Long-awaited negotiations between the Pakistani government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) began this week. The withdrawal of Tehreek-e-Insaaf leader, Imran Khan, has robbed the Pakistani delegation of any political representation. Coupled with the military’s strong opposition to the negotiations, the first round of talks seems set for irrelevance. This is a setback for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who has invested heavily in bringing the TTP to the table and is seeing his efforts go to waste.
The obstacle that tripped up the talks was the all-powerful Pakistani military. Though the new army chief of staff is reportedly apolitical, General Raheel Sharif reflects a consensus among the Pakistani top brass that the TTP must be brought to heel through military action.
Even before the dates for negotiations were settled, the Pakistani air force had begun bombing TTP strongholds in North Waziristan. It is widely believed Imran Khan’s decision to pullout reflected pressure from the Pakistani military. The TTP, the most-violent Taliban group and the only one dedicated to the overthrow of Pakistan, is arguably the most dangerous threat facing Islamabad today. And one that will worsen as the United States military’s drone attacks peter off. Pakistan’s leadership has been deeply divided over how to handle this challenge.
The civilian leadership has pushed for talks. The military has pushed for conflict. Over the next few months the Pakistani army will launch a land offensive. The success of this campaign — and it is likely to be protracted and bloody — will determine the nature of future talks or whether talks will be held at all.
For all its problems with Pakistan, New Delhi knows fully well that these would worsen tenfold if the TTP were to defeat the Pakistani State — or even make the Islamabad regime look impotent. However, it would be impossible for Indians not to feel that Pakistan, the greatest State sponsor of terrorism, is getting a taste of its own bitter medicine. The only advice Pakistan should consider is what India has learnt from its long domestic experience: military action against own citizens should be treated as a precursor to a political settlement and not an end in itself.