In the past few weeks, Pakistan has witnessed a series of utmost provocations by the Taliban. Top military officials have been killed and government employees on their way home from work have been bombed. Most remarkable has been the suicide bombings in a Peshawar church, one of the oldest in Pakistan, that have left close to a hundred dead. Quite obviously, the State agencies as well as the country’s minorities remain the targets of Taliban hatred. What is most significant is that instead of ending the blood-letting, the government’s call for a peace deal with the Taliban appears to have served as a red rag to them. The Pakistan army, after the killing of two of its top officials, has warned the government against capitulating to the Taliban demands of ceasefire and release of prisoners. The Nawaz Sharif government, which had initially decided to talk without preconditions, too, has firmed up its resolve following the church attack. During his visit to New York for the United Nations general assembly meet, the Pakistan prime minister stated that the Taliban had to lay down arms and agree to honour the country’s constitution before talks could proceed. The situation was veering towards a paralysis before a group of clerics got together to break the logjam by asking both the government and the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire. Last heard, the Taliban had welcomed the move but they still want the State forces to stop shooting before they followed suit.
It goes without saying that the Taliban are calling the shots in Pakistan. The problem is that the Taliban are not a coherent whole. While one group may want to talk peace, there are invariably others to make sure that it does not. The rise in violence is perhaps a result of this tussle for control. Unfortunately, that leaves the people of Pakistan nowhere. Their political leaders are more eager to pander to the extremists’ sentiments than theirs. Take the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief, Imran Khan, who believes that the Taliban should have an office in the country for negotiations. Neither he nor the ruling party realizes that by bending over backwards to accommodate supra-State elements, they are not only compromising an elected government but also the lives of the people, particularly the religious minorities who have no one to speak up for them in a country that treats them as lesser beings.