Con Coughlin in his book Churchill's First War: Young Winston and the Fight Against the Taliban discusses the First Afghan War between the British and the Afghan tribesmen. It did not take Churchill long to conclude that Malakand campaign was futile. He wrote that “Financially it is ruinous. Morally it is wicked. Militarily it is an open question, and politically it is a blunder.” Coughlin thinks that Churchill’s views on waging war against the ‘wild-rifle-armed clansmen’ on the Afghan border are as true today as they were when the young cavalrymen set off to fight in his first war.

It was decided in the All Parties Conference that the Government of Pakistan will negotiate with Taliban to reach some sort of settlement or as they call it ‘give peace a chance.’ PM Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan contested general elections on the basis that they will try to bring peace in country through negotiations. There is nothing wrong with negotiations per se as this is the first option for any government facing an internal conflict. Secret British files just released by the National Archives in Kew on the 1981 Hunger Strike reveal intensive secret contacts between Downing Street and the Provisional IRA leadership in July 1981 before the death of hunger striker, Joe McDonnell, the fifth protester to die.Files also show Margaret Thatcher took part in negotiations with the IRA during the 1981 Hunger Strikes. So those people out rightly dismissing any negotiations with Taliban are being unfair in criticizing PM Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. 

I think the criticism against negotiations is due to the justifications given by both leaders as to why we should negotiate. The most common one being that this is America’s War and whatever Taliban are doing is a reaction to drone attacks. Taliban are our misguided brothers who can come to the right path if we talk it out with them. I think it is high time political leadership in Pakistan belonging to any party started taking our nation seriously. We the people of Islamic Republic of Pakistan are not senseless. If we are told after around 100 Christians are killed in a twin bomb blast in Peshawar that this is all due to the reaction to drone attacks then it is nothing more than adding insult to the injury. No matter how misguided or disgruntled your brother is he does not slit your throat and when he does that then he loses the right to be called a brother.

I think political leadership needs to be more open about the reasons why we should negotiate with Taliban. It is not because they are our misguided brothers but because it is the preferable strategy in this war right now. Those people who argue that Taliban should be taken head on need to realize that Pakistan is a third world country and our financial resources are limited. We have been fighting this war for more than a decade now and thousands of army personnel and civilians have lost their lives. In order to defend our country in this war requires financial resources as well. The US Army with huge financial resources at its disposal could not eliminate Taliban in a war which they fought for more than a decade. The resources of our army are far less than that and we need to accept this fact. There is no lack of courage or bravery in our army but let’s accept the fact that these days wars are very costly. British Navy ships faced an embarrassing situation in a recent Libyan War when they fired all their cruise missiles and were left without any ammunition and then they had to borrow cruise missiles from US army.

It is Ironic that those very people who want to take Taliban head on are the biggest critics of any raise in the defense budget. The common misconception is that army takes more than 80% of the budget and we are left with the bare minimum to survive. In case these negotiations fail, which is quite probable, then we will have to take them head on. That will not be an easy thing and further sacrifices will be required. In Sri Lanka it took them almost three decades to eliminate rebels and we need to be prepared for a long and difficult war.

PM Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan should go ahead with the negotiations but they need to be sensitive towards their own people as well. They should respect the intellectual ability of the nation and should give better reasons for negotiations instead of the ones they have been giving already. It is easy for them to talk about negotiations as their sons are not in this country. The most difficult thing for any father is to lift the coffin of his child. In Pakistan many fathers have done that. I sincerely hope and pray that no father should ever have to do that. The argument about negotiations would have made more sense if it would have come from ANP leader Mr. Iftikhar Hussain who lost his son in this war or from Asif Ali Zardari who lost his wife because people can relate to them as they share their loss. We should negotiate as this is the most probable solution in the given situation and because none of the military forces have been successful in this horrible terrain.  In case they fail then we as a nation need to be ready for a long drawn war which might spread over decades.

The writer is a Barrister-at-Law.