It isn’t often that I read an op-ed and say to myself “I wish I wrote that,” especially when the op-ed addresses the complicated issues of the Long War in general, and the Pakistani Taliban. The op-ed below, from Pakistan’s Daily Times, is remarkable for its clarity and the astuteness of its observations, particularly on the Taliban’s gaming of the Pakistani political class, and the relations between the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda. I feel as if the writers picked my brain for this one. Kudos to Daily Times; I can honestly say I agree with 100% of what is written below. Emphasis is mine:
The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) seems to be on a political-strategic offensive these days. Through well timed approaches to the media, first through a letter written by a senior Punjabi Taliban leader Asmatullah Muawiya some days ago, and now a video showing TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud sitting with reportedly estranged deputy Waliur Rehman, the TTP has sought to dispel any notion of differences or splits within the movement as speculated in the media in recent days. Also, the purpose of these initiatives appears to be to pose as an organisation prepared for talks with the government for peace. However, closer examination of the conditionalities attached by the TTP to any proposed talks indicate that the whole exercise is a non-starter and probably only aimed at exploiting the divisions in the polity and society at large on the approach to be taken to the Taliban menace. Hakeemullah Mehsud has said yes to talks, no to laying down their arms unless and until Pakistan’s laws and constitution are recast on what the TTP considers correct Islamic lines, i.e., according to their own narrow interpretation of Sharia. Not only that, in a flip on what he considers US diktat that the military and government follow, for which he cites so-called broken deals with the TTP in the past, his own diktat centres on breaking ties with the US, stopping ‘interference’ in Afghanistan, and concentrating (waging war against?) India instead. The craziness of this diatribe can be demonstrated by reference to the fact that it was the Taliban who consistently violated deals struck with the government and military in the past, using the breathing space provided by these abortive agreements for consolidating and extending their strength. The timing of the release of the video is also something to contemplate. It follows three major actions by the Taliban in recent days: the attack on the Peshawar airport, the assassination of Bashir Bilour, and the kidnapping of 22 paramilitary soldiers after an assault on check posts. These attacks demonstrated the capability of the Taliban to strike high profile well guarded targets even as the territory they control has shrunk over time because of the military and security forces’ campaigns. Hakeemullah goes on in the video to say that they assassinated Bashir Bilour because he had made himself a legitimate target by his consistent resistance to the Taliban and all they stood for. He said their struggle was however not against any individuals but the democratic system and all who support it since they consider it is un-Islamic. But the most chilling message in the video is when Hakeemullah asserts that they would follow the lead of the Afghan Taliban after the withdrawal of the US/NATO from Afghanistan by 2014 because the TTP, Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda are one. Then comes the ultimate feather in the terrorist cap. Hakeemullah proudly claims he and his comrades in the TTP are prepared to have their heads cut off for al Qaeda.
We owe a vote of thanks to Hakeemullah Mehsud for vindicating our long held position that the nexus amongst the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda and its affiliated groups is an undeniable fact of life that can only be ignored at our own peril. Now having been offered this incontrovertible proof of the Taliban on both sides of the western border and al Qaeda being one and the same thing, one hopes the foolishness about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban can be relegated where it belongs: in the dustbin. Unfortunately though, the TTP is playing cleverly on the divisions within our polity and society, proof of which can be found in the divergent reactions to the TTP conditional and unacceptable offer of talks on their dictated terms. Without falling for these diversionary and divisive tactics, it would be in the fitness of things if the elected and other political forces were to unite on a consensus to take definitive action against this existential threat to the state and society. For this purpose, the expected meeting between ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan and President Asif Ali Zardari to try to achieve such a consensus will be closely and anxiously watched by all those who want to see the back of the terrorists.