ENCOURAGINGLY, the government’s negotiating committee is standing firm. Cleverly, the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan is trying to muddy the waters further by levelling grim allegations. Yesterday, the impasse continued as the TTP announced its conditions for a ceasefire by the militants, and the government committee rejected a conditional ceasefire. The TTP claims that the security forces continue to pick up members of the militant group and are dumping their dead bodies in various parts of the country. It is a particularly clever ruse because it suggests that the TTP’s violence is a direct response to the provocation by the state — which it is not — and will always provide a fig leaf to TTP violence — since the allegations are infinitely easier to make than to rebut. What it demonstrates though is that the TTP continues to be a formidable negotiator: after all, a deadlock only adds yet more time to that which the TTP has already bought for itself.
On the other side, divining the government’s true resolve from the position staked out by its negotiating committee is a more complicated affair. There is the reality that the most vocal member of the government committee when it comes to demanding an unconditional ceasefire by the TTP is Irfan Siddiqui. Given that Mr Siddiqui is an adviser to Nawaz Sharif and enjoys direct access to him, his words could be taken to reflect the prime minister’s own thinking on the issue. That would be an encouraging sign of a newfound pragmatic resolve on the part of the government. However, there is also the reality of what precisely made the government finally take a clear stand on TTP violence. While many more civilian targets have been hit and many more civilian deaths have occurred, it is the deaths of security personnel that led the government to harden its stance. Those of a more sceptical bent, then, may wonder if the government’s position reflects its own unshakeable resolve or whether it is simply an expedient given the army leadership’s known unhappiness at being attacked by the TTP without being able to mount a significant response.
If the government does fully back its own negotiating committee on the issue, the TTP will be boxed in. Either the TTP will be exposed as not truly believing in dialogue and a negotiated settlement, or it will be forced into ensuring that its sub-groups, franchises and other elements that look towards the militant group for guidance and inspiration will accept its central leadership’s preference for a negotiated settlement. Sly and manipulative as the TTP may be, its strategising and tactical manoeuvring suffer from a basic flaw: if — we repeat, if — the state stands firm, there is little wriggle room left for the TTP.