On Negotiating with Taliban

Recently the negotiations between the Taliban and Pakistani government have been one of the major daily stories in the Pakistani and international media. My purpose here is not to deride this recent attempt at peace by the Pakistani government, but to ask one important question: What is likely to be the cost of this peace?

There are two parties to these negotiations: people of Pakistan–represented by their elected government–and the Taliban, an extra-national violent group in a state of war with the people and government of Pakistan. This aspect of these negotiations should be very clear: Taliban are not another political party negotiating a sort of peace settlement with Pakistan. Taliban, as an entity, have declared war on Pakistan and are, therefore, a belligerent group that has used their coercive violence to bring the Pakistani state to the negotiation table. It seems as if without having read Clausewitz, the Taliban seem to be working within the logic of modern warfare: fight your enemy to a point where you can bring them to the negotiation table to seek an advantageous peace.

Let us also remind ourselves as to what kind of war have the Taliban waged: they have killed women, children, soldiers, doctors, the poor, and the rich from all walks of life. We are not talking about a noble resistance movement that fights its “enemies” with a certain degree of honor and respect for the lives of average citizens. No, this group has targeted schools, mosques, hospitals, military installations, bazars, polio workers, and Pakistani streets. They have done it to break the will of our nation in order to overwrite the constitution of the state with their own vision of what constitutes Islamic, moral, and properly religious.

I understand the reluctance of military leadership to negotiate with the Taliban: The army, along with thousands of civilian citizens, has paid a heavy price for this ongoing war in defense of Pakistan. The army must also see this as a delaying tactics by the Taliban: what better way to buy more time and regroup to continue their violent war than by negotiating for an unreachable peace.

This peace cannot be achieved unless the government of Pakistan abandons Pakistan’s constitution and rewrites it to suit the Taliban. And what kind of a constitution would it be: a constitution that practically bans women from the education and other aspects of the public sphere, that further reduces the minorities to the levels of abject silence, and that regularizes only one interpretation of Islam–Hanbaliyya-Wahabi–as the ultimately correct interpretation of Islam. These changes, let us remember, would have to be brought in without a public consensus and without involving the majority of Pakistani people. This implies that Taliban want nothing less than restructuring of the Pakistani national identity and nothing less than this would satisfy them. In return, if their demands are not met, they go on killing innocent Pakistanis as indiscriminately as they have done so far.

There is a certain point beyond which all cosmetic attempts at peace fail and a nation must decide that if the price of peace is to abandon the very nature of the nation, then that is too high a price. So, yes acceptance of the constitution of Pakistan as it exists should be an absolutely necessary point for the negotiations to begin. To participate in this the Taliban must accept the Pakistani law, abandon all murders and killings, and then they should be welcomed at the negotiation table. Anything less than this is not a peace negotiation but a genuflection to the violence that Taliban have perpetuated.

Yes, I know a failure of these negotiations could be catastrophic. But we have seen, for the last ten years, the destruction that these so-called  Muslims can bring about and as a nation, despite our limited resources, we have withstood them and not allowed them  to send us cowering into the kinds of caves that they dwell in. Yes, the losses have been great, the suffering high, but at least, as a nation, we can proudly declare that no amount  of bloodshed by the Taliban and their ilk has forced us to surrender the basic humanity of Pakistan as a modern nation, a nation that can live with differences and does not need to be forced into a violently created straightjacket of a fanatical interpretation of religion.

So, if we must negotiate with the Taliban, and I am doubtful about this, we must first make sure that those who have to fight them–the soldiers, the police, and others–are on board this process, as theirs are the lives that have been affected the most by this ongoing war and they are the ones who will put their lives at risk whenever asked.

Furthermore, the Taliban must first renounce violence, turn in their weapons, and accept the Pakistani constitution as a necessary precondition for peace talks.

If these steps are not met, then the negotiations will fail and even if they succeed, we would have surrendered Pakistan to the destroyers Pakistan. The result would not be a peace but a total surrender of our entire way of life!

By M R

Originally from Pakistan, Dr. Masood Ashraf Raja is an Associate Professor of Postcolonial Literature and Theory and the editor of Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies.
Raja tweets @masoodraja

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