Taming the Taliban

February 27, 2014 - 5:28:43 am
Pakistan has at last started cracking the whip against the Taliban. It’s a long-delayed step, but it’s better late than never. 

The military has launched new air strikes targeting militant hideouts in the North Waziristan tribal region, killing at least 30 people in one incident. A government official has warned of a big offensive unless the Taliban showed they were serious about negotiations. 

It’s not just a military offensive. Slowly but decisively, the Pakistan government is moving towards a coherent and clear policy on militancy.  The federal cabinet met this week and made two key decisions: requiring an unconditional ceasefire by the TTP for talks to progress and approving the National Internal Security Policy.

Taliban is no ordinary terrorist outfit to be obliterated by government action. They are feisty and battle-hardened criminals, their networks are deep-rooted and they remain hidden in treacherous mountainous terrains where the outside world has no access. But despite all these, there is no doubt that they can be defeated and considerably weakened over a period of time. What we saw in Pakistan is not the inability of the army to take on this enemy, but the timidity and lack of will of the government. Once the government remains determined, all the machinery of the state will fall into place and move in unison against militants. 

The immediate trigger for the military offensive was the Taliban’s arrogant stance in talks with the government. Both the government officials and the Taliban representatives had started the talks, which was widely welcomed, but the militants put obstacles by making untenable demands. It’s a basic rule of any such negotiations that the insurgents must not be allowed to dictate conditions to the state.

The government enjoys the wide support of the people in the latest action. Even Imran Khan, who has been criticised for being pro-Taliban, is now agreeing with the government. In publicly demanding that an unconditional ceasefire by the TTP be announced before talks can progress, the PTI has added its critical voice to a growing political consensus on the issue. 

The government of Nawaz Sheriff needs to continue its offensive until the Taliban are brought down from the pedestal they had placed themselves on. On Monday, a senior leader of the group, Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, was killed in North Waziristan, possibly by a rival faction within the TTP or perhaps even a targeted killing engineered by the security establishment. Other leaders of the group too must be targeted, keeping up pressure on the militants. The country has to declare a war on the militants, and the country that emerges from this will be strong and stable.•