The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (T.T.P.), in their deadliest attack on the Pakistani security forces so far in 2014, killed at least 20 personnel in a bomb blast on Sunday, January 19, in Bannu district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the country's northwest. The bombing took place two days after the worst terrorist attack on foreigners in neighboring Afghanistan that killed 21 people, including three Americans. On January 20, the T.T.P. struck again by targeting a joint checkpoint of the police and the army in the garrison town of Rawalpindi where Pakistan's Pentagon, known as the General Headquarters (G.H.Q.), is located. Six army personnel were among the 13 people killed in the attack.
The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on the Kabul restaurant while the T.T.P. said the Bannu attack was intended to avenge last year's killing of Wali-ur-Rehman, their second most important leader, who was killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan in May. While confirming its involvement in Monday's suicide attack in Rawalpindi, the T.T.P., said it was carried out because of the government's failure to announce a "ceasefire or peace talks with us."
These terrorist strikes have renewed anxiety among the masses in the Af-Pak region about the political and security situation with the scheduled withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by the end of this year. More than a decade after the first strikes on Kabul, the Taliban still appear strong in Afghanistan and even much stronger in Pakistan where they have shaken the foundations of the nuclear armed nation with frequent attacks on military installations and civilian settlements. Neither Kabul nor Islamabad seems fully prepared and equipped to successfully fight the Taliban.
Unabated Taliban violence has plunged Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the opposition leader Imran Khan in a predicament. Even before coming into power in the general elections of 2013, Sharif pledged during his election campaign to restore peace by negotiating with the Taliban. Mr. Khan, whose party, for the first time, managed to form the regional government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan, also ardently backed the idea of talks with the Taliban. Seven months after gaining democratic control over the federal and the provincial governments, Pakistan's pro-negotiation [with the Taliban] leaders realize that it is easier said than done to disarm the Taliban and bring them to the negotiation table.
A decade ago, the Taliban were considered in Pakistan as an insignificant group of supporters of the Afghan Taliban who were simply outraged over America's war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. That was a miscalculation of the Taliban capabilities and absolute oblivion of Pakistani soul's fertility for Jihadist ideology. Today, the T.T.P. has established itself in every Pakistani province from where it also frequently carries out attacks in each province in order to flaunt its expanded network of operations and operatives.
It is interesting that every time an American drone strike kills a key Taliban leader, the Pakistani government and right-wing political leaders come out in public and term it as a deliberate American attempt to sabotage peace talks between the government and the Taliban. However, the same government remains utterly shy to lambast the Taliban for derailing the peace talks even if they publicly accept responsibility for terrorist attacks deadlier than drone strikes.
These double standards come in the wake of the Pakistani state's absolute failure to curb the Taliban who have transformed into such a powerful entity that only they, not the government in Islamabad, can decide the agenda for the proposed peace talks. If negotiations ever take place between the two sides, Islamabad does not intend to put any of the T.T.P. leaders on trial for the mass murder of Pakistani civilians and soldiers nor does it plan to dismantle their organizational structure. Islamabad is too weak to bargain with the Taliban and its sole demand is an end to Taliban's violent attacks on the Pakistani state. In the past, Islamabad agreed on several occasions to drop criminal charges against Taliban leaders, provide compensations to their fighters who were killed by the army and also substantial cash money in return of a pledge to give up violence. The Taliban utilized this period to buy more time without necessarily ever abandoning violence.
For generations, Pakistan's Islamic ideology has given false hopes and expectations to the religious class, including the Taliban. Pakistan proudly describes itself as the first country in the history that was created in the name of Islam and voluntarily offers its leadership to the Muslim world. Pakistan's Constitution restricts non-Muslims from becoming the country's president or the prime minister.
Thus, the Taliban and their supporters believe that they have been betrayed for decades without introducing "real Islamic laws" in Pakistan. The narrative of an Islamic republic of Pakistan is so deep-rooted that no political party, including the liberal Pakistan Peoples' Party, can seek separation of religion from politics or making Pakistan a republic instead of keeping it as an "Islamic republic." There is not a consensus version of Islam that can be acceptable to all Muslims residing in Pakistan to unite them all.
Pakistan's religious ideology and Islamic nationalism has confused the state and its people. While moderate Muslims are uninterested to have "more Islam" [such as strict Sharia law] in their everyday lives, as demanded by the Taliban, the extremists, led by the T.T.P., consistently complain about insufficiency of Islam in everyday life. Pakistanis may take a while to fix critical questions related to its national identity, recent developments, such as the Taliban violence and sectarian killings, give us reasons to believe that these explosive ideological debates can potentially trigger more bloodshed and internal instability in Pakistan even after the end of the war in Afghanistan.