The latest round of ‘peace-talks’ between the representatives of the Radical Islamists (RIs) lead by Tehriq-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the interlocutors nominated by the Government of Pakistan is apparently leading to nowhere. They do not raise any hope that the RIs are willing to come down either from their uncompromising stand on introduction of Islamic Law (shariat) in Pakistan, withdrawal of Pakistan Army from areas they control, or even a temporary cessation of their violent campaign against Pakistan Army to facilitate direct negotiations with the state.
On their part, the regime’s interlocutors are not seen to be advancing any persuasive argument to the RIs to stop their violent campaign and seem more willing to find a ‘fig-leaf’ formula which would allow them to acquiesce and compromise with the RI’s pro-shariat stance, even while paying some lip-service to the Constitution of Pakistan and the rule of law in the country. Notwithstanding the occasional reports in the media, apparently planted, of ‘progress being made’ and ‘agreement on ceasefire having been nearly sealed’, whatever concrete details have emerged from the talks that are taking place at various undisclosed locations in North Waziristan and Akhora Khattak in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa is that the TTP has not relented on its long-standing demands for introduction of shariat, withdrawal of Army from areas they control and a de-facto recognition of this fact, a staunch anti-US line and not surrendering their arms or stopping their jihad against Pakistan Army.
The TTP’s 15-point ‘draft for talks’ that appeared in Pakistani media a couple of months back, indicates that the TTP is not willing to give even an inch and is merely camouflaging and couching its hard–line demands into negotiating terms. Its 15-point draft’ continues to emphasise the continuing demand to shariatise Pakistan through introduction of shariat in courts; introduction of Islamic system of education in all schools across the board through the entire country; end to interest-based banking system; and immediate replacement of the democratic system of governance by an Islamic one. In terms of military operations, the TTP demands immediate withdrawal of Army from Tribal Areas; closing down of all Army check-posts; and handing over the control of Tribal Areas to “local forces”. It also wants immediate release of all arrested Taliban, both foreign and Pakistani and dropping of all criminal cases against them; both sides may release prisoners held by them; restoration and compensation for damage to property during Pak Army operations and the drone attacks. The TTP also wants families of the victims of drone attacks to be compensated and equal rights to poor and rich, besides a total disassociation with US-led ‘war on terror’ and the US itself.
Even as these ‘talks’ have been continuing, the attacks by RIs, including on Pakistan Army, continue. A Pakistan Army convoy was ambushed on February 10, injuring six soldiers and an officer. Elsewhere three members of the local militia escorting polio workers were attacked in Landikotal. On February 4 a hotel in Peshawar was attacked killing nine persons. The attack was said to have been to avenge the death of innocent students of an Islamic seminary in Rawalpindi in November. At the same time the non-Muslim Kalash tribals (descendents of Alexander’s Greek Army) living in Chitral area have been warned to convert to Islam or face death. The Shias and Barelvis and such smaller sects as Ismailis have also been threatened with armed attacks. The NGOs working in the area have also been threatened for trying to create ‘Israel like’ state in Chitral. Elsewhere in Karachi, a police bus was targeted killing 13 and wounding 47 others on February 12. These acts of terror strikes have against all opponents, whether military, civil or innocents have continued without any let up.
According to Ayesha Siddiqa, the well-known Pakistani author and commentator, who is fiercely anti-Taliban, the talks with Taliban would change “the overall nature of the state.” As a result of any ‘peace-deal’ with TTP, emerging from the ongoing talks, there may be a metamorphosis of the state from ‘hybrid-theocracy’ which exists at the moment, to a complete theocracy. As regards the much talked about planned military operation against Taliban, Siddiqa feels that the so-called ‘Good Taliban’ are connected to the ‘Bad’ ones by blood, friendship and alignments. It is highly improbable that the Army would take on ‘Bad Taliban’ in a frontal assault when it is intending to use the ‘Good Taliban’ for shoring up its position in Afghanistan in the post US withdrawal period this very year. Maria Golovnina, the Reuter reporter covering parts of Pakistan, particularly areas across the Durand Line, reported recently that cross-border Taliban alliance was growing stronger by each day and there has been mutual assistance in supply of arms and ammunition across the border between them. Besides, there is a regular movement of fighters for each others’ missions. There is a view that current ‘cease-fire’ between TTP and Pakistan Army has been proposed with a view to conserve firepower and manpower for the bigger tasks ahead. Another factor mitigating the chances of an assault on Taliban is the presence of a large number of militant groups in South Punjab and Sindh. A new pro-Al Qaida alignment is visible in the groups like Jaish-e-Muhammad, Jamaat-ud Dawa, etc, who seem to be going under the banner of Al-Qaida floated group Lashkar-e-Khorasan.
Shahzad Raza, the Pakistani journalist, who covers militancy, recently wrote in The Friday Times, that Pakistan was in a state of war which was shaking the foundation of the state. The writ of the state had vanished from the Tribal Areas to Karachi, in which RIs were running amok. The Taliban’s real success was not in killing thousands of people, but in creating a strong ideological divide in the society, including the political elite. Clearly, behind there irregular guerrilla image, the TTP and its allies function under a well-oiled nation wide command & control apparatus, which selects targets to be attacked and then assigns the task to a carefully selected group. How can a state deal with such a formidable internal enemy?
Nawaz Sharif government’s problem is that it does not have any manoeuvring space, or the authority, to cut any comprehensive deal with the Taliban. It may not be averse to conceding their demand to shariatise Pakistani structures – after all in 1996, during his second term in office, he had nearly pushed a Constitutional amendment to introduce Shariat in the Tribal Areas to appease Islamic radicals. Yet, he can’t do so this time around unless he has the nod from the Army. On its part the Army does not want to decimate the RIs totally because it still sees in them a force multiplier and important strategic asset. Yet, despite the nagging acceptance of the idea by a fair number of rank and file, to convert Islamic Republic of Pakistan, into a ‘Islamic Emirate of Pakistan’, it does not want the RIs to gain ground as in such a set-up real power would go into hands of the Deobandi/Salafi mullahs and their gunmen and Pakistan Army would loose all its prestige and position it has so painstakingly built up since the inception of the country. In such circumstances, the government of Nawaz Sharif seems more inclined to ensure by bending over backwards to prevent a Taliban onslaught against it, particularly in Punjab. Going by past experiences, if Nawaz Sharif is succeeding in this limited objective, he must be paying a very heavy price to the RIs for that. It is interesting to note that the Inspector General of Police, Punjab has placed various specialised anti-terror forces under his command to be ready to face attacks by the TTP and its allies against government installations and personalities. It is, however, doubtful how effective the ill-prepared and ill-equipped Punjab Police would be in warding of terror attack from the RIs.
At the root of the conflict with RIs is the propensity of successive Pakistani regimes to deal with long term problems of a strategic nature through short-term tactical strategies. Whether in Bangladesh, Baluchistan and now against TTP and its allies, it has not learnt that to solve such deep rooted and complex problem statesmanship and broader vision are needed. The Army, on its part, still relies on iron-fisted response to crush various anti-regime groups and movements, without realising that Taliban and their allied RIs are driven by an ideology and despite their internecine conflicts and disputes, they are determined to pursue their Islamic goal. Thus neither the civilian government, nor the military hierarchy seem to have any answers and plans except a hope that somehow the RIs would dissipate in post-US Afghanistan developments, leaving their Pakistan intact and strong – “If wishes were horses…”
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