The first signs since the election of a dramatic shift in Pakistan’s national security policy to cope with its many, many problems came today, as incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for peace talks with internal Taliban factions.
“Guns are not a solution to all problems,” Sharif noted during his speech in Lahore, a sentiment which is so unfamiliar in the region that it immediately sparked concern of a harsh reaction from the Pakistani military.
But Sharif met with military leaders just yesterday, and presumably in that multi-hour closed door session his intentions were made clear. Pakistan’s military has been so ineffective over the past few years of being thrown headlong into Taliban country that they likely are relieved to be getting a break.
The real anger isn’t likely to be internal, but external. In early 2009 the Zardari government came to a negotiated settlement in Malakand with Taliban and other Islamist factions.
The deal was remarkably successful, at first. Fighting stopped virtually overnight in Malakand. The US angrily condemned the deal from virtually the moment it was announced, and demanded Pakistan ditch it in favor of a new offensive. The Zardari government gave in, called in an offensive that settled nothing, and over four years later Malakand is still a mess. For Sharif a retread of peace talks is easy – sticking with it when the Obama Administration starts condemning him will be the challenge.