Novelists and playwrights have vividly described the remorse that assails those who have done evil, they have portrayed the torment of a stricken conscience and the long nights of sleeplessness it occasions, they have written that for such people every pleasure of life is poisoned. But this is not entirely true, for there are also those who have no conscience, no pity and no regret. The slain leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Hakeemullah Mehsud, was one such person.

It is said, and this has been confirmed by those who have met him, that he always wore a smile – even when mercilessly slaughtering helpless captives. My friend, Colonel Imam, who had trained hundreds of mujahideen, including Mullah Omar, during and after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, was killed in a similar manner. Hakeemullah Mehsud was appointed the TTP chief on August 22, 2009 by a 42-member shura, and this signalled the intensification of terrorist attacks. Thousands of men, women and children have been ruthlessly slaughtered by the outfit and its affiliates since then.

Earlier this month, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told members of the National Assembly that there are between 35 and 57 splinter groups within the TTP. What he did not say is that this adds to the complexity of initiating negotiations with the outfit. A majority of the factions reject the start of any peace process till such time that the government agrees upfront that it will: (i) scrap the “un-Islamic” constitution; (ii) replace the basic law of the land by enforcing the sharia as interpreted by the Taliban; (iii) release all captured militants and; (iv) terminate all cooperation with the US and ensure that drone operations are brought to an immediate end.

Unless these preconditions are accepted, suicide attacks, mass-casualty bomb explosions, and targeted assassinations will continue with incremental ferocity. This was reaffirmed by Hakeemullah Mehsud when, in an interview to the BBC a few days before his death, he said that “jihad” against Pakistan will be relentlessly pursued till its constitution is “replaced by an Islamic system.” Thus mass-slaughter is sanctified and is touted as a religious obligation – there can scarcely be a greater blasphemy.

If killing is a form of piety, as the former leader of the TTP believed, it explains that hideous grin on his face as he put his captives to death. Violent extremists, it seems, derive as much pleasure from cold-blooded murder in the name of false religion as ordinary people do when listening to the nocturnes of Chopin.

The TTP mindset corresponds, in a grotesque sort of way, with the line of reasoning prevalent among the religious parties. They are also driven by a compulsive urge, verging on obsession, for jihad against the godless Americans as well as the infidel regimes of the Muslim world. Why else should the leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Syed Munawar Hasan, have declared Hakeemullah Mehsud a martyr? But all this is a mere rehash of a story that has been told all too often. In 2011 the Jamaat-e-Islami chief’s predecessor, the late Qazi Hussain Ahmad, conferred the same honour on the arch-terrorist, Osama bin Laden.

The justification was provided by the JUI-F chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who announced that anyone killed by the US – even a dog – must be considered a martyr. One wonders whether the Maulana – who once solicited the former US ambassador’s support for his political ambitions and promised, in return, that he would promote Washington’s interests in Pakistan – is even aware that Hakeemullah was killed, according to a report which surfaced on November 2, after a tipoff was provided to American intelligence by an obscure TTP faction known as the Roshan Wazir Group.

The former deputy leader of the TTP, Waliur Rehman, is also said to have been successfully targeted in a drone strike on May 29 this year after his exact whereabouts were divulged to US forces by Hakeemullah loyalists. But by far the most revealing were reports in the Arab media in May 2011 that it was Al-Qaeda’s Egyptian faction, led by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, which had informed US intelligence about the precise location of Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad.

The unmistakable pattern that emerges is that the terrorist groups whether the TTP, Al-Qaeda or any of their affiliates have, at one time or another, cooperated with the Americans for no higher a motive than the elimination of their rivals. But despite this, Syed Munawar Husain and Maulana Fazlur Rehman have arrogated to themselves the prerogative of determining who qualifies or does not qualify as a martyr. In their bigoted world good and evil are sharply defined – the good are those who kill in the name of religion while the evil are the “stooges” of the US-led west.

The hallmark of all Pakistani politicians is superficiality. They love to talk and invariably have an opinion on all major issues. There is always that endless stream of words, those involved sentences, and that shallow rhetoric with the affectation of profundity. The two issues that currently engage their attention is the so-called peace process with the TTP and US drone strikes.

Those who favour negotiations with the Taliban have all but forgotten Article 256 of the constitution which clearly states: “No private organisation capable of functioning as a military organisation shall be formed, and any such organisation is illegal.” The implication is that if, at all, talks are to be initiated with the TTP the exclusive focus must be the terms of surrender by the outlawed group. Any other understanding is not permissible under the constitution. Those who support a comprehensive agreement with the TTP which has demanded the scrapping of the constitution could be guilty of high treason under Article 6 (2) of the basic law.

The leadership of the country has consistently lied about drone operations. The first predator attack on June 18, 2004 which resulted in the killing of the militant commander Nek Muhammad was with the approval and cooperation of the Pakistan government and this was again confirmed by General (r) Pervez Musharraf in April this year in his interview to CNN.

In August 2008, former US Ambassador Anne Patterson informed her government that prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had given the go-ahead on drones and had told her: “We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.” In March 2009 the chairperson of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence revealed that drones have been taking off from airfields in Pakistan with the government’s approval.

On March 8, 2011 Major General Ghayur Mehmood, the GOC of the 7th Infantry Division attempted to justify drone attacks when he told reporters in Miranshah that the overwhelming number of fatalities in the predator strikes were Al-Qaeda and TTP fighters.

In May 2011 Time magazine carried a report that Prime Minister Gilani had admitted that his government supported drone operations. On September 27, 2011 former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar gave qualified support to drone strakes in a speech at the Asia Society in Washington when she said: “We have to find ways that are lawful.”

Her remarks were made at a time when reports sourced to US officials appeared in the American media that a mechanism had been evolved under which the US would fax the concerned authorities in Pakistan about intended drone strikes and Islamabad would merely acknowledge receipt as confirmation of its approval.

In October 2012, defence secretary Lt Gen (r) Asif Yasin Malik informed the Senate Standing Committee on Defence that drone operations were being conducted with the approval of the government and the Shamsi Airbase had been used by the Americans till December 2011 to launch the strikes. Yet three months earlier his ministry solemnly declared during a hearing at the Peshawar High Court that there was no agreement or understanding with the Americans on the predator operations.

A sickening mix of perjury as well as lies and deceit has been resorted to by the country’s leadership on vital security-related issues. The situation reflects the sadness of autumn with the leaves falling from the trees. The season is bound to change but the sadness will continue till such time that those at the helm stop telling lies on matters relating to the survival of the state.

The writer is the publisher of Criterion Quarterly.