x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

In Pakistan, terrorists have no incentive to accept peace offers

The TTP will come to the negotiating table only if they are reduced to the state of a vendor, writes Shaukat Qadir

Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, centre, with the army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, left, and air force chief, Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt, right, in Pakistan's Kamra air base. Anjum Naveed / AP Photo
Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, centre, with the army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, left, and air force chief, Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt, right, in Pakistan's Kamra air base. Anjum Naveed / AP Photo

It would have been reasonable to expect that after the killing of a dozen police commandos in Karachi last month, immediately followed by the gruesome murder of 27 soldiers of the Frontier Corps, the Pakistan government would have realised the futility of talking to terrorists. But that does not seem to be the case.

The prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has permitted the army to act as it deems fit in “self-defence”. How far can politicians stoop to avoid responsibility?

Are our leaders deaf or blind? Their inability, or unwillingness, to act makes them complicit. They should have realised that there had never been any future to negotiations.

It boils down to basic negotiations facts. For example, when you buy something from a roadside vendor, you can haggle with him to reduce the price. But when in a shopping mall, you can’t negotiate: you collect what you want, go to the counter and pay the price.

The vendor is more desperate. He needs the money urgently, since whether his needs are met is determined by what he makes daily. He cannot afford not to sell. The mall owner is not as desperate. He can afford to wait.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is the owner of the mall, not a vendor on the street.

Negotiations succeed when both parties respect the medium of exchange. The degree of compromise available to each party is directly proportional to their “need” for the medium of exchange or the item being bought or sold.

What the government wishes to purchase from the TTP is peace. But, the TTP is fully conscious of the fact that it is in a position to negotiate only so long as it ensures the absence of peace. It also knows that the medium of exchange through which it acquired the ability to barter peace to the government of Pakistan is the use of force, and what the government wishes to offer them in return for their goods, peace, is an alternative medium of exchange.

What then might convince them to sell peace to the government and give up the medium of exchange that forced the government to beg for peace? I can think of only one possibility that could tempt the TTP to accept peace and agree to forego the use of force: sufficient political power. Only then would the TTP retain its ability to sell peace in the future.

Is the government or the peoples of Pakistan prepared to go that far? Is our leadership ready to enact another Swat peace deal? What will they do this time? Will they say that last time we gave you 5 per cent of our country in which to wreak havoc, and this time we will give you only 2 per cent?

I sincerely hope not.

TTP spelt out its terms well before negotiations commenced and these were: the TTP does not accept Pakistan’s constitution, nor its “un-Islamic” character, it will not lay down arms and its declared enemies are Pakistan’s security forces.

To emphasise their point, the TTP repeatedly offers peace in the morning and follows it up with attacks on Pakistan’s hapless citizens and or its security forces the same evening. And it seeks refuge by laying the heinous acts at the door of one or other splinter faction.

The government must understand that it has to force the terrorists to accept a common medium of exchange and to hold dear the item they wish to purchase: peace. Only then will they negotiate. And it can get the TTP there only if it dries up its funding and makes it run for cover.

Reduce the TTP to the state of a street vendor, and only then can there be negotiations.

“Give peace a chance” is a catchy slogan but only if terrorists also share the same sentiment.

It is astounding that the TTP apologists can quote the very pertinent example of the IRA in such an impertinent manner to seek justification for reaching out to our terrorists. Indeed, today, the Irish terrorist of yesterday sits across the table from the British prime minister to negotiate Ireland’s future.

But the Irish terrorists of yesterday represented the aspirations of enough of the Irish people to win a seat in his or her constituency. The terrorists in Pakistan do not represent the aspirations of anyone, nor can they win a seat in a transparent election, not even in their own tribal area. They are seeking political power through terrorism.

Brig Shaukat Qadir is a retired Pakistani infantry officer