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Analysis: Putting talks in context



By Imtiaz Gul

Daily Dawn , March 27, 2014


The government and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan sat down on Wednesday to find a mutually agreed way to peace. This first, direct contact is nothing short of the first major step towards legitimising a group that is proscribed by both Pakistan and the US.

The government committee consists of former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand, Additional Chief Secretary Fata Arbab Arif, Secretary Ports and Shipping Habibullah Khattak and Additional Secretary to the prime minister Fawad Hasan Fawad. They are supported by a former ISI official, retired Major Mohammad Amir.

The TTP intermediaries include Maulana Samiul Haq, who heads his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, Jamaat-i-Islami’s Prof Ibrahim, and JUI-S spokesperson Maulana Yousuf Shah.

The Taliban shura is represented at the talks by Qari Shakeel, Maulvi Bashir, Azam Tariq and Maulvi Zakir. How much influence these four wield within the shura is not known.

The shura is headed by TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah, a rabid Salafist who wants a Sharia-based Islamic emirate. Sheikh Khalid Haqqani is TTP deputy chief and head of the group’s supreme shura. Number three in the hierarchy is Shakeel Ahmed Haqqani (alias Qari Shakeel) who heads the TTP’s political shura. A pan-Islamist, militant Al Qaeda ideology is what primarily bonds the three. Although ideologically close to the Haqqani Network, they do not appear to share the network’s spare-Pakistan policy.

Abdul Wali (alias Omar Khalid Khorasani) from Mohmand Agency is also a vocal opponent of the Pakistani state. Another important, albeit with far less political clout, member of the shura is Khan Said Mehsud (alias Khalid Khan Sajna), a commander of the TTP in South Waziristan, once known for his differences with the late TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud and who probably remains at odds with the TTP’s Mehsud proponents. He was reportedly averse to attacks on Pakistani interests.

Other shura members include Shehryar Mehsud (alias Shahbaz), commander, North Waziristan TTP, Shahidullah Shahid, Azam Tariq and Maulvi Zakir. Asmatullah Muawiya represents Punjab and Junood-i-Hafsa in the TTP shura, along with Adnan Rasheed, chief of Ansar Al Aseer (TTP’s unit tasked with freeing militant prisoners). Another shura ‘luminary’ is Qazi Hammad, touted as the TTP ‘chief justice’.

Keeping this conglomeration of militants in view, as well as the avowed mission of the TTP to bring Sharia to Pakistan, to have the army withdraw from Fata and to obtain the release of its prisoners, one wonders how united this shura is in its talks with the government. Khorasani and his spokesman not only owned up to several acts of terrorism in recent weeks (including the execution of 23 FC personnel) but also rejected the idea of talks.

Similarly, Ahrarul Hind — a shadowy group that has claimed responsibility for attacks after the two sides agreed to talks — is averse to negotiations. The TTP has already distanced itself from this group and Maulana Yousuf Shah claimed recently that the TTP now fully controlled various factions of the group, a statement that is difficult to absorb and makes us ask: who will guarantee the truce is upheld?

TTP negotiator Prof Ibrahim — a former senator of the central Jamaat-i-Islami, the Pakistani extension of the Muslim Brotherhood — always makes conditional commitments to peace on behalf of the Taliban, saying the government must also respect the ceasefire. He warns of “many more IDPs” in case an operation is undertaken in Fata, followed by renewed violence.

Following decades of cluelessly wandering about in Pakistan’s political wilderness and having failed to galvanise popular support, Islamists including the Jamaat-i-Islami probably see the current situation as a chance to impose their will on the state by echoing and endorsing the TTP mission.

But does the government understand this? And is it really pursuing talks as a means to bring about peace or biding time to eventually go for the kill and eliminate what it calls “irreconcilable TTP elements”?

A federal minister who was formerly an army general provided the answer to this question. “The Taliban even today are asking for some sort of a role in a future arrangement in the Fata area. Whatever I have learned in these eight or nine months that I have been a minister, I don’t find any place for them in that society, I just don’t find any place for them,” said Abdul Qadir Baloch, Minister for States and Frontier Regions, at an international seminar on Tuesday.

He said the government was trying to find ways to re-establish its authority in the border region, and that the ongoing peace process was part of those efforts. He practically ruled out any possibility of giving political concessions to the Taliban militants, condemning them as “murderers and killers”.

Baloch went on to suggest that even if a settlement were to be reached with the Taliban, the local tribal population was unlikely to reconcile with the militants. “Hundreds … of people have been killed by the Taliban. There is a tribal tradition — tribal people take revenge and the revenge killings are going to then start. So, even if a solution is found there cannot be space left for those elements of the Taliban who have been involved in the killing of tribal people, in displacements, in bringing about miseries to the tribal people,” he said.

A day later, even President Mamnoon Hussain hinted at the “other option” if talks failed. The nation must be ready to face the situation that would then arise, the president cautioned.

What are the talks about then?

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk