The feared Taliban genie finally grants Imran Khan his cherished wish to be a bridge between the nation and the militants. This announcement comes within 48 hours after the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif constituted a four-member committee to engage the Taliban in peace talks.
Khan, an Oxford University-educated former captain of the Pakistan cricket team that won the 1992 Cricket World Cup, currently heads Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI– Pakistan Movement for Justice). The cricketer-turned-politician, like Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in India, started his political career with the anti-graft slogan. His message took over a decade to persuade the Pakistani masses that he was the right person to lead a crusade against the corrupt politicians of Pakistan.
After the general elections were held in 2013, PTI was voted to power in the strategic north-west province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). During the election campaign, Khan promised his voters that if his party came into power it would stop the CIA-operated drone attacks and open up channels to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table. He promised to initiate peace talks with the Taliban, and the Taliban constituents of the civil war-ravaged province of KP believed him and voted his party to power in the province. KP shares a porous and volatile border with Afghanistan, and the Taliban on both sides of the border, after every suicide bombing or other form of guerrilla attack, seek refuge in the semi-autonomous tribal belt between the two countries.
Once in power, one of Khan’s first steps was to blockade the NATO supply route until the drone strikes were stopped. He also urged the federal government to call an all parties conference about the Taliban and how to resolve it in an amicable manner. Khan recorded his protest at the time when U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited Islamabad last year, by blockading the NATO supply route through KP. For being their unofficial spokesman, the Taliban genie has granted Khan’s wish to lead a team to hold peace talks with the government on their behalf.
Recently, the federal government formed a committee, albeit a toothless one, to initiate the peace talks process. The Taliban, in turn, have named a five-member committee, including Khan and four prominent clerics from different political parties. This committee, to clarify the matter, is not the committee of the Taliban but of their sympathizers and will act as a bridge between the government and the Taliban. The present committee will mediate between the government and the committee of the Taliban to be announced soon.
Khan has at last been nominated as a prominent participant in a process to negotiate the way to peace in KP and Pakistan. The major obstacle, however, remains that no peace process, including the present initiative by both the government and the Taliban, can bear fruit unless and until the Pakistan army gives a nod of approval. Whatever the future holds is anybody’s guess, but the headline today in Pakistan is that the Taliban genie grants Khan his much-cherished wish.
By Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada
The Washington Post