Pakistan’s handling of the Taliban is getting ‘curiouser and curiouser’. In spite of a series of bombings last year that killed hundreds of civilians, particularly Shias, the Nawaz Sharif government had stuck to its decision of promoting talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. It took a spate of attacks against predominantly military targets to make it veer from this avowed objective. But within a matter of days, the government seemed to have firmed up its resolve to hit back — the flying sorties into North Waziristan were proof of that. However, the North Waziristan venture stopped as startlingly as it had begun. The moment the TTP held out an olive branch, something it has done innumerable times before, the government grabbed it on the plea that talks were the only way to prevent more violence. That is sound logic and all the more reason why the government should have followed the talks with all the “sincerity and seriousness” that the prime minister promised it would. But the day the talks were to begin, the government party, mandated after an agonizing hunt for the right men, gave the event a miss. The apparent reason is the confusion in the Taliban ranks — three of the men the TTP had wanted to speak up for them, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief, Imran Khan, being one, had refused to do so. As a result, the TTP had only three men instead of five. A government desperate to end bloodshed should have gone ahead anyway. But here again, the government ensured that the only policy it had cited as the way forward did not take off at all when its men did not turn up at the meeting. TTP leaders have now set their own conditions for talks that are as irreconcilable as the others on their list. They want the government to implement sharia law in the country and the foreign forces to leave Afghanistan completely before any worthwhile talks can be held.
The Taliban’s linking of the future course of Pakistan to the drawdown in Afghanistan might be sudden, but it is not something the Sharif government may entirely disagree with. Whether the Afghanistan Taliban manages to get a share in the political pie will determine how much peace Pakistan can have. If reconciliation is easy in Afghanistan, and Pakistan manages to retain its strategic depth, it will be easy for it to determine who are the men it can dispense with finally and whether guns should do the talking.