Position of Strength

Two rules for successful negotiations are to enter from a position of strength and to be the side that sets the terms and timeline. Taliban terrorists have proven that understand these rules better than the government.

On Sunday, Taliban militants carried out a vicious attacks against Pakistan security forces, killing 20 and vowing that such attacks would continue. Worst, the explosives were planted in one of the vehicles used in a convoy made up of both military and civilian vehicles. This means that Taliban were able to kill Pakistan forces, but to carry out an attack under the very noses of Pakistan intelligence. Immediate after the attack, Taliban added insult to the injury by declaring that they are now willing to talk, if the government and military will meet their demands.

The Taliban are approaching from a position of strength. They are constantly attacking Pakistan forces while our own military looks confused about how to respond. For months government officials have been begging for talks, only to be ignored or refused by Taliban. Therefore, timing of Taliban’s announcement that they are now willing to consider negotiations not only puts them in a position of strength compared to the Pakistan military, but gives them the upper hand in any talks should the government accept their offer.

Taliban has presently positioned itself as a victor ready to accept a surrender. If Pakistan is to survive, government and military must work together to reverse their current position of weakness. If not, surrender to Taliban is the likely outcome and Pakistan as we know it will probably cease to exist.

Don’t Talk With the Taliban – Husain Haqqani

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011, is the author of the forthcoming book “Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding.”

WASHINGTON — THE United States is still planning to hold peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, despite the fact that the group attacked the presidential palace and a C.I.A. office in Kabul, Afghanistan earlier this week. As was the case in the 1990s, negotiating with the Taliban now would be a grievous mistake.

Unlike most states or political groups, the Taliban aren’t amenable to a pragmatic deal. They are a movement with an extreme ideology and will not compromise easily on their deeply held beliefs. Before committing the blunder of negotiating with them again, American diplomats should read up on the history of Washington’s engagement with the Taliban during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

The planned talks have been arranged through the good offices of Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. At the urging of Pakistan’s military, the United States agreed to the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar. Taliban officials immediately portrayed the American concession as a victory. They flew the Taliban flag, played the Taliban anthem and called their new workplace the office of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” — the name of the state they ran in the 1990s before being dislodged from power after 9/11. This was intentional. It reflected the Taliban’s view of the talks as the beginning of the restoration of their emirate.

There is no reason to believe — and no evidence — that the Taliban are now ready for political accommodation. Pakistan’s rationale for the talks differs little from the last two times it tried to save the Taliban from America’s wrath, after the bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and immediately after 9/11. Pakistan’s goal has always been to arrange American talks with the Taliban without being responsible for the outcome.

Declassified State Department documents and secret cables made public by WikiLeaks show that in the 1990s, as now, Pakistan claimed it had contact with the Taliban but no control over them.

As the Taliban advanced in eastern Afghanistan in 1996, they took over several terrorist training camps run by various Pakistan-supported mujahedeen factions and Arab groups affiliated with Al Qaeda. The Taliban’s deputy foreign affairs adviser at the time, Abdul Jalil, told American officials that the “Arab” occupants of the camps had fled, and that Osama bin Laden’s precise location was unknown. Taliban interlocutors assured the United States that the “Taliban did not support terrorism in any form and would not provide refuge to Osama bin Laden.”

That was, of course, an outright lie. The C.I.A. concluded that the Taliban had closed down training camps run by their Afghan rivals but not the ones run by Bin Laden and Pakistani terrorist groups.

In October 1996, Mr. Jalil delivered a friendly diplomatic message from the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, to American representatives, letting them know that “the Taliban think highly of the U.S., appreciated U.S. help during the jihad against the Soviets, and want good relations with the U.S.” This, too, turned out to be nothing but dissimulation. At one point, Pakistani officials even suggested that America “buy” Bin Laden from the Taliban.

Ironically, while American diplomats were interacting with Taliban officials, Western journalists traveling in Afghanistan often found evidence of large-scale terrorist training. An American Embassy cable in November 1996 spoke of an unnamed British journalist’s seeing “assorted foreigners, including Chechens, Bosnians, Sudanese” as well as various Arabs training for global jihad in Afghan provinces adjacent to Pakistan.

Mullah Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Taliban representative, told American officials in 1997 that Bin Laden’s expulsion was not a solution and urged them to recognize the legitimacy of Taliban rule “if the U.S. did not want every Afghan to become a Bin Laden.” By then, the Taliban had changed their story on Bin Laden. They admitted that he was their “guest” but insisted that they had “instructed him not to commit, support or plan any terrorist acts from Afghan soil.”

On Aug. 20, 1998, American missiles struck Afghanistan and Sudan in retaliation for the terrorist attacks on the embassies in Africa. Two days later, Mullah. Omar called the State Department and demanded President Bill Clinton’s resignation, asserting that the missile attack would spread Bin Laden’s anti-American message by uniting the fundamentalist Islamic world and would cause further terrorist attacks.

Fifteen years later, the Taliban and their Pakistani mentors have hardly changed their arguments or their tendency to fudge facts. Americans may believe that talks offer an opportunity to end an expensive war that is no longer popular among Americans, but they shouldn’t forget the Taliban’s history of deception.

For the Taliban, direct dialogue with the United States is a source of international legitimacy and an opportunity to regroup. They are most likely playing for time while waiting for American troops to withdraw in 2014.

Everything about the talks in Qatar hints at déjà vu. America must enter these talks with a healthy does of skepticism, or not participate at all.



Negotiating with a gun to our head

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan

Events of this week should leave no doubts that the war against terrorism is Pakistan’s war as much or even more than it is the west’s. So what are we going to do about it? Even though I basically agree with Imran Khan’s assessment that terrorism cannot be defeated by bombing it, I also think that he’s oversimplifying a complex issue. If we’re going to rid Pakistan of terrorism, we’re going to have to stop oversimplifying and use a complex approach at restoring order.

When Imran Khan says that the extremism that fuels terrorism is an idea that must be fought by showing that it is a failed and self-defeating idea, and that there is an alternative and superiour idea that should be chosen instead, he’s right. But terrorist groups that plan and carry out acts of violence against innocents can and must be defended against. These are two different issues, and we can’t stop terrorism unless we deal with both.

Talking to militant groups sounds like an easy enough solution, and sometimes discussions and negotiations are a necessary part of a solution. But just because they’re necessary doesn’t make them sufficient. TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud said earlier this week that he rejected the governments offer of peace talks and vows to carry out more attacks. Should our security forces sit quietly while TTP plans and carries out attacks against our citizens, hoping that some day he will agree to talk?

Military force is not sufficient on its own, but neither is talking. The only way to rid the nation of the scourge of terrorism is to make a two-pronged attack.

First, the security forces must be used to provide a secure environment in which extremists know that violence will not be tolerated. This must be carried out by using our skilled intelligence officers to identify militants and our police and military to prevent them from carrying out acts of violence by destroying their ability and their will to do such acts. Even Imran Khan agrees that no militant groups should be allowed to operate in Pakistan, and that the government should de-weaponise the nation and shut down all militant groups.

The bizarre thing, however, is that he says we should wait until after the war on terrorism is over. Obviously, he means we should wait until the Americans leave, though I don’t understand why that would make any difference.

Imran Khan says that no militant groups should be allowed to operate in Pakistan, but PTI is organizing protests against Pakistan Army in Khyber. How are militant groups going to be dismantled if not by Army?

Last weekend, four intelligence officials were killed during a raid on a hideout of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a terrorist group that murdered dozens of innocents during terror attacks in September. Are those intelligence officials shaheeds who sacrificed their lives to protect their countrymen? Or should the LeJ militants have been allowed to operate freely until the Americans leave?

Second, our civil society must provide a vision and ideology that offers a superiour alternative to the cult of death that is militant extremism. This starts in our own homes as we talk to our friends and family. It takes place in our mosques and our schools. When we hear someone spreading a message of hate, whether it is religious, sectarian, racist or xenophobic, we must speak out against it.

In order for the second part to happen – the talking, and disarming extremism with alternative ideas – the first must happen – there must be a safe space for dialogue to take place without the threat of violence.

A perfect example can be seen in the murder of Salmaan Taseer. Whether you think that Mumtaz Qadri is a cold-blooded murderer or someone who was motivated by a deep love of the Prophet (PBUH), one thing is undeniable – Qadri’s violent action made it unsafe to talk. Even Imran Khan himself told NDTV that no militant groups should be allowed to function, but that it is not safe to speak openly because of the threat of terrorist groups.

Cleaning up the mess of militancy and extremism that is plaguing our country is not going to be easy. I wish it was. But we can’t change hearts if we’re scared out of our minds. We need the security forces to protect the people’s right to feel safe in their own country. Until then, we’re having talks with a gun pointed at our head. And that’s no way to negotiate.