If one event crystallizes Pakistan’s helplessness in confronting its political future, it is the recent assassination-by-American-drone of Hakimullah Mehsud, erstwhile leader of the Pakistani Taliban.
Islamabad had only just acknowledged its plan to hold “peace talks” when Mehsud was killed. Mehsud — with a $5 million bounty on his head, and thousands of civilian deaths to his movement’s credit — was immediately eulogized as the key to peace in Pakistan.
Or so it had seemed to the wishful among Pakistan’s politicians. But the country’s labyrinthine military and political makeup and its often opposing foreign and domestic interests make it difficult to imagine how any Pakistani government can negotiate a deal that brings peace to a time of many terrors. If it is unclear what it means for Pakistan to negotiate its political compact with the Taliban, it is also unclear what it would take to make any deal stick.
To the unwary, this would seem to be the Taliban’s moment.
More than 12 years after the fact, the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, has concluded that ignoring Afghanistan’s Taliban post-2001 was a mistake — an observation that others, including United Nations Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, reached a decade ago.
Dobbins is looking for a way to negotiate an agreement so that the 2014 U.S. military withdrawal can look like a vote for harmony and stability. In Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is searching for ways to limit a crisis that is pitting majority pro-negotiation parties against minority, secular parties who see the Taliban as an unparalleled threat to society and security. Now, with Mullah Fazlullah, the new Taliban chief, opposed to negotiations, Sharif needs a new partner.