Hans Morgenthau, the doyen of classical Realism, once told his students that “appeasement is a legitimate strategy in dealing with autonomist movements; give them their own self-government within the established state, but the worst possible strategy when dealing with those who are bent on taking it over.”
These lines were written to me in 2013 by the late Stephen Cohen, who was one of Morgenthau’s students. The parallel, according to Morgenthau, was with territorial aggressors: if their ambition is limited, then a border adjustment is possible (medieval European wars are a good example of that). But they may also have an insatiable appetite, in which case appeasement is a disaster (the appeasement of Hitler is a case in point).
In other words, when a state (and society) is confronted with a challenge, its responses must be guided by an assessment of the nature of the threat. Appeasement in this sense is a calculated strategy, not an act of cowering. Ditto for use of force. It must be calibrated according to the threat and executed boldly and in a manner that helps the state neutralise the threat. If appeasement is about jaw-jawing and force about warring, many a situation would see jaw-jaw and war-war as complementary, not contradictory strategies.
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Saad Rizvi is out, released by the Punjab government on the eve of the first death anniversary of his father Khadim Hussain Rizvi. Rizvi’s release was on the cards after the federal and Punjab governments capitulated before the group last month. As I wrote on November 4 in this space, “the government has agreed to retract on its decision to proscribe the TLP, allow the group to contest elections, remove its activists from the Fourth Schedule and release its imprisoned activists.” Rizvi’s release, of course, was top of the agenda.
Meanwhile, as indicated by Prime Minister Imran Khan in an interview last month, the government talking to the terrorist conglomerate which brands itself Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Pakistan had approached the Afghan Taliban and asked them to take action against the group as per their commitment that they would not allow Afghanistan’s soil to be used by any group against a state. More information since then suggests that the Haqqani group within the Afghan Taliban is acting as the facilitator and some Pakistani officials are negotiating with Noor Wali Mehsud, chief of the reorganised TTP. The TTP in a recent statement has confirmed the talks, as also a monthlong ceasefire. Mehsud, in an August interview with CNN, stated clearly that his group will continue its “war against Pakistan’s security forces” and its goal is to “take control of the border regions and make them independent.”
Two excellent recent articles need mention before I proceed further. One by Ali Ahsan, a lawyer by training who worked at the United Nations with Secretaries-General Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon, grieved that “We are a nation adrift, reserving kid gloves for the mob and unrestrained violence for peaceful protest.” Ahsan reminded the readers that “History would tell us [that] appeasement only feeds the appetite of aggressors, but when were we ever students of the past? And so, by refusing to learn from it, we seem doomed to repeat it.”
The other article, “Weak Wills”, by Asad Rahim Khan, a young lawyer and television host, reminded us that “‘Talks’ imply parity; the TTP should be asked to surrender, with no forgiveness for leaders or spokespersons. As each ceasefire has proven already, it’s the only tone they understand.”
Both articles are cris de coeur; both ask the state to shun appeasement of extremist elements and establish its writ. Ahsan compared the weak-willed Chamberlain with “Churchillian steel” and asked Pakistan’s leaders to emulate the clarity of Britain’s leader. Khan (not the PM but our brilliant lawyer) signed off by saying that “Having come so far, this country cannot be allowed to turn around and go backwards. APS Peshawar changed Pakistan. But it must stay changed.”
My own position, as laid out above and in several articles over two decades, is wedded to a simple proposition: a state must know when to fight and when to talk; in many instances, it will both fight and talk. But it must never talk from a position of weakness because that is capitulation.
Second, while there are similarities in the violence that informs actions by the TLP and the TTP, as also the fact that both propound extremist ideologies, there are important differences that must guide the approaches in dealing with them. An important difference, as I noted in a previous article, is that TLP is a peri-urban group that draws on the issue of the Prophet’s (PBUH) honour. The two prerequisites for use of force, the ability to isolate the group and get a public buy-in for use of force, remain unmet thus far. TTP, on the other hand, draws most of its cadres from the periphery and its 15-year-long history of brutal violence has no buyers in the larger Pakistani society. The operations conducted against it met both the preconditions for use of force.
Third, the current Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has a long history of conflating the TTP with the Afghan Taliban despite the fact that the latter were fighting against foreign occupation forces within the context of ham-fisted US-led counterterrorism operations in rural Afghanistan while the former were killing Pakistani soldiers and civilians, including innocent children. Khan’s thinking in this regard does not evoke confidence.
Four, in both the cases, TLP and TTP, government officials have previously claimed their linkages with Indian intelligence. In both cases, the government seems now to ignore those linkages. If there are indeed such linkages, it strains credulity to believe that their cadres would suddenly become patriotic Pakistanis. At least in the case of the TTP, the government needs to inform other political stakeholders whether the talks include elements with such linkages as also those who had committed the APS atrocity.
Five, while the two preconditions for use of violence against the TLP might not be available to the government at this point, it cannot rest easy by considering the current arrangement as a lasting one. It should heed the advice of its own Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who might be malleable about changing political loyalties but is on the dot in identifying the problem. The TLP has tasted blood and it will return for more. The government will have no option but to formulate a strategy to deal with the group in the medium- to long-term. There are ways of doing that which one doesn’t necessarily need to put out in public.
Finally, while talks must never be denounced outright, given the PM’s proclivity towards considering such elements as misguided to be brought back in the fold, the current secret process does not inspire much confidence. The TTP’s statement with reference to the ceasefire also seems to indicate that it considers itself an equal partner in these talks. That is the worst starting point when dealing with a terrorist group that has on its hands the blood of nearly 70,000 Pakistanis.