One would think that it couldn’t get any worse for a country overwhelmed by unprecedented political polarisation and economic collapse while also facing the fallout of the worst floods in many centuries.

Yet it is for this one.

Because it’s now pretty clear that the only thing the military’s peace talks with a resurgent TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) really achieved was giving the terrorist outfit a window to regroup and re-emerge in areas – including the former tribal belt as well as more settled parts of KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) – from where it had to be driven out forcefully about a decade ago.

And that too after it had taken more than 80,000 innocent Pakistani lives, culminating in the darkest day in the country’s history when terrorists sneaked into the Army Public School in Peshawar, killed more than a hundred little children, and then had the audacity to drape it in religious symbolism as a legitimate part of TTP’s so-called jihad to enforce sharia rule in Pakistan.

The time when the deep state first started cozying up to jihadi outfits, and the people that questioned this strategy, are both long gone. Years later, a lot of concerned quarters also objected to the ‘good Taliban, bad Taliban’ storyline, but most of them have disappeared since then as well.

And this time, when a re-established Taliban regime in Afghanistan literally arm-twisted the Pakistani state into engaging in peace talks with TTP, going back on its word to sort them out once Pakistan helped end the American occupation of their country, the outcry from shocked onlookers, especially those that lost limbs and loved ones to TTP’s orgy of death and destruction, was once again muted in the local press.

To this day, nobody has explained why it was suddenly necessary to send Jirga after Jirga to Afghanistan and release hardened cut-throats, proven enemies of the state and its people, to appease a group that only negotiates in the language of terror.

It’s also still largely a mystery – though not really so – why nobody outside the military was ever consulted about these talks, except perhaps the Afghan Taliban, and why only groups representing the religious right were sent to talk to them. And even when the country’s limp, ineffective parliament made a little noise about it, all it got was the promise of periodic updates about the progress; not any part whatsoever in the process.

Questions like why the talks persisted and prisoners were released despite TTP’s unacceptable core demands of reversing the Fata-KP merger and handing South Waziristan over to it will never be answered, of course.

But what about other urgent issues; like the state’s new posture being allegedly exploited by outfits like Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) to round up scattered Lashkar-e-Jhangvi foot soldiers and re-ignite its own little sectarian war in Pakistan? People who put friends and family members in early graves have not forgotten the pain and suffering this madness caused them, nor forgiven those that allowed it, even if their sympathisers have largely been silenced over time. So, who does it benefit if we sleepwalk into the same nightmare all over again? It says a lot that there has been zero debate about this inside Pakistan while prominent foreign outlets, like the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, are openly discussing it.

It’s no good looking to the political elite for answers. The only military matter they are concerned about, and the press is obsessed with, is a senseless argument about the army chief’s possible extension. First, it turns out, PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) went for the kill in April, despite considerable internal division about the no-confidence motion, to deprive PTI (Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf) of the opportunity to choose a leading general known to favour Imran Khan.

And now Imran Khan has no qualms about tossing everything into the fire just so PDM doesn’t get to make the decision in November. Even though everybody in the game, from the Sharifs to Bhutto-Zardaris to Imran Khan himself, knows very well that, when push comes to shove, the military favours the military. Period!

And so things like militants waltzing over the Durand Line and picking off security personnel and warlords opposed to them have had to be pushed down the priority list. So has the fact that the Afghan government recently complained that Islamabad was looking to use TTP movement as an excuse to erect security barriers on the border, warned that it would allow no such thing, and even threatened to “take necessary action”. Yet not a whimper out of Islamabad.

Where does all this leave the regular citizens of this country, first devastated by Covid, then by hyper-inflation and unemployment, then by the worst flooding in the world, and now left at the mercy of terrorists that made this the most unsafe country in the world even when ugly civil wars played out in Iraq, Syria and Libya? Caught between these facts and the grim reality of parasitic, self-centred political representatives, they don’t really have to look very far for their true tormentors.

In the immortal words of Walt Kelly’s iconic comic strip character Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022


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