Pakistan is, once again, face to face with a major dilemma. Days after the nationís leaders arrived at the firm conclusion that peace talks were the only way to deal with the Pakistan Taliban, the army has thrown a spanner in the works. Two top military officers have been killed by the Taliban in the federally-administered tribal areas, and the mightily miffed army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, has announced that the government should not be kowtowing to the Taliban. The steel in Mr Kayaniís announcement throws an unfavourable light on the civilian government, which seems to be bending over backwards to accommodate the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Unfortunately for Pakistan, it is not the political, but the military, establishment that drives the national policy on the Taliban, resulting in much of the confusion.
It was the armyís plan to preserve many of the al Qaida-affiliated Taliban fighters, who escaped into Pakistanís badlands during the American operation in Afghanistan, as future strategic assets that led to the birth and consolidation of the Pakistan Taliban. Much like the Afghanistan Taliban, they too are in perpetual war with the government, which is regarded as un-Islamic and pro-American. The Pakistan army has burnt its fingers whenever it has strayed too deep into Taliban territory. Taliban backlash, in the form of bombings, assassinations and kidnappings, had been used by the army to discredit a string of civilian governments and to justify its lack of zeal in following counter-terrorism measures that, it feared, would finish off terrorists loyal to it together with the baddies. If the army now finds its men systematically targeted, it should share a significant part of the blame. Also, if the rhetoric against the terrorists has to change ó from mellow criticism to a war cry ó the army itself should take the lead.