Posted on Friday, April 18, 2014
in The Friday Times (Editorial)
Predictably, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has ended the ceasefire and castigated the PMLN government for stalling and sabotaging the peace talks. Predictably too, the Musharraf trial is getting increasingly enmeshed in legal and political complexities that are stoking civil-military tensions. Both issues should have been diffused earlier. Now they are threatening to blow up in the face of the government if the TTP renews its terrorist attacks across the country and/or the military makes another public gesture in the Musharraf case that pits it against the government.
The TTP is being true to form. It is not budging from its demands that hundreds of Taliban prisoners should be freed unilaterally and a “free zone” (no Pakistani military presence or state writ) in Waziristan should be created for the TTP’s base area. It has dismissed the government’s gesture of releasing some non-combatant prisoners as meaningless. Instead, it has charged the government and military with continued targeted strikes against its affiliates in which it claims over 50 Taliban have been killed. The TTP Peace Committee is now alleging that there is a deadlock that could precipitate renewed hostilities. But the government insists it is still in control of the peace agenda that will not be derailed.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani military establishment has given an ultimatum to the Afghan Taliban in Waziristan to lean on the TTP and compel it to stop waging war against Pakistan, or sever its links (financial help and safe havens in Afghanistan) with the TTP and assist the military in putting it down. This is an unprecedented development. It indicates that the military has finally woken up to the fact that its quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan on the back of “friendly” Afghan Taliban “assets” hosted by Pakistan is actually foundering on the rock of the most serious existential threat to the internal security of Pakistan posed by the TTP. The implied counter-threat is that if the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Umar and the Haqqani network don’t stop aiding and abetting the TTP, the military will have no option but to indiscriminately target all Taliban in Waziristan regardless of origin or national, political or ideological orientation.
This extraordinary ultimatum is accompanied by the outbreak of armed conflict between two powerful sections of the Mehsud Taliban, one of which is in favour of turning its guns against the enemy in Afghanistan (this suits the military) while the other is still bent upon attacking the enemy (the military) in Pakistan. This development has weakened the TTP and paved the way for the military to get the upper hand if and when it chooses to strike and degrade the TTP.
Since all this must be evident to the TTP, we may expect a fresh round of violent attacks against Pakistan soon. This would be a knee-jerk reaction borne out of both frustration and desperation to keep the initiative in TTP hands. By the same token, however, the government would be advised to coordinate with the military and take the challenge head-on instead of caving in and making concessions.
The government also needs to reassess its “Musharraf strategy” based on getting the courts to let Musharraf leave the country instead of squarely taking the responsibility itself. As matters now stand, it transpires that the FIA has an inquiry report that partly corroborates the stand of Musharraf’s lawyers that a clutch of important government, military and political functionaries of the time were equally involved and culpable in the fateful decision that led to the proclamation of Emergency on November 3, 2007. It is reported that a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz took place on the morning of November 3 that sanctioned the Emergency imposed in the evening. Among the cabinet members of the time was Zahid Hamid who is now a core member of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s team. Understandably, the prosecutor, Akram Sheikh, is objecting to the inclusion of this FIA report in the proceedings just as vociferously as Musharraf’s lawyers are demanding the opposite. If the court listens to the prosecutor, its credibility and fairness will be further eroded when the report is inevitably leaked to the media. But if the court listens to the defence, the government will be hugely embarrassed, Musharraf’s case (that he alone is not the alleged culprit) will get a fillip, and civil-military tensions will rise because the military as an institution will be targeted.
Former President Asif Zardari’s recent meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been billed as some sort of mutual insurance policy against military intervention. But there are two ways Mr Sharif can review the meeting, depending on the sort of private advice he received from the former President. Mr Zardari’s public stance is: “Don’t let the Billa get away!” But in practice he personally guaranteed the Billa’s exit in 2008 in order to become President himself and in the course of the next five years molly coddled the military in order to complete his term.