The Ambiguity of the APC’s Outcomes

Given the fanfare and expectations surrounding last week’s All Parties Conference – the incumbent PML-N government’s first experiment in public and political outreach since coming to power a little less than four months ago – the outcome has left much to be desired. On Sunday, hardly a day after the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government announced a phased withdrawal of troops from Malakand division, a Taliban IED killed two senior military officers and a soldier (Major General Sanaullah, Lieutenant Colonel Tauseef Ahmed and Irfanullah) in Upper Dir.

The representation of all major political parties, military and intelligence bodies at last Monday’s APC meeting, certainly a political milestone in its own right, has once again shifted the public debate to focus upon negotiations with the Taliban, rebuilding domestic security, and bringing all stakeholders together to resolve the country’s internal crisis. While analysts and opinion-makers have hailed the coming together of the country’s various power brokers to formulate a tricky consensus in an age of ideological polarization as a positive, the vagueness of the resolutions it produced has evoked a decidedly divided response. It is in this context that Jinnah Institute has turned to a slate of prominent experts for their analysis on the government’s latest initiative, and to reflect on the possible outcomes of the APC’s draft resolution.

Sherry Rehman, former Ambassador to the United States and Chair Jinnah Institute, was of the opinion that while convening an APC did indeed send a powerful message to the nation, hedging on critical issues in terms of output did not inspire confidence: “[This] consensus document is short on detail, and long on appeasement,” she observed, adding that previous such endeavors had provided a crucial political trigger for the initiation of extensive military operations in the tribal areas, particularly Malakand. The former ambassador further added that APCs were principally held for building support and for public messaging on strategic issues. “While talks about talks may just mean that the government wants to give the other side enough space to play out their demands, and use these as a motive or prelude to military action, the message from this APC is far more diluted than any earlier meeting,” she said. “I am very clear that when the state agrees to unconditional talks with the Taliban, rather the TTP, it signals that the government is suing for peace from a position of weakness, ideological confusion, and a high tolerance for terrorism simply because it is in the name of religion, despite the national consensus that suicide bombings and terror are not permissible either in Islam, the Constitution and voting mandates.”

Amb. Rehman argued that this open invitation to talk without any demobilization or renouncement of militancy critically lowered the bar of what was tactically acceptable in any negotiation with other criminals too, and opened the door for the state to even theoretically lose its monopoly on the use of force. The former ambassador was also of the opinion that the analogy with Afghanistan being made repeatedly in public discourse by militant apologists was entirely misleading: “Reconciliation there is part of a process their government has invited as a post-conflict instrument while an occupying army transitions its way out, or at least seeks to hand over security responsibilities to Afghans after a decade of war. Whether that is a rational way forward to seek peace or not is a decision Pakistan or even the Americans must not make. It is an Afghan decision, and it has been made at the highest levels by Kabul. For Pakistan to think that the path to peace is the same is folly,” she firmly concluded.

Zahid Hussain, author and senior journalist, argued that it was important to view the impetus for an All Parties Conference in thezahid hussaincontext of the 40,000-50,000 Pakistanis who had been killed as a result of terrorism and militancy. With regard to negotiations with the TTP, Mr. Hussain said that the big question now was whether or not the Taliban were prepared to accept the Pakistani Constitution, give up arms and renounce terrorism: “These are still unanswered questions: so far there has been no change in the Taliban’s attitude and they have not agreed to renounce violence. If talks take place, they should take place on the condition that the Taliban abide by the Constitution, otherwise negotiations will not bear any fruit.” The senior journalist added that there should be no question of releasing those militants who had been arrested for committing heinous crimes.

On the issues of Afghanistan and Balochistan, Mr. Hussain argued that both situations were extremely different. “Afghanistan is primarily an external issue. The approach adopted in the consensus is good – we want a stable Afghanistan which in turn is essential for Pakistan. Having said that, Pakistan does have a stake in the Afghan outcome, and therefore should do its utmost to help stabilize Afghanistan in whatever way possible and help achieve a political settlement there before 2014.” With regard to the Balochistan issue, however, Mr. Hussain explained that the discontent and resentment expressed by the Baloch people was essentially the result of long-standing deprivation, and hence their discontent was very different from the sentiments exhibited by the Taliban. “The Taliban are not fighting for their rights, and have in fact greatly contributed to the destabilization of the tribal areas,” he concluded.

On the subject of internal consensus, Moeed Yusuf, Senior Pakistan Expert at the United States Institute of Peace, was of the opinion that while the APC was not necessary, now that a consensus had been reached, the government should be given the space to implement it. “Both the military and the civilian leadership have now had a chance to openly discuss different options – I may not personally agree with the direction of the consensus, but I think the fact that a consensus was reached is a positive step, and the people should accept the consensus and see where the process goes from here.” Commenting on the absence of a clear framework for negotiations with the Taliban, Mr. Yusuf explained that the APC was not meant to provide policy or specifics, and that ultimately it was the government that would fine-tune the calibrations of negotiations with various stakeholders. “Yes, the APC has decided to talk [to the Taliban], but how these talks will take place is ultimately still the government’s decision. The APC consensus does not mean that the government can’t or won’t draw red lines – in fact they must if the state is not to capitulate to the Taliban,” Mr. Yusuf argued. He also added, however, that political will in itself is not enough to kick start processes, and that such will needs to be backed by concrete action.

(The views in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Jinnah Institute, its Board of Directors, Board of Advisors or management. Unless noted otherwise, all material is property of the Institute. Copyright © Jinnah Institute 2013)