In the 2013 elections in Pakistan, all the mainstream political parties emphasised their commitment to seek a durable peace with the Tehrik-e-TalibanPakistan (TTP). A peace deal is off course a welcome step to control violence, especially as the terror initiated by the TTP in 2013 has led to heavy loss of life of both civilians and security force personnel. How the TTP is to be enticed into accepting a peace dealon government terms however remains a moot point. Taliban attacks in 2013 were abnormally high and this trend spilt over to the New Year. Across Pakistan, terror attacks in January 2014 itself claimed the lives of 241 civilians and 86 security force personnel.[i]
Since 2003, the Pakistan Army has had four peace agreements with various tribes, all but one of which collapsed.
As the TTP was largely responsible for the above attacks, it was widely believed that the only way to restore peace in the country was through military action against TTP strongholds in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) and other parts of FATA. A sufficiently weakened TTP through military action could be forced to the negotiating table. The political establishment however was been hesitant to unleash the military. Pakistan’s prime minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif informed his Army Chief in a meeting held on 28 January 2014 that a decision to launch an offensive against NWA could only be taken with the consent of all stakeholders and that such a decision must serve the national interest. That notwithstanding, the initiation of peace talks with the TTP by the Nawaz Sharif government in February 2014 came as somewhat of a surprise.
In early February, Nawaz Sharif, named a team to kick-start the process of initiating a dialogue with the TTP, choosing figures loyal to him to represent the government and those considered sympathetic to the Taliban, to represent the TTP.[ii]The government team comprised the Prime Minister’s Advisor on National Affairs, Mr IrfanSiddiqui, senior journalist RahimullahYusufzai, Mr Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former diplomat and Major (retired) Mohammad Aamir. Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, a former chief cleric of Islamabad’s Red Mosque,represented the TTP. With him were Professor Mohammad Ibrahim of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Maulana Abdul Aziz, and Mufti Kifayatullah, a former lawmaker of the JamiatUlema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).The meeting was an exploratory one, to create grounds for a meeting with the Taliban and Pakistan government. A ceasefire came into effect between the two sides.
However, on 16 February, the Taliban executed 23 Frontier Corps personnel who had been abducted on 14 June 2010 from the Shoonki Post of Mohmand Agency. Three days later, on January 19, 2014, a bomb ripped through a military convoy in Bannu Town of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killing 26 soldiers and injuring another 26. The military retaliated with air strikes on suspected Taliban hideouts in the Mir Ali, Shawal and DattaKhel areas of NWA and in Khyber Agency on 19 and 20 February. Though the talks broke down, the TTP announced on March 1, a month long ceasefire.However, the very fact that the Pakistan government initiated peace talks with groups, which it had long held to be terrorists and anti-state, gave such groups a sense of legitimacy and enhanced their standing in the eyes of the local population.
…the Pakistan government initiated peace talks with groups, which it had long held to be terrorists and anti-state, gave such groups a sense of legitimacy and enhanced their standing in the eyes of the local population.
During the talks held by the intermediaries, the Taliban Shura put forward 15 key demands for negotiations.[iii] These pertained to imposition of Sharia law in Pakistan, Islamic banking, release of jailed prisoners, dropping of all criminal charges against jailed personnel, remuneration for damage to property and withdrawal of the army from tribal areas. Some of the demands were extreme. Acceptance of the Sharia, nullifies the Pakistani constitution, and withdrawal of the army grants de facto control of the area to the TTP.
Obviously, the Pakistani state can accommodate such conditions only at the risk of the country’s disintegration. To what extent the government would be prepared to appease the TTP in an effort to seek peace, and the degree to which the TTP would be prepared to compromise on its core demands remains to be seen. It appears likely that the TTPis simply playing for time by pretending to negotiate, while continuing to exert its power and influence in order to fulfil its political objectives.[iv]As of now, there is no dearth of Mullah’s appearing on Pakistan television, clamouring for the imposition of Sharia, a key demand of the Taliban, thus giving further legitimacy to anti-democratic forces.
Amidst this backdrop, the Pakistan Government held direct talks with the TTP for the first time in March 26, 2014 at an undisclosed location in FATA. The earlier talks had been between the intermediaries of the two sides, so this in a sense was path breaking, as it was the first direct communication between the two sides since the formation of the new government. Peace deals with the Frontier tribes have taken place earlier too.
Since 2003, the Pakistan Army has had four peace agreements with various tribes, all but one of which collapsed. In 2008, an agreement reached between the Pakistan Government and Sufi Mohammad fell apart over a disagreement on how to impose Sharia law in the Swat Valley. While the present ceasefire has held to some extent, the prognosis of its continuation is bleak.[v] Bleaker still lies hope for a sustainable peace accord.
On 4 April, 2014, Mr Nawaz Sharif, held meetings with the Army and Air Force Chiefs, the minister for the interior Mr ChaudhryNisar Ali Khan, the head of the ISI Lt-Gen Zaheerul Islam and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Mr Syed Tariq Fatmi. The Prime Minister is believed to have discussed a strategy to deal with the demands of the TTP. Subsequently, the government decided to go ahead with the release of some of the prisoners with a caveat that the released detainees would henceforth not engage in terror activities.[vi] This sounds good on paper, but ensuring that released detainees will not take part in terror activities in future would be virtually impossible to monitor and implement. Nineteen prisoners are believed to have been released as part of this process. As per Pakistan’s minister for the interior, this number is likely to go up to 30.[vii]The TTP responded by extending the ceasefire. As per a spokesperson for the Taliban, Mr ShahidullahShahid, “Tehrik-e-Taliban is once again showing seriousness and responsibility, and in order to wait for an answer from the government, is extending the cease-fire until April 10.”
…the Taliban is dictating the political future course of the country by insisting on imposition of Sharia all across Pakistan.
As of now, both sides are hedging their bets. The Pakistan government claims to be aware of the fact that the TTP is regrouping, andthat such activities are monitored. How successful such monitoring is remains questionable. Should the peace process crumble, the only alternative is military action. An analogy of the success achieved by the Sri Lankan government finds constant reference in the context of defeating the TTP, but the situation in Pakistan is totally different. In Sri Lanka, the LTTE was confined to a fixed geographical space, which kept getting constricted over time. The terrain in FATA favours militancy and open borders facilitate movement to Afghanistan. It would be virtually impossible to tie the TTP forces down in any military offensive. It is also not certain whether the Pakistan Army has the heart and will to defeat the TTP. In any case, even if the army does occupy all the agencies in FATA, they lack the ability to hold on to such areas for any appreciable length of time.
In an all-out conflict with the TTP, the Pakistan army, in all likelihood, will suffer very heavy casualties. Use of air and artillery can help in keeping casualties down but the resultant collateral damage will further alienate the local population. Indirect firepower, in any case has little impact on the militants who are foot mobile and operate well dispersed. A military victory appears farfetched, though on the converse side, the TTP as of now also does not exhibit the capacity to defeat the Pakistan army. A bloody stalemate is most likely to ensue with advantage remaining with the Taliban and their sympathisers. Increasingly, the Taliban is dictating the political future course of the country by insisting on imposition of Sharia all across Pakistan. The battle lines are drawn. The future will determine whether Pakistan succumbs to a fundamentalist theocracy or can remain a democratic state.
[i] Pakistan Assessment 2014 available at http://w ww.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/
[iii] Details of demands are available athttp://www.dawn.com/news/1085920/ttp-finali ses-15-point-draft-for-talks-sources
[vi] Muhammad SalehZaafir, Strategy on TTP demands prepared available at http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-13-29519-Strategy-on-TTP-de mands-prepared