Pakistan is right to conclude that military power alone will not weaken the terrorists in its midst

This is not the first time that Mr  Sharif has offered talks


In Pakistan, torn by economic crisis and sectarian strife, tormented by entanglements with Afghanistan and the US, nothing is ever straightforward – and yesterday’s speech to the National Assembly by the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was a perfect example. He appeared to be offering a last chance to the Taliban militants who largely control the tribal areas along the Afghan border and have infiltrated the major population centres across the country: either enter peace talks with the government or face an all-out military assault on their strongholds. As usual though, matters are not so simple.

Mr Sharif was speaking after a spate of attacks – 17, by a conservative count, this month alone, killing 100 people or more – that have brought renewed demands to bring Pakistan’s endemic violence under control. “I am sure the whole nation would be behind the government if and when we launch a military operation against the terrorists,” he declared. Instead, however, he has set up a four-man team (two veteran Pakistani journalists, two retired officials) to enter negotiations with the Taliban, with no pre-conditions, no specific mandate and no clear timeframe for the discussions to produce results.

This is not the first time that Mr  Sharif, arguably his country’s most experienced civilian politician, has offered talks. And rightly so. In neighbouring Afghanistan, where the US is determined to wrap up its 12-year-long war against the Taliban and al-Qa’ida by the end of 2014, only a peace deal between the government and the Islamists can ensure the stability that wretched country needs to rebuild. Much  the same applies to Pakistan. It is, moreover, doubtful that any military offensive by Islamabad in the tribal areas would eradicate the Taliban, not least given the collusion between the militants and elements within the armed forces and Pakistan’s powerful intelligence services.

Nor can Mr  Sharif’s calculations about how to deal with the militants be separated from his country’s fraught relations with the US. These have improved since the nadir that followed the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, under the very nose of the Pakistan authorities. But mutual suspicions linger.

The bitterly resented US drone strikes against militant targets on Pakistani territory appear to have reduced of late. Nonetheless they continue to be seen by the government, not to mention many ordinary Pakistanis, as a humiliating violation of national sovereignty, a feeling that ensures some popular sympathy for the radicals, for all the public weariness and exasperation with the violence. It should be remembered, too, that the last offer of negotiations collapsed after a drone attack killed the movement’s leader Hakimullah Mehsud in November.

But a negotiated settlement is the only long-term solution. As the US disengages from Afghanistan, many in Washington would like nothing better than an all-out assault by Pakistan on militant sanctuaries across the border. The lesson of history is that this, too, would ultimately fail. Pakistan and the US have no choice but to work together. But terrorism will only be vanquished when the conditions that breed it are removed. This is, again, anything but straightforward. Yet talks between the government and the Taliban are the only place to start.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£17900 - £20300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An enthusiastic Marketing Assis...

Recruitment Genius: Chef / Managers

£24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This contract caterer is proud ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Health & Safety Consultant

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic and exciting opport...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, arrives with his son Prince George at the Lindo Wing to visit his wife and newborn daughter at St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, west London, Britain, 02 May 2015  

Prince George's £18,000 birthday gift speaks volumes about Britain's widening wealth inequality

Olivia Acland
Nicky Clarke has criticised the Duchess of Cambridge for having grey hair  

Letting one’s hair turn grey would be the most subversive Royal act

Rosie Millard
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'