By Brig Samson S Sharaf

All Parties Conference (APC) on terrorism is the buzzword keeping the media bumblebee busy churning out half cooked ideas with a lethal mix of disinformation and de-education.  Public, through talk shows is being amused to a miracle round the corner. Commentators representing political parties are fervently competing with the proliferation of vague ideas. The military, busy in its lonely war of fighting the monsters it helped create also has to parry a barrage of volleys from its media. Within this deafening noise, there is also muted criticism of the hasty manner in which political parties reached a broad based consensus on negotiations with militants. Insubstantial discourses and unaddressed blank spaces create enough doubts to term this initiative a false start.

Slaughtering of soldiers on the day that APC was convened followed by the martyrdom of a serving Major General, a Lieutenant Colonel and a soldier indicate that the urgency for dialogue could be a priority of political parties not shared by militants. Notwithstanding what Javed Ibrahim Parachaof Colonel Imam Notoriety claims or what TTP refutes, the interior minister calling the ‘Peace Dialogue at a standstill’ minces no words. So what was the urgency that resulted in proclamation of an APC communiqué in haste when the issue is beyond ‘it takes two to tango’? In this case there are scores.

The ill prepared dialogueinitiative was a rebuttal to the stated mission of the COASto symbolisecivilian supremacy. Without a concrete plan, it has become contentious. The COAS, after the tragedy in Upper Dir has reiterated his position, even if it turns out to be a face-saving hollow. It started whenGeneral Kayani in his annual speech on Martyr’s Day explicitly suggested a consensus based national counter terrorism policy within the Constitutional framework, providing a realistic space for a negotiated settlement. He took ownership of the conflict and set conditions for reconciliation.He appealed to all segments of Pakistan to back the armed forces implying that militants would be persuaded, coerced and defeated with collective national resolve. The APC communiqué does not reinforce this. It only talks of peace with no backup plan.

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Writing in these columns, ‘Whose War’ the scribe had opined, “The final decision to adopt these suggestions (General Kayani) will rest with the future parliament and government. In one scenario, it may be seen as an intrusion of the army in domain of civilian leadership and the resultant resolve to harness the armed forces under civilian control”. It appears that with a fading COAS, the civilian establishment has taken the responsibility to define the higher direction of conflict. Unfortunately, there are no measures to ensure that this new found resolve is backed by concrete action plans.

The government and its allies are wanting in formulating a cohesive National Counter Terrorism Policy. If this situation persists, anarchy will follow. Peshawar High Court through its recent ruling concerning the absence of purposeful legislation and disposal of prisoners etchas served an indictment that the Federal and KPK governments have obligations to fulfil before they begin to withdraw army from the conflict zones; not the usual spanner thrown by the judiciary but a legal requirement to ensure that all loose ends before a contemplated withdrawal are tied. Till such time these constitutional gaps are not covered, the government will be constrained in making a template of objectiveoriented graduated negotiations and concessions. Cognisant of the enormity, the government is looking for expediencies and postponing the logical.

Pakistan cannot have a withdrawal from its own territories just because USA is contemplating one in 2014. Terrorism is not merely linked to US presence in Afghanistan but also to proliferation of militant organisations and sectarian outfits created to meet the ends of short term appeasement policies for military and economic gratifications. This malaise spreads beyond the usual anti US rhetoric to sectarian hate, intolerance, crime and foreign control. As written in ‘Indecision in Conflict’ handling of over 69 militant organisations with more than half with foreign connections will not be easy. The narratives based on divisions within Islam reinforced by geopolitics, traditional Arab-Persian rivalry and historical overhang of competing caliphates and monarchies are being superimposed on Pakistan inasmuch they are in Iraq, Egypt and Syria. While the whole world looks at Pakistan to provide a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan, the government of Pakistan is seeking the intervention of the Saudi King to help facilitate the internal peace initiative. KSA is not the only country that exercises influence over militants in Pakistan. Besides the usual western punching bags, countries like Qatar, Kuwait, Iran, Oman, India and Afghanistan also have their hands full. It cannot get worse.

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There is an urgent requirement to study the profiles of these 69 groups, their organisations, domestic support, foreign linkages, sources of funding and sanctuaries inside/outside Pakistan.This may take months before a working negotiation strategy can be formulated. A half blank template will serve no meaningful purpose till such time its framework and modalities are not legislated and approved by the Parliament. The legal implications of this policy will thenceforth not remain confined to TTP organisations but also similar outfits that perpetuate violence with diverse objectives. If not politically, legal jurisprudence will demand that all organisations and non-state actors are treated even handed.After each amnesty the government’s constitutional obligation to protect the lives of its citizen’s will weigh heavier.

At the same time, the chosen conflict zone seems to be shifting to Karachi, a metropolitan city under siege of terrorists, extortionists, mafias, armed wings of political parties, sectarian killers and criminals of every description. Though these operations are being conducted by civilian LEAs, a time may come when military intervention will be inevitable. Isolating Karachi from the larger context of terrorism will be counterproductive and yield negative results. Would an armistice with TTP also apply to the cities and urban centres of Pakistan and restrain the LEAs from entering No Go Areas. If it does, then the entire Karachi operation will be in a limbo. Come winters in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s urban centres could witness a renewed surge in violence.

It is precisely these reasons that the government is avoiding a counter terrorism policy. It has side stepped the issue by reconstituting the Defence Committee of the Cabinet and convening an APC. This policy will not work, till the direction of conflict management does not flow from the top. The existing arrangement of holding the thread mid-way neither here nor there will lead to nowhere. In the same logic, it will be nowhere to peace.