Hundreds of Taliban gathered in Pakistan’s dangerous northwest region to watch their spokesman Imran Khan start off a game of football by kicking the severed head of a soldier earlier this week.

The game is a part of a larger cultural festival being held by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to promote Pakistani culture and strengthen an identity under threat because of relentless attacks by rivals. “We want to show that historical roots of our way of living that go all the way back to the Stone Age,” an organizer told reporters.

Insiders say the government of the troubled province decided to arrange the festival after a number of Taliban operatives complained that they could not perform during the Sindh cultural festival being help by the People’s Party after they failed to sneak in because of heightened security. “They did not let us blow up their festival so we decided to organize our own,” one Taliban operative revealed.

Reports of a performance by Ali Azmat during the opening ceremony turned out incorrect after sources present at the event said it was only a man crying for mercy as he was flogged after his had been shaved. Streets were decorated with slaughtered dead bodies hanging from poles, and banners carrying the slogan “look what you made us do”. Organizers say their plans include taking the festival to various cities of Pakistan.

“While the political leaders of Pakistan negotiate with each other on behalf of the Taliban, we want to take some time off and celebrate the unprecedented success of our cultural movement in the last two decades,” the organizers said in a statement. “We take pride in our more than 20 year old tradition of keeping women off the streets of Afghanistan and Pakistan, while empowering and providing jobs to hundreds of young men.”

The organizers said they were surprised that while the Taliban recently nominated Pakistani opinion makers to negotiate on their behalf, the Pakistani government also nominated Pakistani opinion makers to hold dialogue on their behalf. “It is astonishing for us that there are four or five citizens in Pakistan who have lived in the country all their lives, but are ready to support their own government,” one militant commander said.

A political leader from the Pakistan Muslim League Denial Group in Punjab said Pakistan was an Islamic country and everyone had a constitutional right to carry out an insurgency in order to implement their own version of the Sharia.

A cleric opposed the event however, saying it would divert the Taliban’s energies away from their true goals. “This is not what Pakistan was made for,” he said. “We must not lose perspective. We must keep our eyes on our immediate goal – the killing of Shias.”

After concerns that the government is talking to the Taliban only to buy time so that it can strengthen its hold in the small pockets of tribal areas that it controls, the Tehrik-e-Insaf clarified that there will be a timeline to the dialogue process. “We cannot let the talks continue forever if there are no concrete developments towards a resolution of the conflict,” a spokesman said. “If the talks do not work, there will be a military operation against the government.”

A Jamaat-e-Islami leader said there was no need for dialogue. “We have tried talking to them several times and it has never worked,” he said. “You cannot have a dialogue with a bunch of people who completely disagree with everything you stand for.”

Speaking to the stone age festival in Pakistan’s northwest, he urged the Taliban to immediately launch a targeted military operation to restore its writ in the tribal areas. “It is true that in the end, even if there is an armed conflict, we will have to sit down with them on the negotiations table. But we should talk to only those government officials and politicians who lay down weapons and give up any claims to any territory that belongs to us. An emirate simply cannot afford to let its writ erode like that.”

The author has a degree in Poetics of Prophetic Discourse and works as a Senior Paradigm Officer.

Email:harris@nyu.edu

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