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Pakistan Agrees To Fresh Negotiations With Taliban Reps


In Pakistan, peace talks between the government and the Taliban came to a halt last month after militants executed 23 soldiers. Pakistan's military responded with airstrikes, and that led the Pakistani Taliban to declare a cease-fire. The government has now agreed to engage in fresh negotiations - even though attacks by splinter groups continue, underscoring just how decentralized these militants are.

But Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani army general and security analyst in Islamabad, said it's the government's handling of the situation that seems out of control.

TALAT MASOOD: It seems that the nation is rudderless, that there is no sense of purpose and there is no sense of identity for the nation. In fact, the people of Pakistan are extremely confused because there is a narrative from the side of the Taliban and the militant groups, but there is no narrative yet, it's only a reactive narrative from the part of the government.

GREENE: I mean there seems to be a lot of fear among analysts that if these talks do not succeed, as U.S. and NATO troops start pulling out of Afghanistan right next door, this dynamic could change in a frightening way. What exactly are they talking about? What's the fear here?

MASOOD: If the Taliban in Afghanistan becomes a powerful entity, it is quite possible that peace in certain areas - like in the East and in the Southeast - it's quite possible that they might become quite powerful. Then the linkage between the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and the one Taliban would create serious problems for Pakistan because then you'll have a large sanctuary and, you know, on both sides of the border, and these sanctuaries could be a result of violence within Pakistan and also outside Pakistan. And so I think that all these factors are so crucial that it is important that Pakistan clears these sanctuaries at least to a large extent before the evacuation of the NATO and U.S. forces.

GREENE: You mentioned that much of the country feels rudderless right now. That seems to suggest that a lot of Pakistanis are paying attention to how their government is dealing with the Taliban and there's a lot on the line for the government right now.

MASOOD: I think now everyone realizes that the government has been going about this whole process of negotiations with a lack of clarity, and there's no ideological clarity and there is no vision of their leaders as to how to steer the country at this point of time. You know, this sort of situation requires a lot of support from the people of Pakistan. And the people of Pakistan would be very much willing to support the government if it came out with a strong narrative, and we also fear that there's some sort of a fear among the political leadership that there will be a backlash. That is true. But in any case, the innocent people of Pakistan are suffering and they cannot continue to suffer because it's the fundamental responsibility of the government to protect the lives of the people.

GREENE: But given the risk of creating more violence by putting pressure on the Taliban, I mean it just sounds like the government has few good options here.

MASOOD: Yeah. Well, even I would not say that they should not try the negotiating route. But the fact is that they cannot just depend on the whims of the Taliban and continue with negotiations while they're unable to protect the lives of the people of Pakistan. That is the point I think everyone is raising in Pakistan.

GREENE: General Masood, it's always great to have you on the program. Thanks so much for the time.

MASOOD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.