The government’s policy of appeasing the Taliban is not a tactical retreat. According to its critics, it demonstrates an inherent fear.
“The people of my generation are fed up with this ostrich politics. We cannot talk to those animals,” says People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. He told me he was frustrated at how the government had surrendered before the terrorists, in the name of negotiations. Bilawal’s party was among the signatories to a decision made in a government-sponsored All-Parties Conference to talk to the Taliban, referred to as “our own people”.
Speaking to a charged crowed on the death anniversary of his mother on December 27, Bilawal set several conditions for the Taliban if there really wanted negotiations. He asked them to lay down arms, accept the authority of the constitution of Pakistan, and compensate for the thousands of people they killed in their unholy war. Days later, the Taliban killed Chaudhry Aslam, who Bilawal called “my own SP”.
The outgoing federal government led by the People’s Party took credit for a successful military operation in Swat that flushed militants out of the valley. But it failed to build on that success for a number of reasons.
The anti-Taliban tweets of young Bilawal, who lives under an extraordinary security cover, are making his party’s leaders uncomfortable.
Veteran party leaders who matter have not understood his message. Only recently, National Assembly opposition leader Khurshid Shah criticized the government for failing to bring the Taliban to the negotiations table, or deciding to crush them with force.
But this ambiguity in policy does not make Nawaz Sharif any safer from Taliban threats. Recently, the ISI sent an intelligence report to the prime minister warning him of serious threats to him and his family. He was asked to enhance the security of his family, and was also advised to avoid public meetings.
The Taliban have set new targets for themselves, says journalist Hamid Mir. They plan to target every important member of the Nawaz Sharif cabinet, he says. The recent assassination attempt on Amir Muqam from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, an advisor to the prime minister, was part of that plan.
The attack also indicates that the Taliban no longer have a soft corner for the PML-N, known for its pro-dialogue stance. The policy of appeasement has failed, and it seems that a change at the federal level is in the offing.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was silent after the assassination of Chaudhry Aslam. There was no word from him after the young Aitzaz Hassan of Hangu sacrificed his life to stop a suicide attacker from killing hundreds of his schoolmates and teachers.
Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif paid tribute to both the martyrs and vowed to take the fight against militancy to a logical end. That is probably what prompted Chaudhry Nisar to break his silence. He said the government would not tolerate anyone taking undue advantage of the peace offer, and would not talk to the militants who continue to use violence as a means of communication.
Whatever the government decides on, one thing is clear: it is running out of time.
Shahzad Raza is a journalist based in Islamabad. Follow him on Twitter @shahzadrez