The National Security Policy, presented with much fanfare on Thursday to the National Assembly by Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan, seems to have gained its first fruit in the shape of a TTP ceasefire call on Saturday. However, this has also been credited to the PAF bombing militants in North Waziristan after they executed 23 captured Frontier Constabulary sepoys. The bombings, which have stopped short of a full-blooded operation demanded by a section of opinion, seem to indicate the military’s agreement with the militants that the military actions still have meaning. This impression will only be strengthened by the government decision, the very next day, to reciprocate. This was confirmed by Monday’s shooting at the Islamabad District Courts, which not only left seven people dead, including an additional sessions judge, but also threw into question the government’s whole approach to the question of negotiations. That it had been preceded by a number of operations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa against military personnel only emphasized the point.

The ceasefires indicates that the TTP accepts the military’s perception that honour had been satisfied, and that now neither side could achieve much, or rather anything at all, by further military action. There is considerable speculation that the militants will use the hiatus represented by the talks to regroup. This indicates that the military might use the talks for the same purpose. The TTP claims that it has now received enough guarantees that its imprisoned members will not be killed. The killings of its members in custody was the reason it gave for the killing of the Frontier Constabulary personnel.

It must not be forgotten that the talks are still largely military. The TTP is a military organization, while the government, as shown by the bombing followed by the ceasefire, is driven in these talks by military considerations. Thus the talks are only occurring because both sides have agreed that further armed activity will not change the situation. That situation appears to be one where the armed forces are reluctant to engage in an operation in Waziristan. The military claims this is because it does not want to fight its own people. It should not be forgotten that not only are the people war-like but the terrain is inhospitable to the attacker, and that this is precisely the area where the British Raj kept fighting consistently, without succeeding in subduing the locals.

It should thus be clear that the internal security policy presented to the National Assembly is not about the War on Terror, which Pakistan has been involved in right from the time the USA bombed Afghanistan back in 2001, but about the current manoeuvring. The timing makes it clear that the talks are about the US drawdown in Afghanistan, which may even be a complete withdrawal. However, the TTP is not necessarily a coherent group. As the Islamabad attack showed, its decisions are not necessarily accepted by all its components. It is even worse than a coalition, for while nations have differing interests, an umbrella organization like the TTP comprises members belonging to differing organisations. The TTP has got a major sectarian component, which it gained after the Sipah Sahaba and the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi joined it. Their motivation is the elimination of Shias, not the expulsion of foreign forces from Afghanistan, though that is a goal they clearly sympathise with.

However, because of this, the state may find; indeed, has found; that the TTP is not a reliable interlocutor. Not only do all strands of opinion have to be convinced, but the prime requirement of the state, the ceasing of violence, may not be met. Though the TTP has emphatically denied involvement in the Islamabad attack, it has also refrained from condemnation. This reticence has been emphasized, rather than concealed, by its criticism of the disregard shown for the ceasefire that has been announced. It may have been an operation overtaken by events, but it emphasized once again that the TTP may not be able to deliver any commitments by its negotiators. If so, then why is the government talking at all to the TTP?

That is perhaps the most significant question the government faces, as it attempts to fit the current reality to the national security policy it unveiled in the National Assembly. The national security policy was almost exclusively focused on the War on Terror. That is perhaps natural but it is reprehensible nonetheless. National security is not solely about it, and though it must include a response to the War on Terror, ultimately it must transcend it.

It is best to put aside doubts about the ability of the government to operationalize it, because the policy is being unveiled at a time when the government is under challenge. What needs to be examined, is whether it will work or not in meeting the challenges to the state that exist at present. It is worth noting that the external threat has not been tackled. Are we to assume that the military has that dimension well under control and so we need not consider it? Or that US efforts to make Pakistan and India mend fences are so successful that the biggest threat to Pakistan’s security (India), can now be ignored? That should have been spelled out, not swept under the carpet.

The policy itself assumes a vibrant and proactive state, well able to implement the measures in it, including the operationalization of the National Anti-Terrorism Authority, and the coordination of intelligence input by a single department. The latter shows that the policy, though prepared under political guidance, has not taken into account the politics behind the proliferation of intelligence agencies: the desire of those who are supposed to be apolitical government departments to strut on the stage. The policy contains the announcement that there are to be both talks and an operation. The government wishes to carry on both, even though it objects to being treated the same way.

Perhaps the government may now have realized, at great human cost, that it will not be able to provide the ordinary citizen security unless it accords the same respect to its interlocutors that it asks for itself. If it wishes to change the narrative, and if it wishes to take control of the talks, it will have to exert itself more than it is presently doing.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.

Email:maniazi@nation.com.pk