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Dialogue: The best of difficult options

Imran Khan

LONDON: In this file photograph, Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan gestures during a press conference at the Foreign Press Association on January 28, 2008.The debacle of East Pakistan, which led to the breakup of our country, left me with a strong conviction that military operations are never a solution to any problem, least of all one involving one’s own people.

I stood firmly with those who opposed Musharraf’s Balochistan operation and earlier the sending of the military into Waziristan.

Today, as I remain convinced that peace cannot be restored in Pakistan through continuing military operations, the entire political leadership of the country has shown the same conviction through the All-Parties Conference (APC) held last month. Three previous APCs had also sought peace through dialogue.

Yet, the saboteurs of the call for peace are at work too. With each series of bomb attacks, war hysteria seems to be increasing with demands for military operations. It is, therefore, critical we understand how we got to this state of affairs in the first place. We have been seeing continuing military operations since 2004, beginning in South Waziristan, and they have not stopped so far, even up to the APC. According to an ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations) statement, 100 people were killed in Orakzai Agency and in Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency in army action.

We have seen over 3,000 military personnel martyred in the process and we know the suffering of their families along with the families of the injured personnel, especially those permanently handicapped. We have seen our ill-equipped police martyred in the frontlines of terror attacks, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. We have also seen our civilians suffering, not only through the illegal and inhumane drone attacks in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) but also through the displacement of whole tribes who continue to remain homeless in their own country. The sacrifices of our people at so many levels are immeasurable.

Military operations without an overarching strategy to restore peace in the country are mere holding operations. The APC provides the legitimacy for a holistic approach, beginning with a structured dialogue. Military action and war are always the last resort option.

In the end they too, after much bloodshed, lead right back to the dialogue table, especially when a state is dealing with its own people. Most countries have eventually had to dialogue with their people who have taken up arms and conducted acts of terror against the state and innocent civilians — be it the UK with the IRA, the Sri Lankan government with the LTTE, The Philippines with the Moros, India’s Andhra Pradesh government with the Naxalites, to name just a few cases. Even the United States had to hold talks with the Viet Cong and now with the Taliban.

Yet we went headlong into a one-dimensional militarist path with disastrous consequences after 9/11. Musharraf misled the nation about his commitments to the United States on behalf of Pakistan. In the September 2001 APC, where all the political forces present questioned why our country was being dragged into the US-led war on terror, he lied by saying that Pakistan was only providing the United States with logistical support.

Through a series of lies, we saw an “invasion” of all manner of US personnel being given freedom of action within our country, with no control or accountability, and renditions of Pakistanis and others — some landing in Guantanamo, others simply disappearing. We slid further into an abyss of terrorism alongside drone attacks and military operations as we fell in line with the US militarist approach to the US ‘war on terror’. Drones have always been opposed on principle by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) because not only are they a violation of international law, they do create more space for militancy. The attack on a Madrassah (seminary) in Damadola in 2006 killing 80 civilians, including 60 children, is just one example of how it is civilians that have been the major victims of these illegal strikes. Damadola also directly led to a sharp spike in terror attacks in Pakistan. Simply ignoring the impact of drone strikes is an ostrich-like approach. A judgment of the Peshawar High Court earlier this year, awaiting implementation, vindicates our position on drones.

The question we need to ask is: Has terrorism and violence increased or decreased in Pakistan both in terms of numbers of acts committed and the severity of these attacks? If we are honest, we will recognize that this policy has not only singularly failed but has also brought more instability, destruction and heightened extremism to the country.

So today, the nation and all the political forces stand united in giving peace a chance through dialogue, while recognizing that there are no easy options available anymore. The September 2013 APC recalled previous ones calling to “give peace a chance” and reiterated its commitment to the same. In this context, the APC gave a mandate to the federal government, inter alia, “to initiate dialogue with all the stakeholders forthwith and for this purpose, authorize it to take all the necessary steps as it may deem fit, including development of an appropriate mechanism and identification of interlocutors. Needless to state the process should be as inclusive as possible, with full participation of the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other stakeholders.”

When some in the country, in an accusatory fashion, declare that PTI has given legitimacy to the Taliban by asking that an office be set up, they should recognize that it is the APC that used the word “stakeholder”. What I am suggesting is the initiation of a mechanism whereby we can begin to structuralize the dialogue process. We should know the nature of the enemy – there are 15 big Taliban groups and around 25 smaller ones, some of whom are funded by our enemies.

Therefore, we need to identify and separate those groups willing to dialogue with the government and those not prepared to move beyond their agenda of violence, so that the latter can be isolated and dealt with. For that to happen we need to have a structured approach to dialogue rather than conducting it through the media. It is incumbent upon the federal government to inform us about the structure of the talks. As part of aiding the government in this context, we are suggesting that those groups willing to dialogue should be brought together and have a common base from which to conduct the dialogue and be held responsible for it — hence an office or “offices”. Structuring the talks prevents sabotage of the process. This will also show our sincerity to the tribal people who have the greatest stake in peace today and they can help in isolating the hard core militants.

All the political parties of Pakistan have given the federal government an unequivocal mandate to conduct talks to restore peace in the country, including for the first time in the context of FATA.

Previous attempts at dialogue and peace in FATA were attempted by the army and they failed. The agreements reached were between the army and the militants, not the government that represents the state; and the federal head of state’s representative in FATA, the political agent, was opposed to these dialogues. Now it is the collective leadership of all the political parties of the country that has given a mandate to the federal government to move to dialogue and beyond.

In conclusion, I am aware of the fact that people voted for peace, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. That is the PTI mandate from the people and PTI is committed to fulfilling this sacred trust. We realize our responsibility to protect the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and we remain steadfast in taking on this task, despite the province being surrounded on three porous sides by FATA over which it has no authority or control. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is deliberately being targeted by the forces that do not want to see peace and stability restored in Pakistan. But we are determined to face the challenge of giving peace a chance against all odds and against all the forces determined to keep us weak, war ravaged and divided.

*Imran Khan is the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the second largest political party of Pakistan. The article first appeared in October 2, 2013 edition of ‘The News’.

One comment

  1. I thought the same the change we cannot bring by using forces we can change the people minds by proper dialogue.

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