35 years today, Sayyid Ruhollah Khomeini forced Reza Shah Pahlavi, the last monarch of Iran, to flee the country and led the country to an popular revolution, and a kingdom was transformed into the Islamic Republic of Iran. Today across the border, a very different kind of Islamic revolution is being attempted. The much anticipated dialogue between the Pakistani government and the Taliban have begun, and according to the leader of Pakistan Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam (JUI), Samiul Haq, have been “positive”. His reluctance to share any details raises as many questions as it does answers, however I digress.
The question that needs answering is how and why Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are even being considered stakeholders in the future of Pakistan when they are the same people who have raped and plundered the country, blown up schools and mosques and beheaded soldiers. These are not mere allegations but the TTP have accepted responsibility for all this and more. The thought that these people are representatives of the Prophet (saw) who is considered “a mercy to the universes” is as abhorrent as it is laughable.
The 1973 constitution, while far from being perfect, enshrines in law all the civil rights, including freedom of thought and expression. The TTP have already shown that, under the guise of Shariah, they are willing to kill and maim people who disagree with them. If Musharraf deserves to be tried under Article 6 of the Constitution, TTP deserves to be hanged for rejecting the authority of the constitution outright. Instead, the Pakistani government is negotiating with them!
Imposing religion in a country that is already torn apart by religious extremism and sectarianism is like adding fuel to the fire. The criminals who are demanding Shariah are the ones who have taken responsibility for sectarian killings across the country. It is absolutely imperative in a heterodox country like Pakistan, which has complex division lines based on race, language and ethnicity as well as religious beliefs, that there is a form of government which allows this diversity to flourish by celebrating difference not shutting it down in the name of religion.
These negotiations are being held in the backdrop of continual killing of Shias, Christians and Ahmedis as well as other minority groups. The vast majority if not all of these attacks are carried out by the TTP. The government should be more concerned with bringing those responsible to justice instead of trying to brush this under the carpet by having a dialogue with those who have at no point offered any commitment to renounce violence.
People may point to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland or other such negotiations with terrorists around the world. The main difference in those cases and this one was a clear commitment to renounce violence, and to their credit, those groups while maintaining their position have indeed stopped carrying out terrorist attacks. There appears to be no willingness from the TTP to do so nor have the government at any point made this a condition of the dialogue. Yet the dialogue continues; we can only conclude from this that the government is keen to appease the political face of the TTP on whom it relies at the ballot box – the likes of Samiul Haq, Fazlur Rahman and Aurangzeb Farooqi.
In fact, dialogue is merely a distraction from the actual reason for the demand for Shariah, which is to simply grab power and territory under religious pretense. Previous governments led by the PML(N) have underlined that they are the political successors to the legacy of General Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation policies and today’s government is showing that nothing much has changed.
The only hope that Pakistanis have is to that the ballot box will speak loud enough that the majority of Pakistanis abhor TTP and their allies whichever guise they might take. But with free and fair elections being a pipe dream in Pakistan, this may be more hope than reality.