An honest politician’s most important job is to create awareness among masses of how well the state is looking after its citizens, thus ensuring that the government is doing its job. Every time I interact with Senator Afrasiab Khattak, I find myself thinking that Pakistani politics can be revived if public wellbeing is our priority. For it is public wellbeing that seems to consistently define and inspire Mr. Khattak’s politics. One of the reasons the public is lethargic about achieving change is simply lack of awareness. It is because there is a lack of awareness that every system from the bureaucracy to the parliament is failing. Even willing politicians and lawmakers can’t achieve anything if the public isn’t familiar with the issue they are trying to work on. In this scenario, politics is likely to be based on adrenaline and emotion, not facts, which consequently leads to more chaos. Once over tea with his wife and son, at his house in Bani Gala, I remember Mr. Khattak being very worried about how climate change is and would affect Pakistan. He cared deeply about the melting glaciers in Malakand. In 2013-14 when he was a part of the government, he told me he used to fly there in a helicopter. “It was very saddening to see that the earth used to be so healthy, but that had changed due to the expanding population”, he said. Khattak has a very strong position on climate change, but there is little known about his advocacy and work in the area. Little known leads to little done. He reminisced over tea that evening, “On the mountains, trees are dying. Meanwhile, the population is spreading into natural forest land. Sometimes houses would catch fire, so they have to build new ones”. He is one of the very few politicians in the country who has tried lobbying to bring climate change into the curriculum. He believed that we should prepare our children to deal with global warming. Much of his work was followed by heedlessness. In 2016 he said, “We live in a strange place where when discussions have begun over how the next war will be fought over water, we started preparing for the war instead of increasing the country’s water storage capacity”. After the 2008 elections, when Mr. Khattak came into government, Swat was in crisis. Eighty percent of the region was under Taliban control. He is one of the Pashtun politicians who tried negotiating with them before things went south between them and the Pakistan Army. Mian Iftikhar Hussain and Afrasiab Khattak were key figures. They initiated negotiations twice, once in 2008 and later in 2009. In 2008, the Taliban were taken to Peshawar on military helicopters for negotiations. “This was obviously under immunity that we guaranteed them in order to carry out the talks and find a solution. These individuals had a sense of our culture and seemed open to discussion. In 2009, things were more difficult when we reinitiated talks”, he said. He recalled the Taliban were growing fast with new young recruits, “they were completely brainwashed, they had no sense of cultural differences.” We had started the discussion with Sufi Mohammad, a typical mullah from a rural background, whom Mr. Khattak remembers was fairly illiterate, and had very little understanding about Islam. Sufi was playing an intermediary between the government and the Taliban leadership — which did not want to engage directly at the time. He told me he once asked Sufi, “Maulana Sahib, do you have something written down?” This was to inquire for a way forward to begin a point based discussion that could be led productively. This is when they (the Taliban) demanded Sharia Law, and their hope was to govern the people through a Sharia system. Although Mr. Khattak recalls with astonishment how little Sufi Mohammad knew about Sharia Law or governance, what was also astonishing to him, was Sufi’s confidence. Representing the government, Mr. Khattak wanted to understand exactly the basis of their ideology. He emphasized again, “If you have something written down, we would like to see.” and Sufi Mohammad responded, “no, I don’t.” But he had done his homework, so he smiled and responded helpfully, “Okay, well. I have something for you. I have written this in Urdu. It is a draft of the law.” Mr. Khattak asked him again, “what do you want, we would like to understand it clearly,” to which Sufi Mohammad snapped unhinged by his own indecorous inaptitude, “We want a Qazi”, It was quickly clear to Mr. Khattak that there was no negotiating with these men. But Mr. Khattak in earnest wanted to infer how much these Taliban really based their demand on knowledge. Again, “I asked him, what kind of Qazi, and these were his words; the Qazi should be Shariat abiding, by appearance and by the character. This was his entire philosophy. Entire!” It still amazes and horrifies Mr. Khattak till day. All four of us laughed about it that night, but we acknowledged that the humour was dark. He is one of the very few politicians in the country who have tried lobbying to bring climate change into the curriculum. In 2016 he said, “We live in a strange place where when discussions have begun over how the next war will be fought over water, we started preparing for the war instead of increasing the country’s water storage capacity”. What went on was a tedious process. The Taliban did not trust the negotiations. They demanded to meet the Government directly. Things were not good in Mingora, and Mr. Khattak was determined to find a solution. “Sufi Mohammad had suggested that i should meet the Taliban directly.” In 2009 the Taliban invited Mr. Khattak to meet them at Mandha, the boundary between the Swat and Dir districts. The area was in the Taliban’s grip, and this was where they were based. This was where they trained, recruited and were most heavily militarised. “We refused. We said, we are the government, and you would have to come to Mingora to meet us. We assure them that no one will touch them.” On the day of the meeting, at the residence of the commissioner of Mingora, they came prepared to blow up. “Two of them in suicide vests. Four representatives of the government, five from the Taliban.” It was a surreal scene, the government reps had no weapons, and the Taliban came with heavy weapons, and suicide vests. “They are fanatics. They are extremists.” Mr. Khattak recalls, his next move was to make an effort to disarm them, which would have to be negotiated and not done by force. In the following negotiations, Mr. Khattak argued that they no longer had any justification to bear arms or engage in guerrilla training. Mr. Khattak remembers, “among them, was a tall young man, with a beautiful black turban.” He tells me that this man had attempted to convince him that the Taliban had stopped training. Mr. Khattak however, knew that the Taliban had areas cordoned off where they could be doing anything. This was when Mr. Khattak learned that the Taliban were not only smart, they were not to be trusted. What has always set Mr. Khattak apart as a politician is that he is the one to question all authority and all norms. Others could certainly learn from him here. The writer is Co-Founder Coalition For Women in Journalism and tweets @kirannazish | @CfWiJ Published in Daily Times, May 26th 2018.