Watching Imran Khan’s speech at the National Assembly yesterday, I was struck by his passionate claim that by killing TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud, the Americans had ‘derailed the peace process’. This is not an unusual claim, actually it has been repeated ad naseum across the media since last week’s fateful drone strike. But is it really the case that the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud derailed the peace process? Or is this a convenient case of post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning?
‘Post hoc ergo propter hoc’ is a Latin phrase that means, ‘after this therefore because of this’. It’s understood to be a logical fallacy – something that sounds logical, but actually isn’t. For example, while it would be true to say, ‘It rained, and then the street was wet, therefore the street was wet because it rained’, it would not be true to say, ‘It rained, and then I burned my hand, therefore I burned my hand because it rained’. Just because something comes after something, it doesn’t mean it would not have happened either way.
The same principle can be applied to peace talks. It’s convenient to claim that the drone strike that killed Hakimullah Mehsud derailed the peace process, but this assumes that without the drone strike, peace talks would have succeeded. Is there any reason to believe this?
TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said on the very day Hakimullah Mehsud was killed that the government had not contacted the TTP leadership and there was no peace process underway.
“No one has yet contacted us. The government is making announcements only by media, no peace talks have yet been started,” Shahid said. “The beginning of peace talks means sitting at a table and discussing issues, no such thing has yet happened.”
Let’s be honest: You can’t derail a peace process if there is no peace process. And even if there was outreach by the government, is there any reason to believe that it would have ended in anything but failure?
Just recently, the TTP declared that there would be no peace talks under a secular constitution. This is not a new demand, either. In December last year, the Taliban very clearly laid out their conditions for peace.
The ceasefire conditions, confirmed by spokesperson Ihsanullah Ihsan in a phone call to Reuters, said Pakistan should rewrite its laws and constitution according to Islamic law.
Just as the Taliban are unrelenting in their demand to scrap replace the constitution with their extremist version of Sharia, they were also unrelenting in their attacks against Pakistan.
The Taliban recently killed 17 Pakistanis in Hangu in an attack on a pro-Pakistan militia. A few days later, Taliban killed KP Law Minister Israrullah Gandapur in a suicide attack. And only two days before Hakimullah Mehsud was killed, a Taliban bomb attack killed 5 Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan. This doesn’t sound like a peace process. It sounds like an ongoing war against an intractable enemy.
Taliban apologists claim that the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud was different, though, because by killing Hakimullah Mehsud, the Americans left an empty seat at the table. This is not only an insult to the thousands of Pakistanis killed by the Taliban – their lives were not cheaper than a terrorists – it is also nonsense. Within one day, the Taliban replaced Hakimullah Mehsud with a new leader. Why can’t Sanja represent the Taliban in talks if they are truly interested in peace?
Taliban sympathisers and supporters of appeasement argue that the drone strike that killed Hakimullah Mehsud ruined our chance for peace, but this is based on wishes, not reality. There is no evidence that the Taliban were willing to sit down and discuss a path to peace. There is no evidence that the Taliban were willing to give up their demand that we replace the constitution with their own extremist interpretation of Sharia. There is no evidence that the Taliban were willing to stop murdering our brothers and sisters.
We are telling ourselves that the drone strike buried our opportunity for peace because we are still unable to face the fact that no such opportunity existed. We were not on the verge of peace, and we will not be until we are willing to face the painful reality that we are in an existential war with a remorseless, intractable enemy that seeks to wipe us off the map.
The cold hard truth is, the drone strike that killed Hakimullah Mehsud changed nothing.