In a video message
released to the media on February 3, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesperson
Ehsanullah Ehsan has offered to hold talks with the government if, to start
with, Pakistan released seven of their leaders. The message also names three
Pakistani politicians, including the PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, to act as
Sitting beside Adnan
Rashid, the prime convict in the attempt to kill Pervez Musharraf, freed by
TTP fighters during the Bannu Jail break in July 2012, Ehsan blamed the
Pakistani government for not having taken the previous offer seriously. He
also expressed lack of confidence in the Pakistan military leadership.
“We do not trust the
army; it has always broken past agreements, even those we made with the
politicians,” he said. Earlier, in December last year, Hakimullah Mehsud,
the TTP chief, had said his group was ready for talks but his men would not
give up their arms.
Questions are being raised
on the timing, purpose and seriousness of TTP towards peace talks. The
foremost among these questions is the compulsion for TTP to initiate talks
at this point in time. It may not have weakened militarily but the TTP is
certainly losing its ideological support among the general population
especially after the attack on Malala Yusufzai, the killing of Bashir Bilour,
and attacks on polio workers, including women besides beheadings of 24
security officials in December last year.
The timing of the offer is
important. The general election is approaching and holding it in a peaceful
environment is a major challenge for all stakeholders. The caretaker
government would not be in a position to initiate the peace process. Timing
is also important as the TTP had made the offer a few days after the ANP
decided to hold an all parties’ conference on terrorism.
By this move, the TTP has
tried to elevate the political status of its sympathisers. Nawaz Sharif has
already asked the government to start the peace talks as soon as possible
but, at the same time, he has denied becoming a guarantor during the talks.
From the Afghan
Taliban’s point of view, it is a good time to offer peace talks — to
exploit the situation in Afghanistan. But those who have been involved in
the peace talks in the past and are aware of the tribal culture say the way
TTP offered talks itself shows that it is not serious.
response so far is ambivalent. It does not want to appear weaker by
accepting the offer nor does it want its opponents to get political mileage
on this issue. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has given three different
policy statements on the issue. First, he accepted the offer, then termed it
a crude joke, and finally said that government would start peace process
after the TTP stops violence.
Apparently, the government
is waiting for the military to take a lead which is not saying anything
publicly. The4 issue is under discussion for sure as the corps commanders
meeting was held on February 14, the same day that the ANP’s APC started
The United States also has
a stake in the process as the TTP is the supporter of al-Qaeda and Haqqani
network in Pakistani tribal areas. The most important question is: whether
the peace process started this time would lead to durable peace or would it
be a non-starter once again.
Asmat Wazir, an
Islamabad-based expert on TTP and tribal areas, believes Hakimullah Mehsud
is not sincere about talks. “He draws his strength from the Arab and Uzbek
fighters and Punjabi Taliban; they all are anti-Pakistan and would never let
him go for the peace process. It is a smart tactic on his part to diffuse
internal pressure — from certain groups of TTP, including the Mehsud
He says this move would
also help Hakimullah Mehsud in convincing the Afghan Taliban in future for
support. “Suppose the peace process in Afghanistan succeeds and the
Haqqanis leave North Waziristan; in such a scenario, Hakimullah would not be
in a position to face Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Pakistan army. The people in the
tribal areas are also against them as they have killed hundreds of
influential people in these areas. So, Hakimullah is playing his cards very
Brigadier (retired) Asad
Munir, who has served in senior intelligence postings in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
and Fata after 9/11, says many people in Pakistan want the issue to be
solved through negotiations. “The TTP’s agenda is very clear — it
openly terms our present system of governance un-Islamic. They also want to
impose their version of sharia through jehad. The negotiations would at
least help the government to disclose the real agenda to people.”
Munir believes the
government should start the peace process as soon as possible. “It should
start it before elections; it would also help Pakistani people to understand
which political parties favour them.”
He thinks the ANP’s APC
would help understand the point of view of government. “The government
should not put forward more than two demands: that the TTP give up arms,
which only means they would not use violence against state and, secondly,
they would not run a parallel government in tribal areas. If they accept
these two demands, it should go for talks.”
Munir is of the view that
the US has got nothing to do with the talks. “This is an issue for
Pakistan and Afghanistan. The US would leave the region by the end of 2014
but its drone operation would continue as long as al-Qaeda is present in the
Pakistani tribal areas.”
Akhonzada Chitan, a PPP
MNA from Fata, says the TTP understands the traditions of tribal areas.
“The TTP should know that a serious peace offer is not made in an
offensive environment. They will have to promise a ceasefire and also
promise that they would not use this opportunity to regroup themselves once
Chitan notes the
appointment of KPK governor from tribal areas is also part of the present
government’s effort to empower people from this area. “But the
government will not start talking to the TTP unless it accepts the writ of
the state and the constitution of Pakistan. The decision about the peace
process will be taken by all political forces with consultation. The
military would also be taken into confidence,” he says.
The military leadership
says it is not against the peace process but a bunch of terrorists cannot
dictate the nation. “At present, the Taliban are trapped in two pockets of
North Waziristan and Tirah Valley. They are immensely under pressure in
Tirah and fear they would soon lose it,” says a senior military official
while talking to TNS on condition of anonymity.
was a fundamental part of all the peace deals that foreigners would be
expelled and they would not run a parallel government. But, they never
respected these clauses. If they are really serious why did they not talk
about ceasefire and show repentance on killing 40,000 of their brothers in
Pakistan, including 5000 soldiers?” he asks.
The official says that the
TTP wants to create confusion among political forces. What needs to be seen,
he says, is that the offer is not another effort to buy time and take a
After more than a
decade since the international community led by the US forces zeroed in on
Afghanistan in search of perpetrators of 9/11, the country remains far from
stability and peace. Now, the announcement of US President Barack Obama that
the US troops will start leaving Afghanistan this year may mean a different
thing to different people.
While the Afghan Taliban
may be looking at it as an opportunity to stage a comeback, regional players
like the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan are not amused. The
trilateral meeting in London between UK Prime Minister David Cameron and
heads of Afghanistan and Pakistan can be seen in this context.
This is because the
situation on the ground does not present a favourable picture for the US or
Afghan forces. The show of defiance by the Taliban in attacking US and
Afghan forces’ military posts recently is one indication.
At the time of writing
these lines, one news report says a Nato air strike killed 10 Afghan
civilians, including five children in Kunar province. Earlier, Taliban had
attacked Prince Harry’s Afghan base destroying hundreds of millions of
pounds’ worth of American aircraft and military equipment.
In the midst of this,
President Obama’s announcement of 34,000 troops withdrawal from
Afghanistan year and that the war in Afghanistan would be over by the end of
2014 has raised concerns about the future of a fragile state.
In what appears to be an
untimely withdrawal at the moment “after a decade of grinding war” in
President Obama’s words, what lies in store for the Afghan government and
military forces is an important question.
President Obama may have
won a standing ovation from US lawmakers at his State of the Union Address
over mentioning the withdrawal, but the decision does not take into account
the ground realities and timing of the announcement itself — Spring
Offensive is just round the corner. For now, a timetable is being finalized
for the remaining troops to train Afghan soldiers and to conduct
The decision will halve
the size of the 66,000 thousand US forces in Afghanistan before the final
withdrawal. To President Obama, the US “will complete its mission in
Afghanistan” as he claimed to have defeated “the core of Al Qaeda”
since 2001 when the US-led invasion of Afghanistan toppled the Taliban
The developments seem to
be in contrast with the US claims that Washington remains committed to a
long-term strategic partnership with Afghanistan and that talks on a
bilateral security agreement were still taking place.
There are about 352,000
Afghan security forces. In the next two years, Nato plans not to lead combat
operations and will only provide support to the Afghan soldiers.
It has not been a good
start either despite the international efforts in military and monetary
terms. Since the Bonn Agreement in December 2001, the first in the series of
agreements intended to re-create the State of Afghanistan following 9/11
terrorist attacks in 2001, it has been a bumpy ride for the Afghan
government and the people.
More recently in July 2012
donors at the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan pledged to give it $16bn (£10.3bn)
in civilian aid over four years, in an attempt to safeguard its future after
foreign forces leave in 2014.
The biggest donors, the
US, Japan, Germany and the UK, led the way at the Tokyo meeting in offering
funds. Donors though have agreed to hold a follow-up conference in the UK in
2014. The indicators are not satisfactory. The Afghan economy still relies
heavily on international development and military assistance. According to
The World Bank, aid makes up more than 95 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP.
Another chronic problem is
the lack of trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan despite the nudging by
international players such as UK and US. According to Washington Post,
Taliban prisoners released by Pakistan to promote peace in Afghanistan
rejoined those fighting Nato and Afghan troops.
The Afghan government was supposed to receive the released prisoners
and keep tabs on them to lower the risk of them returning to terrorists.
While the US tries to find
a reasonable and respectable way to get out of the mess, Afghanistan and
Pakistan governments are doing their bit to bring at least a semblance of
peace in the region, especially Afghanistan and its border areas with
Pakistan President Asif
Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai yet again showed their resolve
to work towards a peace deal for Afghanistan within six months — a
duration which is quite challenging for the two sides. Since it is not
possible to delink the Afghan Taliban from their counterpart in Pakistan —
the TTP — there were also unconfirmed reports that JUI-F leader, Maulana
Fazlur Rehman held talks with the Afghan Taliban in Qatar on this issue.
After the trilateral talks
with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, they have committed to “take all
necessary measures” to achieve the goal. The plan to open an Afghan office
in Doha is one step to work towards a strategic partnership, which would
ideally work to strengthen ties on economic and security issues, including
trade and border management.
The talks are the third
round of discussions since Cameron led the trilateral process last year.
The first two rounds of the trilateral talks were held in Kabul and
New York last year. The two sides also “re-affirmed their commitments”
to encourage closer ties as overcoming mistrust between Afghanistan and
Pakistan remains a central issue.
The continuing thread in
the Afghanistan situation remains the same for the international community
— the fear that Afghanistan may relapse into chaos after the US pullout.
The leadership of
the Awami National Party (ANP) has welcomed the offer of peace talks by the
Pakistani Taliban led by Hakimullah Mehsud with the government. At the same
time, they would not like the militants to stage a comeback and take people
hostage on gunpoint, after the signing of peace agreement.
In less than two months,
the Taliban have made two offers of peace talks to the government and want
senior politicians, including Mian Nawaz Sharif, Maulana Fazlur Rahman and
Syed Munawwar Hasan to become guarantors on behalf of the Pakistan Army.
The Taliban are also
skeptic, “Though the government seems non-serious in peace talks, we are
willing to talk to it for the sake of Islam and the people. We have
expressed our trust in three senior political leaders. If they agree to
become guarantors on behalf of the Pakistan Army, we are ready to talk,”
says Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban
Pakistan (TTP), while talking to The News on Sunday (TNS) from an
Some analysts are of the
view that since Pakistani Taliban are aware of the ongoing peace talks
between the United States and the Afghan Taliban, therefore, they want to
resolve their issues with the Pakistan government before the withdrawal of
US-led Nato forces from Afghanistan.
Earlier, the TTP leader
Hakimullah Mehsud issued a video in December and made a similar offer of
talks to the government but refused to lay down arms till the implementation
of Shariah in the country.
Also, Hakimullah Mehsud
had stated that the government would have to quit its alliance with the US,
come out of its war in Afghanistan, rewrite the country’s constitution
according to the Shariah in place of what he called the ‘present secular
system’ and also apologise for the war launched against them (TTP).
The Taliban believe the
Pakistan Army has all the power and they would like to hold talks with
military authorities in future in case the three politicians showed their
willingness to become guarantors.
Before the talks, the
Taliban want the government to release their five senior commanders,
including former spokesman for the Malakand Taliban Haji Muslim Khan,
Mahmood Khan, a close aide of Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah, and
former TTP spokesman Maulvi Omar and that they would be representatives on
behalf of the Pakistani Taliban for negotiations with the government.
Prior to the arrest of the
above-mentioned three militant commanders, the government had placed Rs10
million as head money on each of them. Senior ANP leader, Senator Afrasiab
Khattak, says they have lost more than 750 party activists, some of them
parliamentarians, in terrorist attacks during the past seven years, but even
then they want to resolve the issue of terrorism through dialogue and
that’s why they have convened the All Parties Conference (APC) in
“We don’t want all the
political parties to support our point of view for resolving the issue of
terrorism. We want them to give us their own input so that all have a
collective wisdom for resolving this issue,” Afrasiab Khattak tells TNS,
adding,. “despite difficulties and pressure from the international
community, the ANP-led government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa signed peace accord
with the Swat Taliban in 2009 as they did not want bloodshed in the region.
But the militants violated the peace accord and invaded the nearby
districts, including Buner, challenging the writ of the state in other areas
of the Malakanad region.”
That’s why, he says, the
ANP has involved all major political parties before holding talks with the
militants to ensure that the militants do not take undue benefit of the
peace accord and return after withdrawal of the security forces from certain
areas, in case of an agreement..
Except Jamaat-i-Islami and
Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), Afrasiab says all political parties
participated in the APC and supported their proposal of holding talks with
About the timing of the
talks as the government is about to complete its five-year term, Afrasiab
argues the Pakhtuns, in fact, have borne the brunt of terrorism and since
they voted ANP into power during the 2008 general election, therefore, they
would utilise all the available means to restore peace in the region.
He did not confirm reports
that the ANP wanted to invite military officials to the APC, saying the
military would have to take ownership of political decisions.
Another active member of
the party, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, who is KP Information Minister and ANP
provincial spokesman, is also happy with Taliban’s offer for peace talks
but suggests that the president, military authorities and heads of security
agencies must be taken into confidence before any such accord with the
“They killed my only son
and are desperately trying to eliminate me but even then I am in favour of
peace talks with the militants so that they are not eliminated through the
use of force. We are the followers of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan who preached
non-violence during his life. Let us give them another chance if they are
sincere in peace in the country,” Mina Iftikhar tells TNS.
Hussain says it is a good
opportunity that the Taliban have showed confidence in three political
leaders of the country and want them to play their role in resolving
militancy and terrorism. He says the ANP will not like to hold peace talks
and sign peace accord with the militants until all other stakeholders,
including political and military leadership stand behind them. “This is
not the problem of the ANP only. Today they killed my son and tomorrow they
would kill others who don’t want to accept their brand of Sharia,” the
ANP leader says.
He dismisses the view of
some political opponents who believe the ANP wants to ink peace agreement
before general elections so that they can conduct the election campaign in
peace. Hussain says militants did not spare them during the 2008 election
and the ANP will be the only party to hold the election campaign and
organise public gatherings as it has the courage to stand against militants.
He laments the fact that
terrorism, which was earlier confined to the Federally Administered Tribal
Areas (Fata), has now engulfed all parts of the country including Karachi.
That is why all political forces would have to seriously work and find an
amicable solution for a better Pakistan.
“Our government is going
to complete its tenure but it will make the job of the next government easy
if we succeed in bringing peace in the country through a fruitful dialogue
with the militants,” says Hussain.
Mian Nawaz Sharif’s endorsement of talks with the Tehrik-e-Taliban
Pakistan fully fits the militant-friendly profile of a traditional
right-wing politician who owes his rise in politics to a “devout
dictator” and has long been accused of being soft on the Taliban despite
the grave threat they pose to the Pakistani state and society.
Responding to a recent
statement by TTP spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, that the Taliban would be open
to talks with the government if Nawaz Sharif, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and
Munawwar Hassan act as guarantors of the negotiation process, Nawaz has
asked the government to take the offer seriously and begin a serious,
meaningful and result-oriented dialogue without any further delay.
In the same breath,
however, he has declined the TTP’s offer to become a guarantor for the
talks, saying “no one could probably act in that capacity given the
government’s past record.” The PPP circles have described Nawaz’s
support to the TTP’s talks offer as a political move to present himself as
a man of peace, with the prime aim of appeasing the Taliban and staying in
their good books as a like-minded well-wisher.
Giving his reaction,
General Pervez Musharraf told the Foreign Policy Magazine in an exclusive
interview last week: “I call Nawaz Sharif a closet Taliban. He’s a man
who has been in contact with the Taliban. He is a man who, even today,
appeases clerics and maulvis — the extremists. Why are we giving him a
third chance to destroy Pakistan?”
Analysts say Nawaz’s
stance on the Taliban’s offer could further isolate him from the military
establishment which had recently revised its doctrine and recognised
domestic militants, especially the Taliban as a greater threat than India.
The January 4, 2013 meeting of the Corps Commanders, presided over by
General Ashfaq Kayani, had already declared that accepting the TTP demands
would amount to admitting defeat of the state against al-Qaeda-linked
While Nawaz has asked the
government to hold peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, the Obama
administration is reported to have warned Pakistan against signing any deal
with the TTP, maintaining that the dialogue offer was actually motivated by
the ameer of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Mohammad Omar, primarily to secure
greater physical cooperation of Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan where the
fighting season — the annual Spring Offensive — is getting closer with
the end of the winter spell.
Revising its foreign
policy and coming out of the ‘US slavery’ is one of the major
preconditions of the TTP to hold talks with the Pakistani establishment.
Nawaz’ support for the
TTP’s talks offer is considered a shrewd move on the heels of the general
elections when the Taliban have made public their abhorrence for three major
secular liberal parties: the PPP, ANP and MQM, besides targeting their
leadership. While the coalition governments of PPP, ANP and the MQM in
Islamabad, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have taken a tough stand against the
TTP-driven terrorism, the Sharif-led Punjab government has pursued a policy
of appeasement and allowed the TTP-linked anti-US, anti-Shia and anti-India
jehadi organisations to operate and move freely in the province.
That the Sharif brothers
have a soft corner for the Taliban is common knowledge. After the March 2010
TTP suicide attacks in Lahore, which targeted the provincial headquarters of
the ISI and the Manawan police training centre, Shahbaz had appealed to the
Taliban to “spare Punjab”, adding that the PML-N shared their anti-US
planned a bloodbath of innocent Muslims at the behest of others only to
prolong his rule, but we in the PML-N had opposed his policies and rejected
dictation from abroad,” Shahbaz had said while addressing a gathering of
the clerics at Jamia Naeemia in Lahore after these attacks. “If the
Taliban are also fighting for the same cause, then they should not carry out
acts of terrorism in Punjab,” he had pleaded.
In fact, Nawaz Sharif’s
political background testifies to his closeness with Islamist elements.
During the election drive before the 1988 polls, which were held after
Zia’s death, Nawaz’ main campaign slogan had been to fulfill the
unfinished mission of “Shaheed Ziaul Haq”.
As Nawaz lost the election
and Benazir Bhutto came into power, he allegedly conspired against her
government with the backing of his radical mentors in the establishment.
Interestingly, after her government was dissolved prematurely in 1990,
Bhutto accused Osama bin Laden, Nawaz Sharif and the military establishment
of masterminding her ouster.
In a January 11, 2001
interview with Monthly Herald, she again accused Osama of financing an
operation to topple her government in cooperation with Nawaz Sharif and the
intelligence agencies. “Osama paid $10 million to overthrow my government
after being told that a woman in the prime minister’s position in an
Islamic country was against Islam. Nawaz Sharif told bin Laden he would
bring Islam to Pakistan,” Bhutto said.
Benazir Bhutto’s claim
was confirmed five years later by the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Qazi Hussain
Ahmed. In a March 18, 2006 interview with Daily Jang, Qazi conceded that
Osama had visited Mansoora and expressed his willingness to buy
parliamentarians’ loyalties to ensure Nawaz Sharif’s election as prime
minister. “Osama said that if there was a way to buy votes [to topple
Bhutto’s government and to bring Nawaz into power], he was willing to pay
Osama was a big supporter
of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad and Nawaz Sharif, who was the IJI president
at that time,” Qazi added in his interview.
A couple of days later, a
former ISI official, Khalid Khwaja, who was killed in Waziristan in April
2010, told Asia Times Online in a March 21, 2006 interview that Nawaz Sharif
had met bin Laden in Saudi Arabia three times in his presence and received
funds to topple the first Bhutto government.
After becoming the prime
minister following the 1990 elections, [which the ISI rigged by distributing
money among the IJI leaders), Nawaz initiated an Islamisation drive by
introducing 15th constitutional amendment bill which was meant to impose the
Shariah Law as the supreme law of land. The bill to Islamise the Pakistani
society was moved in the National Assembly in August 1998 on the ten-year
commemorations of General Zia.
Nawaz’ critics had
described the bill as an attempt to become the Ameerul Momineen. Even though
the bill was passed by the Sharif-led National Assembly on October 10, 1998
by 151 votes to 16, it was rejected by the Senate where the Bhutto-led PPP
was in a majority. And it is no coincidence that the primary precondition of
the TTP to hold talks with the government is the implementation of the
‘Talibani version’ of Shariah Law in Pakistan.
The offers of
talks from the perpetrators of violence are coming in quick succession, it
seems, and with preconditions that suit them. The last one came less than
two months ago.
The response from the
political stakeholders, as perhaps desired by those making the offer, is
divided; and justifiably so.
Two things are clear. One,
the militants are not exhausted, militarily speaking, and still quite
capable of inflicting harm on the Pakistani state both at the vulnerable
spots as well as where it hurts the most. Two, they have perhaps lost a fair
amount of ideological support among the people, especially after the attack
on Malala Yusufzai, the murder of Bashir Bilour and the attacks on polio
workers and security personnel.
In all likelihood, the
latter situation may have spurred the need to talk peace. If this mere offer
could divide the people and break the consensus against terrorism, the
TTP’s job is done.
The timing of the olive
branch could not be more opportune for the political stakeholders whose eyes
are set on the impending general election and how it could be held in peace.
This is a major concern for a political party like the ANP which is the
worst hit and would rather explore this option at this point.
PML-N is the other major
political party that has been named as a possible guarantor by the TTP.
While ANP’s concerns are well-understood, the PML-N is being hugely
criticised for its stance of appeasement. This is believed to be a major
hindrance in evolving a national consensus against terrorism. That Mian
Nawaz Sharif refused to condemn and castigate the mindless violence while
accepting the need for talks as well as PML-N’s own history were no help
The point is that in any
civil-war like situation talks, if meant in earnest, show a way forward.
But, in our case, there is an utter lack of trust and a clear sense that the
militants intend to use another peace agreement to their advantage. To begin
with, they have sought the release of some of their men without offering
anything in return. The offers of talks have always been preceded and
followed by terrorist attacks. This is not how talks materialise. No wonder,
they have been met with a sense of suspicion and cynicism.
Unlike the political
parties, most commentators have demolished the idea of talks with the TTP.
Some of them appear to have argued their case on emotional grounds like
“talking to the terrorists amounts to selling the blood of thousands of
men, women and children” but they are probably right. Pakistan is not
under foreign occupation and the Taliban must accept the writ of the state
before they sit on the negotiating table.