTP is willing to lay down its arms and accept the Constitution. The demand for the release of prisoners before talks would make it clear that the outfit seeks to negotiate from a position of strength.

The ambiguity around the terms of negotiations has made the talks extremely controversial.

It seems to follow the pattern of past peace negotiations with the militant group. Each peace deal further empowered the terrorist outfit. The latest talks are likely to be used by the TTP to reorganise itself and regain its space in the tribal districts. There are already some reports of the revival of TTP activities in parts of the area. The return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan seems to have further emboldened the proscribed network.

Read: Truce with TTP — will it be different this time around?

It was in December 2007 that several militant groups operating in different parts of Fata and KP formed the TTP under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud. The TTP had an agenda to enforce its own retrogressive version of Sharia rule in the country. Its birth came in the aftermath of the Lal Masjid operation in Islamabad that saw a massive rise in terrorist attacks in the country.

There is no doubt that the formation of the TTP had the blessings of Al Qaeda. They jointly carried out high-profile terrorist attacks across the country targeting civilians as well as security installations. The nexus was responsible for the devastating attacks on the GHQ and ISI installations. By 2008, the militants had virtually established their rule over large swathes of territory in northern Pakistan presenting an existentialist threat to the country. It was on Pakistan’s urging that the TTP was declared a global terrorist group.

The TTP benefited from the weak response of the security establishment and a series of peace deals, with the state virtually surrendering its writ. It was only after 2009 that the security forces launched massive operations against the militant group. It took more than six years before the tribal belt was cleared of the militants at a huge human and economic cost. Hundreds of thousands of troops were involved in the action. The massacre at Peshawar’s Army Public School that left almost 150 students and staff members dead was the most heinous terrorist attack in the country’s history.

Read: Families of APS attack victims oppose amnesty to TTP

Most critical was the North Waziristan operation that finally broke the back of the TTP. Pushed into Afghanistan, the group disintegrated into several factions, some joining the so-called Islamic State’s Khorasan chapter. Many others were reportedly provided sanctuaries by various Afghan Taliban groups. That has also given the Afghan Taliban huge leverage over the TTP.

Apparently, it was after the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan that backchannel contacts between Pakistani security agencies and the TTP were established. The talks were facilitated by the Haqqani Network that has long maintained close ties with the Pakistani militant group.

It is not that the state should not talk to militant groups but the real issue is on what terms. Negotiations make sense only after the militants agree to a complete surrender of arms. But there is no such indication. The TTP has only agreed to a short-term ceasefire, and as has happened in the past, will use the truce to regain its lost space.

Most troubling, however, is the absence of a clear strategy on the part of the state on how to deal with terrorist and violent faith-based extremist groups. There has not been any effort to develop a national consensus on such critical national security issues.

Curiously, it was in a media interview that the prime minister made the disclosure that his government was in talks with the fiercest of militant groups. Apparently, the issue was not even deliberated in the cabinet let alone parliament. The opposition was only briefed on the development by the military leadership this week. But the prime minister is still not willing to take the nation into confidence on this sensitive issue.

The ambiguity around the terms of negotiations has made the talks extremely controversial. The whole episode has reinforced suspicions that it is pressure from the Afghan Taliban that has compelled Pakistan to engage with the TTP. The change in Afghanistan and our support for the conservative regime there appears to have also caused the authorities to soft-pedal the group.

Any deal with the TTP is likely to reverse the gains the country has made in its battle against terrorism and violent extremism. Unconditional negotiations will legitimise the terrorist group. The shameful deal with the TLP last week and talks with the TTP should be cause for serious concern. It certainly raises questions about our resolve to fight terrorism.

The writer is the author of No-Win War — The Paradox of US-Pakistan Relations in Afghanistan’s Shadow.