The Taliban may not have declared a ceasefire, as Wednesday’s attack on a Dera Ismail Khan police station would show, but they are talking to the government, reports suggest, despite vehement denials from all sides.
Affiliates close to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan deputy chief Waliur Rehman Mehsud, and officials of security agencies told The Express Tribune here on Wednesday that peace talks between the two sides have been going on for some time now.
In fact, sources add, a TTP shura, or decision-making council, has spelt out conditions for a peace agreement with the government where they would cease unilateral attacks on security forces, but not lay down their weapons.
The Taliban, however, have been moving back and forth on the issue. A top commander on Tuesday said a ceasefire had been in place for more than a month to give time for negotiations but their spokesperson thrashed it the next day when TTP fighters attacked a police station in Dera Ismail Khan.
The military also issued a strong denial after reports of peace negotiations surfaced over the weekend.
“Several initial hurdles have been crossed and negotiations are at an advanced level … we have already entered into a make-or-break stage,” said a security official privy to the talks taking place through local tribesmen, religious leaders based in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi and some members from the Saudi royal family.
A list of demands has already been handed over to government’s emissaries, including at least one parliamentarian from the area belonging to a religious group and highly respected among Taliban ranks, individuals close to TTP deputy chief said.
According to them, the Taliban have offered to cease attacks on Pakistan Army, if they are not attacked, but have refused to deweaponise, a pre-condition to peace talks set by Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
The TTP also wants the government to release several dozen detained activists currently in custody of Pakistani security agencies, sources added.
The militant group would not have any objection to the presence of Pakistan military either in the North Waziristan region or the Wazir tribe-populated areas of the south, including Wana – the agency’s headquarters, another TTP insider said.
The shura has also demanded compensation for those killed during the military operation in South Waziristan and reconstruction of damaged houses.
What about Mehsud?
It is not clear, however, if TTP’s fugitive chief Hakimullah Mehsud was also part of these negotiations.
An affiliate of the deputy chief said the shura held more than three meetings in the mountains of Shawal, a thick forest at the border of North and South Waziristan.
Hakimullah did not attend any of those meetings, sources said.
There have been reports in the past that Mehsud is fast losing control over the group he once led absolutely, and Rehman, whom the TTP leader appointed as commander for South Waziristan back in 2009, is gradually replacing him as the new chief.
Security officials working in the area have long concluded that Mehsud is aligned with al Qaeda’s hard line ideology and is no longer reconcilable.
The security establishment, on the other hand, has always been ‘positive’ about prospects of striking a peace deal with Rehman, who follows the Deobandi school of thought, compared to al Qaeda’s hardline Salafi school.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2011.