The TTP’s jaw-jaw ploy

Published: February 12, 2013

The writer was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ejaz.haider@tribune.com.pk

Last year, on December 28, Hakimullah Mehsud offered talks to the state of Pakistan, pre-conditioning them such that none, except the Taliban apologists, could have accepted the ‘generosity’. On February 3, the Mehsud group, through its spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan, again made the offer, within 24 hours of a brazen raid on a check post in Sarai Naurang.

The offer comes through a video message. Sitting next to Ehsan in the video is Adnan Rashid, another terrorist on death row who was sprung from Bannu Jail last year. The talks offer and the message are audacious. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has dismissed it as a joke. The army has shown no interest in it.

So, what did the Mehsud group gain out of it?

This is where we have to appreciate the subtle strategy that informs this offer. It is structured to play on the fissures within Pakistan’s state and society. To that extent, while reject the offer we must, it is important, nonetheless, to understand the strategy.

First, like before, this offer for talks is conditional on the state of Pakistan conceding certain pre-talks demands. However, the demands this time are different. They relate to the release by the government of Muslim Khan and Maulvi Omar along with five other Taliban commanders. All these prisoners belong to Fazlullah’s group. Two of these prisoners, Muslim Khan and Omar, are to be the lead negotiators from the Taliban side. This is the ‘political’ committee.

And who will they negotiate with — the government? Perhaps, the army? No. They will negotiate with three guarantors chosen by the Mehsud group. Unsurprisingly, they include Syed Munawwar Hasan, the Jama’at-e Islami (JI) amir, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of his faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (JUI-F), and somewhat surprisingly, Mian Nawaz Sharif, chief of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N). [NB: the JI amir has refused to be a guarantor on behalf of the government but Rehman has kept his options open. His jetting to Doha is another story!]

The strategy betrays some smart thinking. The Mehsud group, which has earlier attacked everyone, including the PML-N, the JI and the JUI-F, is now seeking support for containing the push against it by reaching out to the Right (the religio-political parties) and Centre-Right political forces, notably the PML-N. Interestingly, Imran Khan, the most vocal proponent of talking to the Taliban, has been excluded.

This shows a clever understanding of Pakistani politics, especially PML-N’s politics, and the civil-military divide. As for Khan and his PTI, the group knows that negotiating with the Taliban is an important plank of his politics. Even if he is excluded, he has travelled far enough on the negotiations road to make an about-face. But keeping him out of the list makes it easier for Nawaz Sharif to take the lead on the offer.

The government and its allied parties are excluded, as is the army, which Ehsan criticised bitterly and deliberately. The MQM was threatened again. As for the ANP, the killing of Bashir Bilour was a clear signal to the party, though some even within the ANP are not averse to talking.

Nawaz Sharif and Fazlur Rehman already favour talks with the Taliban and have asked the government to take the offer seriously. If Sharif begins to make more reconciliatory noises towards the Taliban, given his party’s political clout, his support could add immense value to the Taliban strategy in terms of creating a public buy-in for negotiating with the Taliban. And if his party were to win the elections and form a coalition with right-wing parties, the hue of the game could change.

The stick behind this Mehsud group offer is the threat of terrorist attacks. The idea is to put the onus for such attacks on the government. This is also clear from what Ehsan said in his video message, pointing to the fact that the government is not taking the offer seriously. The argument would be: we offered to talk but we didn’t find a partner in peace.

Add to this the voices from the right — the JI and the JUI-F — and a public wary of and worn by bloodshed could begin to fault the government for not taking the reconciliation course. Any student of counter-insurgency and counterterrorism knows how important it is to retain the support of the people. No one can fight among the people without their support.

The TTP terror groups know they have been losing public support. They need to regain that support. The terror groups don’t have a political presence. They have to rely on political entities to reach the people. The offer of talks through a ‘political’ committee and the naming of senior politicians as guarantors is their ploy to do just that.

The TTP and its various groups, especially Hakimullah Mehsud’s group, are under pressure from the army. Hakimullah’s group is also under pressure internally, within the broader TTP conglomerate. This is an effort by Hakimullah to regain ground by linking up with the Swat Taliban within the terror enterprise — to offset challenges to his leadership — and by reaching out to the political parties outside.

The group has nothing to lose and much to gain. If this strategy doesn’t succeed, they still, ceteris paribus, get a propaganda point and sow discord within Pakistan. But if Nawaz Sharif et al begin to press for talking to the TTP, the terror groups win the round without offering anything in return.

It will, of course, be a huge folly on the part of the PML-N to fall for this gambit. The TTP is trying to manoeuvre itself into gaining legitimacy a la the Afghan Taliban. This is clear from the letter they wrote to the ‘ulema’ and their attempt to ‘de-localise’ themselves by condemning France’s actions in Mali and making references to the Arab ‘spring’ and a grand coalition of the ummah.

But Pakistan is not occupied by foreign troops. The country has legitimate governance structures and surveys show that Pakistanis, leaving out the lunatic fringe, have no interest in TTP’s exclusionary ideology. If jaw-jaw they want, let them first disarm and seek amnesty.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (39)

  • Milestogo
    Feb 12, 2013 - 10:25PM

    Lets make one thing clear – these terrorist have Muslim sounding names but in reality they are not Muslims.

    A true Muslim can never be a terrorist – only a freedom fighter like afzal Kasab.

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  • Sudhir
    Feb 12, 2013 - 10:50PM

    A good analysis of talks offer by TTP. PML (N) is all set to fall in the trap which is very unfortunate. Our experience of past 5 years has proved that the leadership in PML(N) is too simple to understand the intricate issues. I would rather say the party is being run by those who lack wisdom and farsightedness.

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  • polpot
    Feb 12, 2013 - 10:58PM

    @Milestogo: ” A true Muslim can never be a terrorist – only a freedom fighter like afzal Kasab”
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    So Pakistan is full of fake muslims? 180 Mn less 1.

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  • John B
    Feb 12, 2013 - 11:15PM

    The indefensible position of PAK is the TTP demands.According to TTP propaganda by violent and eloquent moderates, PAK is an Islamic country created with sharia principles and all they want is to establish a socialistic government with sharia rules, and the present political system is unislamic, and the rulers are all corrupt.

    One may disagree with TTP modus operandi but their cry is not new to PAK elites. This is the dilemma-yield to TTP now and face sharia creeping in again as in Zia’s time, or ignore the TTP and enjoy the life outside of the sharia.

    Otherwise, naturally everyone will ask what is wrong in negotiating with TTP. Choice is very clear.

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  • MSS
    Feb 12, 2013 - 11:19PM

    Very clever thinking by the author. Great piece.
    @Milestogo
    Where have you been all these years? In the last decade, all but a handful of terrorists have been Muslims, true Muslims or not. That is how the world perceives it to be, that is how most Pakistanis, south Asians, west, Latin Americans see it. You don’t think that TTP are Christians and Jews or Hindus do you? Because if you do, and there are many more like you, then there is not much hope for Pakistan.

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  • Maula Jut
    Feb 12, 2013 - 11:24PM

    Talks are the flavour of 2013. Everbody – USA, UK, Kabul, Mullah Umar, Islamabad, Tehran, Riyadh- will be talking about talks. But not New Delhi because the Indians have not yet determined their position about talks. But the author’s opposition to talks is incomprehensible considering that none of the talkers is yet really serious about the talks. At least the first half of 2013 may be spent in posturing. The real talks may have to wait. Let’s hope that the TTP is working on follow up offers. They simply cannot afford to set aside the idea of talks when their mentors are engaging in that course.

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  • Parvez
    Feb 12, 2013 - 11:34PM

    Very true. What does seem clear is that they are very media savvy and always two steps ahead in their strategy because they appear to update themselves almost daily as opposed to their opposite numbers who collectively appear not even to be on the same page, let alone show a positive direction.

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  • gp65
    Feb 12, 2013 - 11:45PM

    @MSS: Sadly @MilesToGO is saying the same thing as what Rehman Maik did just a couple of days back i.e. that the TTP members are not true Muslims. Ofcourse the notion that no Muslim can kill Muslim has been proven wrong multiple times from Bangladesh issue to Iran Iraq war to Syria currently but it is always cirumvented by using the fallacious logic that if they do such things they are not ‘true Muslims’.

    BAsically this is the logical fallacy ‘No true Scotsman’ which is being used here.

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  • gp65
    Feb 13, 2013 - 12:04AM

    The TTP are manipulating how PAkistan has chosen to define itself. If Pakistan truly is an Islamic society as it claims it is then what is the basis of objecting to TTP request of sharia? If it is not an Islamic society hat is the basis for claiming KAshmir on grounds of religion alone?

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  • Arijit Sharma
    Feb 13, 2013 - 12:05AM

    @Maula Jut: ” … Talks are the flavour of 2013. Everbody – USA, UK, Kabul, Mullah Umar, Islamabad, Tehran, Riyadh- will be talking about talks. But not New Delhi because the Indians have not yet determined their position about talks …. “

    Indian statecraft is a function of two personalities – Chanakya and “Smiling” Buddha. On Afghanistan, we are in the Smiling Buddha phase – just watching and smiling. Chanakya will come in later on – AFTER the dust settles. Until then inaction is the best course of action.

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  • Hindu Kashmiri from Refugee camp
    Feb 13, 2013 - 12:10AM

    @polpot:
    or full of freedom fighters

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  • lol
    Feb 13, 2013 - 12:11AM

    @Milestogo, try harder indian troll

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  • Eddie dex
    Feb 13, 2013 - 1:53AM

    Why is there always so much hate speech when the discussion involves India and Pakistan…both of you people should learn how to get along with your neighbors…

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  • sabi
    Feb 13, 2013 - 2:13AM

    Again surface analysis and no true effort to look beneath skin-Things are not as it apperas to be.Ditrty politics of establishment using taliban as their stooge.

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  • mahakaalchakra
    Feb 13, 2013 - 2:46AM

    Pakistan is the “TTP” for India as far as Kashmir is concerned.

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  • Aviator
    Feb 13, 2013 - 2:48AM

    Brilliant analysis, which cuts through to the core of the issue.

    Nawaz Sharif’s hankering to talk to the TTP is a major slap in the face of the families of of the over 100 victims of Quetta bomb blast victims, plus the many thousands murdered all over Pakistan directly by the hands of the TTP over the past decade.

    In any other country the government and police would be hunting down such criminals. But in Pakistan it seems politicians are desperate to be associated with such murderers.

    The TTP are not the Afghan Taliban, what is happening in Afghanistan is a different situation. The TTP are nothing but cold murderers.

    I worry for the future of Pakistan if the TTP’s demands are taken seriously.

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  • mahakaalchakra
    Feb 13, 2013 - 2:52AM

    @ Author: “Interestingly, Imran Khan, the most vocal proponent of talking to the Taliban, has been excluded.”

    ..Because Taliban Khan himself would sit on the negotiation table on behalf of the TTP in front of guarantors such as Naraz Sharif.

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  • realist
    Feb 13, 2013 - 10:00AM

    If you expect India to talk to pakistan, I see no reason why pakistan should not talk to TTP.

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  • Mirza
    Feb 13, 2013 - 10:36AM

    Your last few words say it all ” let them first disarm and seek amnesty.”
    Yet their attacks have become more and more vicious each day against innocent civilians. Yet our rightwing leaders want us to provide them legitimacy by sitting with them and provide photo ops. The fact is there are deep root of talibanization in Pakistan and the rightwing leaders have no option but to tow their line.

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  • Dilip
    Feb 13, 2013 - 12:33PM

    @Eddie dex
    Well said brother. From both the divides the select few keep on spewing venom. Within both religious doctrines the need for forgiveness, compassion and civility is missing. They should all go back to basics and start learning the true meaning of their religion.

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  • maestro
    Feb 13, 2013 - 3:15PM

    Reading some of the ignorant remarks from my fellow Pakistanis here that “no muslim can kill a muslim” BS. Which part of the words of the Quran “the killing of one is the killing of mankind, the saving of one is the saving of mankind” don’t you understand eh? Does it say in that line that killing of a muslim is not allowed or saving of a muslim is justified only?? Killing of ANYONE of ANY religion or background is wrong except only in self defence!! Wake up and stop listening to hate preachers who know NOTHING about Islam! Go and read the Holy Book properly! Morons!

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  • Feb 13, 2013 - 3:21PM

    @mahakaalchakra:
    .
    “..Because Taliban Khan himself would sit on the negotiation table on behalf of the TTP in front of guarantors such as Naraz Sharif…”

    .
    However hard you try, you cannot underplay role of the Patron-in-Chief.

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  • Morons
    Feb 13, 2013 - 3:22PM

    “Ditrty politics of establishment using taliban as their stooge”

    Oh @sabi, how deep did you go to pull out this conclusion?

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  • Jadoon
    Feb 13, 2013 - 4:17PM

    If they are willing to disarm…. do you really expect that???

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  • sabi
    Feb 13, 2013 - 4:40PM

    @Morons:
    “Ditrty politics of establishment using taliban as their stooge”

    “Oh @sabi, how deep did you go to pull out this conclusion?”
    Not at all infact I had to come to surface from beneath, where very few bother to go.Taboo land!

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  • Sudhir
    Feb 13, 2013 - 5:47PM

    @mahakaalchakra:
    Please have some common sense

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  • Milestogo
    Feb 13, 2013 - 6:02PM

    We will ultimately need to talk to Taliban – and respect their right of self determination and right to homeland. Let them live so that they can let us live.

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  • Bond
    Feb 13, 2013 - 6:25PM

    TTP SHOULD APOLOGISE THE KILLING OF OUR SOLDIERS AND CIVILIAN WITH HANDING OVER THE PEOPLE WHO PLANNED AND EXECUTED SUCH HEINIOUS CRIMES AGAINST OUR BELOVED LAND.THEY SHOULD DENOUNCE VOILENCE IN FUTURE AND BE A PART OF CIVILIZED SOCIETY AND OBEY THE LAW OF THE LAND.IF THEY AGREE OTHERWISE LET THEM GO TO HELL.

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  • abc
    Feb 13, 2013 - 7:17PM

    No mercy for Taliban – crush them all

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  • Something Clever
    Feb 13, 2013 - 7:54PM

    @maestro:
    Man, sorry but, you seem to be the one who doesn’t know your own religion. The passage containing that killing one person is like killing all of humanity line is something that is being dictated for “The children of Israel.” Not Muslims.

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  • Zobia
    Feb 13, 2013 - 8:21PM

    An exellent analysis by the Ejaz Haider.But my suggestion for TTP is to start dialogue or do something to resolve this conflict. This issue has ruined the whole fabric of the society.

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  • polwala
    Feb 13, 2013 - 11:02PM

    @miletoGo,
    There you go again. Respect taliban’s right of self determination and a right to their own homeland? Are you talking about their ‘own homeland’ that is going to be out of Pakistan? Have they not got a ‘homeland’? In some countries such statements warrant a sedition charge. Please get your directional fix on taliban first.

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  • Feb 13, 2013 - 11:29PM

    “But Pakistan is not occupied by foreign troops. “

    This guy not too long ago said Pakistan shouldn’t go into North Waziristan because the Taliban were not hunting Pakistan.

    Huh!

    Now Taliban are everywhere, North, South, Centre!

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  • Faqir Ipi
    Feb 14, 2013 - 12:19AM

    Masses are supposed to believe that there are two sides to every story, say Waziristan or Tribal Area. There’s ANP/Army/PPP’s side and then there’s TTP/Al-Qaeda side, and both deserve equal coverage.

    Well, such opinion are necessary for Waziristan Genocide and KILLING MASSES FOR 10 YEARS.

    Infact both sides are same and need each other to fool masses. It goes on and on, pile up of lies, planted stories and fabricated calls.

    Now, there is inalienable right to be simple and also stupid. But please be stupid with your own life and limb…and let Waziristan genocide be stooped immediately.

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  • Faqir Ipi
    Feb 14, 2013 - 12:20AM

    Karachi Military Operation———10 Weeks
    MQM is coalition partner and ruling in Islamabad and Karachi for past 25 years

    Bengal Military Operation———-10 Months
    Pakistan is divided and 90K milliatary men are POW

    Waziristan Military Operation——10 Years

    Comparisons are odious but unavoidable.

    Hue & Cry over Shahzeb Muder, Malala, Swat Flogging Vedio, Hazara Killing etc.

    Media, NGOs, Civil Society Hue & Cry are directly proportional to US $.

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  • Milestogo
    Feb 14, 2013 - 5:22AM

    All land belongs to Allah and humanity. Taliban are part of humanity and they have a right to their own country and right to self govern in the Areas where they are currently residing and specially in the areas where they are a substantial minority.

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  • Prabhjyot Singh Madan
    Feb 14, 2013 - 5:43AM

    Taliban are evil.they recuperate under the disguise of talks and start killing again.just kill them all.

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  • MSS
    Feb 14, 2013 - 3:26PM

    @Milestogo,
    The land belongs to Allah and humanity? Who resides in this land? People who are not very humane, the likes of ‘Taliban’. And you say they should be allowed to govern where they are in a ‘minority’? What kind of twisted logic is this?
    The land belongs to humans who have collectively decided to divide it in some fashion. There is already enough division caused by land, religion, caste, wealth, climate and so on. Let us stop.

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  • Milestogo
    Feb 14, 2013 - 6:11PM

    All minorities should be protected and given a chance to self rule be it Kashmiris, Bengalis, balochis, ahmedis, shias or Taliban.

    Live and let live.

    Taliban have a right to practice there interpretation of religion freely – we might not agree with that interpretation.

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