Despite losing over 3,000 soldiers and 40,000 civilians, there was always some confidence that GHQ had a plan and that, when the final accounting was complete, Pakistan would be stronger and better positioned. Use of jihadi groups as proxy fighters in Afghanistan and Kashmir may have resulted in some tallies in the liability column, but these would be more than made up for in the final summing of the assets column. Since the past few weeks, however, the wheels seem to have come off and security analysts are quietly pondering the unthinkable: Has the military lost control?
A week after the drone strike that killed Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, public discourse remains dominated by questions of ‘what comes next?’ Mehsud’s death actually changed very little, if anything, in the equation. The Taliban has vowed to continue attacks, the government continues to demand that peace talks are the only solution, and the military remains ever silent. Whether or not the Taliban is interested in talks, the public debate has settled on the question of ‘talk’ or ‘fight’. It’s a seemingly impossible puzzle. How do we negotiate with uncompromising extremists? How do we defeat a loosely organised, ‘asymmetric’ insurgency? We have become paralysed by this paradox, but there is an answer to our problem: Stop fighting the symptoms and start fighting the disease.
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?
As leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hakimullah Mehsud was many things. He was the master mind behind killings of countless innocent Pakistani men, women, and children. He also schemed and carried out attacks on Pakistani military, killing soldiers and draining national security resources. He was a self-declared mujahideen, but one who was off message. Instead of only fighting against the Americans, he had turned on Pakistan also. This created a problem for those elements who are sympathetic to the jihadi cause, and Mehsud and his TTP were quickly branded as RAW-CIA sponsored terrorists, the ‘bad Taliban’ that was completely independent of the ‘good Taliban’ fighting against America in Afghanistan or India in Kashmir. Despite requiring a suspension of disbelief bordering on self-deception, this idea has stuck fairly well due largely to being repeated often enough in the media and by those considered authorities on such matters. In his death in a drone strike this week, however, Hakimullah Mehsud left a final gift to jihadi sympathisers in Pakistan – further proof that the line between ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Taliban is nothing but an illusion.