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The cost of peace talks

  Published June 12, 2022


EVEN if the government signs a peace accord with the banned TTP, it will provide only temporary or partial respite [مہلت] to the security institutions. For the latter, which have been fighting the terrorist group for the last one-and-a-half decade, making peace with the TTP may be linked to securing the border and accelerating the mainstreaming of former Fata, but any deal with the group will have implications for the whole country. 

Talking with the TTP is not a popular idea among most experts, politicians, civil society activists, law-enforcement practitioners, and military commanders who fought against the group. Many assert that the state must not negotiate anything less than the surrender of the terrorists; the security institutions believe that the group is already defeated. The assumption that peace with the TTP will bring stability to the tribal region and help manage the borders with Afghanistan is also contested. For one, many disgruntled[ناراض] members and factions within the TTP could splinter [الگ ہونا]to either form one or more new groups or join the Islamic State’s Khorasan chapter (IS-K), which has already intensified its terrorist attacks inside Pakistan.

Editorial: More transparency is needed on part of the state regarding peace talks with the TTP

The institutions may have other geopolitical objectives, which have been narrated several times on these pages, including curtailing the TTP’s ties with the intelligence agencies of hostile countries. Still, many observers believe that any agreement with the TTP will ultimately strengthen the Haqqanis in the turf war[bitter fight for territorial control] within Afghan Taliban ranks. If this is the case, it is not clear how the Haqqanis can protect the interests of Pakistan. The TTP has always had a very cordial relationship with the Haqqanis and the latter will never opt to act against it. A recent statement by the Afghan interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani validates that argument; he not only acknowledged the ‘sacrifices’ made by the TTP for the Afghan Taliban but also insisted that they would not pressurise the TTP in the ongoing talks between the group and the Pakistani government. He categorically said that any solution should be based on mutual understanding and the principle of give and take. 

The issue of talks with the TTP must be brought into the mainstream discussion.

In that context, the pursuit of making peace with the TTP looks like an illusionary [خیالی]idea. Significantly, the reversal of the Fata merger is critical, and TTP is not ready to compromise on this particular demand; in a recent statement, it has categorically said that the group would not accept any compromise on the pre-merger, ‘independent’ status of ex-Fata. The statement said that “if the Pakistan government and its security agencies want peace, they would have to restore its previous status”. 

Also read: PPP decides to take issue of talks with TTP to parliament

The TTP’s other demands, including the enforcement of the Sharia in Malakand and its extension to the tribal districts, is apparently acceptable for the Pakistani state. Though the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation, 2009, is still operational in Malakand division, the negotiators’ apparent proclivity [رجحان یا میلان] for accepting the demand reflects that the existence of parallel administrative structures does not bother them much. The state institutions engaged in talks are seemingly also not concerned about the legal, political and social consequences of accepting the TTP’s demands, which could later trigger more complex conflicts. This is the same mindset that did not deem it important to bring the issue to parliament; even the government has little clue about the peace process with the terrorists. Interestingly, the security institutions had demanded parliament’s support before launching the operations against the terrorists in Swat, Khyber and Waziristan, and parliament had extended its full support to the country’s armed forces. 

However, the security institutions have engaged the tribal jirgas to give legitimacy to the peace process with the terrorists. One tribal jirga, or committee as the TTP called it in its media statement, comprised 32 Mehsud tribesmen, and the other jirga comprised 16 tribesmen representing different tribes from Malakand. Both jirgas met the TTP on May 13 and 14 in Afghanistan. Later, the media reported that a 57-member jirga comprising sitting and former parliamentarians and elders from the erstwhile tribal region had left for Kabul on June 1 for talks with the banned TTP. The KP government is represented in the jirga by Special Assistant to the Chief Minister on Information Barrister Mohammad Ali Saif. However, the talks are still stuck on the core demands of reversal of the Fata merger, renaming the TTP, and withdrawing Pakistani forces from the tribal districts. What the state of Pakistan has achieved so far is the TTP’s pledge [وعدہ] to continue the ceasefire and talks without any cut-off date. 

The ceasefire has resulted in a decline in terrorist attacks. The TTP has not claimed responsibility for any terrorist attack over the last few weeks, but the Gul Bahadar group has intensified terrorist attacks against the security forces during the ceasefire. The group is believed to have been involved in at least six terrorist attacks since the announcement of the ceasefire, which clearly indicates the displeasure of the Gul Bahadar group with the peace talks. The group thinks that the state must negotiate with them, as they have more presence on the ground in Waziristan and believe they can counter the TTP if allowed. 

This is a delicate situation. If rising sub-nationalist tendencies in the tribal districts are brought into the picture, the case becomes more complex; it cannot be handled by jirgas alone, without any mandate or broader legitimacy or security institutions. The issue must be brought into the mainstream discussion in the media, parliament and other policy forums. An annual report of the UNSC-led 1988 Taliban sanctions committee monitoring team said the banned TTP had up to 4,000 fighters based in east and southeast areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and made up the largest group of foreign fighters based there. The number of TTP members will increase manifold if it wins a deal with Pakistan. 

Pakistan’s biggest counterterrorism achievement during the last two decades has been the elimination of terrorist networks from its soil and disconnecting them from their support bases. The support was present in mainstream media, thousands of madressahs across the country, religious groups, and policymaking circles. Peace with the TTP will erode the successes against a group responsible for thousands of deaths, enormous financial losses, a negative international image, and diplomatic crises. 

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2022

Meaningless power games

  Published June 12, 2022

THE budget for the next financial year was always going to represent a near-impossible balancing act and that is what it looks like but, given the rising global energy and food prices triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the rather short tenure of the government, there was no other option.

The ‘priority’ of each government over the years was to live beyond one’s means, borrow and spend, and as the direct tax base remained pretty much constant, disaster was always looming, with mounting debts/debt-servicing, as well as defence needs.

Of course, an already critical situation was exacerbated by the utterly mindless, unfunded fuel subsidy announced in February of this year as the government then was reportedly informed by intelligence that a vote of no-confidence may be in the pipeline, threatening its rather smug existence.

This fuel price subsidy or cut coincided with the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February. Already high oil prices shot through barriers not touched for nearly a decade and a half. In a ‘battle for survival’ mode, the government persisted with the subsidy in a seemingly insane gamble. 

This budget and the next 12 months will be like treading a minefield

Although Imran Khan and his party continue to protest over their ouster from office, citing all kinds of bizarre, implausible [غیر منتقی اور ناقابلِ فہم] regime change conspiracy theories, they should actually be pleased that they have not had to shoulder the blame for the spiralling [جکڑ دینے والی] inflation.

Their economic team members cite the six per cent growth rate as a huge success story in their last financial year in office, without mentioning the burgeoning [تیزی سے بڑھنے والا] current account deficit and the rising unemployment rates during the same period. All this while the value of the rupee was also sliding. 

The present government may have removed the subsidy and also talked about the planned resource generation from energy levies, ie on fuel and gas in an attempt to restart the suspended IMF programme so the plummeting [تیزی سے نیچے آتے ہوئے] foreign exchange reserves can be bolstered [تقویت دینا], along with other economic stabilisation measures. But the rising fuel and food prices which continue to be northbound due to the ongoing war in Ukraine will obviously put immense inflationary pressures on economies such as Pakistan’s. The whole world is seeing inflation unprecedented in recent memory.

One difference. The developed world in particular does not have the multitudes that live in a precarious [خطرے سے دوچار۔۔ نازک ] state on either side of the poverty line. The slightest rise in inflation for millions in our country translates into having to go to bed hungry.

I know even urban middle-class people, including journalists, making well under six figures a month, who have already had to take their children out of schools they feel provided a reasonable quality of education and move them to those costing less. Some have even mentioned having to move to cheaper accommodation. This, when most work more than one job.

The government has announced a Rs2,000 a month extra cash transfer to those earning less than Rs40,000 a month. At that salary level that is a mere five per cent when inflation is running in multiples of that percentage.

To be honest, I don’t think the government has gone far enough in making the very rich contribute their fair share to the economic stabilisation programme but I am also mindful of two facts: it did not storm into power in a revolution and its own majority in parliament is wafer-thin.

That said, it should also be aware that it has to face the electorate in a maximum of 14 to 15 months and that the shirtless who have suffered a crisis in terms of feeding their families even the basic ‘daal-roti’ will not have the patience to hear long, complicated and nuanced [حساسیت سے  فرق سمجھانا] explanations of who was responsible. They are most likely to see who is in the saddle and pull them down.

This budget and the next 12 months will be like treading a minefield. It is not a secret that a significant part of the PML-N leadership, namely Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, was in favour of heading straight back to the electorate after toppling the PTI-led government, following parliamentary approval of the necessary electoral reforms.

They could see the minefield and hence were keen not to return to power for a short stint and take the blame for what they saw as the PTI’s follies. Shehbaz Sharif’s critics would say his dream of becoming prime minister came true and, therefore, he wasn’t going to leave office so quickly, regardless of the risks in staying on. 

The truth would be somewhere in between. And the reason is the ugly reality of our country. Let me explain what I mean. After his ouster, Imran Khan has insisted that fresh elections are held by October. Why October? Because it precedes November.

There is no mystery about the change due in November in the most powerful institution in the country. Whatever role the Constitution assigns the military, who does not know the actual might its punch packs. Hence, every politician rather foolishly tries to gain some semblance [،  بناوٹی سا، واہمہ] of control over it via the appointment of its chief.

I say foolishly because, in the end, any army chief represents the interests of his institution. Even the smartest of salutes reminiscent [جو یاد دہانی کروا دے] of the one taught decades earlier at the military academy to the civilian leader appointing him soon fades into a rather distant memory. 

Institutional interests, and lesser elements such as ego, come into play and the relationship is redefined. In this environment, even an election on its own won’t lead to the change every Pakistani hankers after [خواہش کرنا]. Only faces and the personal dynamics of players change. All else remains as it is.

This realisation fills me with despair for the millions of Pakistanis who work as hard as anybody but are unable to feed, clothe and educate their children and have any aspiration beyond wondering where and how the next meal comes from. 

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2022

Dynastic politics

  Published June 12, 2022 

OF the two families that have ruled Pakistan since the last 50 years, which have seen two interludes [کسی وقفے کے درمیان کی کاروائی] by military strongmen, the Bhuttos have been around since 1971 (51 years) while the Sharif family has held sway since 1981 (41 years). Nawaz Sharif was selected and groomed by military dictator Gen Zia to counter the Bhutto family. Over the years, their political ‘maturity’ has led them to shed their traditional animosity and join hands to decimate [ختم کرنا] the third force rearing its head to challenge their dominance.

Dynastic rule is not unusual in the world. If we look around our own region, the Nehrus ruled India for several decades post partition until Modi came to power in 2014. Jawaharlal Nehru was premier for nearly 17 years; his daughter Indira Gandhi was PM for a total of nearly 16 years. Manmohan Singh as a Nehru proxy was prime minister for 10 years and Rajiv Gandhi for another five. Thus the Nehrus dominated politics in India for 47 out of 67 years after independence until Modi came along in 2014. The family is down but not out.

In the Philippines too, there have been a number of political dynasties, the more famous them being the Aquino and Marcos families. Ferdinand Marcos was president for 21 years and was ignominiously ousted [ذلت کے ساتھ نکالا گیا]on allegations of corruption against him and his wife. But the public has forgotten that, electing his son as president this year while his daughter is also prominent in politics.

Benigno Aquino Jr was a leading figure in the opposition against the Marcos regime. When he was assassinated, the sympathy vote led to his wife Corazon Aquino becoming president. Several years later, her son Benigno Aquino also served as president.

Hereditary politics is common in South Asia.

Sri Lanka is a classic example. For the past two decades, Mahinda Rajapaksa has loomed large, first as president for a decade between 2005 and 2015 and then as PM. Up until recently, one Rajapaksa brother was president, another prime minister, a third defence minister and another finance minister. After the recent crisis, the president dropped his PM brother, followed by another, but the family’s grip continues.

Earlier, the Bandaranaike family held sway in Sri Lanka. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was PM from 1956 to 1959. After his assassination, his wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike was PM three times intermittently [وقفے وقفے سے] from 1960 to 2000. In 1994, their daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga became president and remained so for 11 years. From 1994 to 2000, mother and daughter Chandrika were concurrently PM and president, respectively.

The phenomenon of political dynasties, defined as a family with multiple members involved in politics, is not restricted to South Asia but can be found all over the world. A study published in the Historical Social Research journal examined 1,029 political executives, ie presidents/prime ministers, in sub-Sahara, Asia, Europe, North America and Latin America between 2000 and 2017 and found that 12 per cent of all world leaders belonged to a political family.

Hereditary politics, then, obviously confers an advantage. Imran Khan has been shouting himself hoarse  [چیخ چیخ کر گلا بٹھا لینا] about the scourge  [نحوست] of political dynasties. Indicated by the crowds he pulls, he has obvious support amongst the populace.

Much can be said about the dictatorial style of democracy practised by the two political families, although some feel the country has been managed in the last 50 years by only three individuals, ie Nawaz Sharif, Benazir/ Zardari and whoever is the army chief, with Imran Khan being the recent entrant on the scene.

But does Imran have a permanent place to add another dimension to this troika? Perhaps not. He has no family to carry on his mission. His party is not organised and has no rules-based system of advancement within. Genuine elections have never been held because Imran did not have the courage to face the initial shocks within the party that will obviously happen when vested interests, who are not popular in the party, are dislodged by elected office-bearers.

Imran has espoused [اپنانا] clean principles of Western democracy and often talked about Riyasat-i-Madina but never seriously attempted to introduce democracy within the PTI to make it a different party from the other two dynastic parties he so dislikes.

In a best-case scenario, Imran may rule the country for the next 10 years. But without him, there is no PTI. But there are among the Sharifs and the Zardaris, family members in their 30s and 40s who can afford to wait him out and, based on the above analysis of the advantage of dynastic politics, come back to power without any PTI to challenge them.

Imran’s 26-year struggle will come to naught if there is no permanent change in the political ethos [سماجی اخلاقیات ۔۔۔ کسی قوم یا معاشرتی نظام کے مخصوص جذباتی رویّوں کا مطالعہ] The only option for him to see the fruits of his struggle and leave behind a legacy which outlives him is to make PTI rule-based, with grassroots democracy within the party. 

The writer is a former civil servant.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2022

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