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LOOK NO FURTHER

Pakistan continues to go round in circles so far as the Taliban are concerned. A spate of attacks against military personnel and installations in January had prompted it to launch an unprecedented aerial attack in North Waziristan. That was soon dumped for peace talks with the Taliban. Even before anything concrete could emerge from the talks, the Taliban had beheaded more than a score of kidnapped soldiers. That led to another volley of aerial bombardment of North Waziristan. The air strikes, together with the declaration of a much-hyped national security policy last week, seemed to finally decide Pakistanís future course of action. But there has been a relapse again. The Taliban has declared a month-long ceasefire, and the government has fallen for the bait again. Even the fact that the Talibanís declaration last weekend was followed promptly by a ghastly bomb attack on the district court premises in central Islamabad and the killing of members of a polio vaccination team in Khyber Agency has been unable to deter the Nawaz Sharif government from its objective. Yet, the governmentís security policy clearly delineates that the State reserves the right to a befitting response to any act of violence by the Taliban. Mr Sharifís government refuses to see the contradiction. It readily buys the Talibanís argument that the bomb attack was made by an opponent group. But if there are opponent groups the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan cannot control, will the peace-talks with the TTP end the bloodbath? This is a question that the government does not want to answer, nor do its political opponents such as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Its leader, Imran Khan, refused to get caught up in the mediation efforts on behalf of the TTP despite his show of sympathy for their larger cause.

It is possible that both the government in Pakistan and the TTP are using the talks-violence-talks regimen as a sort of waiting game till the regional picture gets clearer following the drawdown in Afghanistan at the end of this year. They are not the only ones with an eye on the calendar. Afghanistanís unwillingness to sign the bilateral strategic agreement has made the United States of America go back to wooing Pakistan with the promise of millions of dollars in aid in 2015. When another great game begins next year, Pakistan will know exactly how much of American benefaction and Taliban aggression it needs.