Foreign Policy Blogs

Negotiate with Taliban?

Taliban militants pose for the media after they join the Afghan government in Herat May 22, 2010. Twenty Afghan Taliban joined the Afghan government's reconciliation and reintegration programme in Herat on Saturday. REUTERS/Mohammad Shoiab (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS IMAGES OF THE DAY)

In a recent press conference Mian Nawaz Sharif – the head of the largest opposition Party Pakistan Muslim League-N (PMLN) – claimed that terrorism in Pakistan is a result of government’s foreign policies. Sharif made the comments two days after two terrorist suicide bombers had attacked the most popular Sufi shrine in Punjab. The province that his party controls.

While attacking the federal ministers for criticizing his party’s provincial government’s failure to stop the attacks, Sharif replied with his own criticism on the federal governments’ foreign policy. Rather than giving solutions and answering why his government fails to provide security in the province they control, he blamed the federal government for not sharing the right intelligence. While it is on record that intelligence over all past incidences have been shared with the provincial government.

Nawaz Sharif and his party is believed to have ties to various terrorist organizations in the past. Sharif had alegedly met Osama Bin Laden, who funded his party to oppose and weaken the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government.

On the other hand Imran Khan – the head of another right-wing political party Pakistan Tereek-e-Insaf (PTI) – also related terrorism in Pakistan to government’s alliance with United States. He Stated that:

the government of Pakistan [is] a slave of the US and added that the ongoing terrorism in the country would continue until Washington stopped meddling in the internal affairs of Islamabad – Dawn News

This same rhetoric has also been used by religious parties to criticize the federal government of Pakistan Peoples Party. The religious parties along with PMLN and PTI has criticized the government’s decision to take the war to taliban’s doorsteps in Pakistan’s western bordders, and have suggested negotiations with the terrorist organizations as an alternative.

Every now and then the rightist – PMLN, PTI, and religious parties – cite unconfirmed news stories on Afghanistan and American government’s policy to negotiate with taliban as an example for Islamabad to follow. However in the past government of Pakistan has negotiated with the Pakistani Taliban, only to see negotiations fail, or the taliban breaking the agreement to further their aims.

The situation in Afghanistan is different and incomparable to Pakistan. In Afghanistan, America is a foreign force and the taliban are a political reality. Having ruled Afghanistan, the talibans have political stakes in the country. If Americans or Kabul decides to negotiate with the reconcilable taliban, that would be in the interest of all parties and the future of Afghanistan. It would be to end war in Afghanistan and leave the country in a governable situation.

Contrary to that, Pakistani taliban are not a political reality, but rather an illegal militia. There are no grounds for negotiations with the Pakistani taliban or any other terrorist organization inside Pakistan. They don’t have a constituency or a vote bank for that matter.

Although the Pakistani taliban cannot be negotiated with, there are political players which can be. For which Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani has called for an APC (all parties conference). So the taliban’s like-minded political parties can also be consulted in a discussion to formulate a national anti-terror policy.

One can only hope that the rightist parties will not derail the agenda of the conference just to get their absurd anti-USA policy agreed upon. Rather focus on a strong policy that strictly deals with terrorism inside Pakistan and suggests ways to tackle it. Part of the solution would be for the right-wing parties to shun their alliances with any sort of extremist organization and allow government along with law enforcing agencies to take conclusive actions against those who operate on Pakistani soil.