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Has the final show begun?


With Imran Khan and TTP leadership discredited, the situation looks ripe for the Pakistan military to strike hard against Taliban, says Saurabh Kumar Shahi
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: March 9, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Pakistan Military | Taliban Khan | Asmatullah Shaheen |

Had it not been for his advertent stupidity, one would have expressed some sympathy for Imran Khan. After all, the sorry figure that he cuts these days is rather unprecedented even by his own standards. But what he is not cutting is the banalities that he dishes out every now and then. No wonder that he has become an agony aunt no one wants to listen to.

It was not always like this. Imran was riding on some sort of a wave during the last general elections and did manage to win a fair number of seats for an upstart. Yes, I call him an upstart because it was the first real elections where he made a serious attempt towards political relevance. However, things only deteriorated from there on, and fast.

Not only did his party lose the coveted Peshawar by-elections after he vacated his seat, it also lost other by-elections. And then his tsunami hit the Nawaz barrier. In fact, in years to come, it would be made mandatory for the political science students in Pakistan to study how Nawaz neutralized Imran Khan.

By announcing peace dialogue with TTP, Nawaz was always aware that this would not go anywhere. Or to put it in perspective, anybody who knew anything about Taliban knew this. Imran Khan was the only mainstream politician who really believed in Taliban’s appetite for peace negotiations. So when Nawaz asked TTP to announce their negotiation team, he knew that Imran’s name would come up. And that is exactly what happened. “Taliban Khan” sobriquet apart, no one had actually expected TTP to name Imran as its negotiator, and hence apologist as an extension.

And while Nawaz was at it, he was also sure that TTP will definitely do something to derail it. And that is what they did. When 23 soldiers were summarily executed, a huge section of the population saw the hole through Imran’s version of Cinderella tale. In one masterstroke, not only did Nawaz discredited Imran he also undermined his base in Punjab.

The operation in the Tribal Areas appears imminent now. In fact some surgical strikes were done by the Pakistan Air Force. Fighter jets hit the targets in North Waziristan early last week after authorization from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

“The prime minister wants to resolve these issues without bloodshed but if the Taliban continues killing people then we will be left with no choice but to keep our citizens safe from terrorism through any means possible,” PM’s spokesman, Pervez Rashid, declared in a TV address.

Similar strikes were also done in Mir Ali, Shawal and Datta Khel districts in North Waziristan. In between Taliban Commander Asmatullah Shaheen was shot dead late last week in an ambush in Miranshah district in North Waziristan. While it was not clear who killed him, experts suggest that it was part of an operation conducted by one of the intelligence agencies that keep its assets in the area. However, it is highly unlikely that the agency involved will accept its culpability, and it would be suggested that the assassination was part of the infighting among different factions of Taliban.

“This is really an effort by the government to tell [the Pakistani Taliban] if you are really serious about talking you cannot go on attacking targets. They are sending a signal that just because we offered talks does not mean we are going to take it lying down when you kill 23 of our soldiers,” maintains political commentator and journalist Ejaz Haider.

There however appears to be some tension between the military and civilian leadership at this point. In spite of all the gung-ho, Nawaz’s is a right-wing party and one of its election planks had been a broad based dialogue with Taliban. Pakistan Armed Forces, on the other hand, for some time now, have been desperate to go after Taliban targets in order to either neutralize them or at least put their logistics backward enough to thwart further operations by them. However, after much dithering, Nawaz Sharif gave the orders to hit hard. What remains to be seen is if this operation was one off or has Pakistan Armed Forces planned for the long-haul.
However, the biggest obstacle is to convince a section of Pakistani population that TTP is its enemy. “If the Taliban do not want peace short of capturing the state, not physically but in a social-psychological sense, and if for doing that they need to buy more time, then it is safe to argue that they would like the process to stay in limbo - continue talking peace while raising technicalities and when need be accusing the state of bad faith. This could be interspersed with some acts of terrorism which they do not necessarily have to own. It is always easy to raise the spectre of someone trying to sabotage talks. Pakistanis are suckers for all kinds of conspiracies,” adds Haider.

On the other hand, MQM, a long time opponent of Taliban, has once again come out in support of the army action with a mammoth rally in Karachi. The sheer numbers in which people participated in this rally was enough to convey that a huge section of population knows what is good for the nation and is willing to sacrifice.

Among others, the rally was addressed by religious and community leaders of all hues, including Allama Abbas Kumeli, Maulana Tanveerul Haq Thanvi, and the Bishop of Karachi, Sadiq Deniel; along with political party members including PPP’s Najmi Alam, PML-N’s Nehal Hashmi and APML’s Asia Isaque. The rally was a huge shot in the arms for the military that was looking for legitimacy before the final showdown.

The situation in Pakistan is ripe for such action. Imran Khan and religious leadership has been exposed and partly sidelined. It will be months if not years before they gain the same legitimacy again, if at all they gain that. The situation for operation is perfect. This is one chance Pakistan will not want to squander. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017