Army, government at loggerheads over Taliban talks

Published: September 20, 2013

File photo of army chief General Ashfaq Kayani. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

ISLAMABAD: Disagreement over how to handle an escalating insurgency has put Pakistan’s all-powerful army on a collision course with the government, with the military increasingly vocal in its criticism of civilian leaders, officials and diplomats said.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who came to power in May has promised to tame militancy through negotiations, but four months on, talks have yet to start and attacks continue daily.

The army has avoided open confrontation with Sharif and his government but tension is on the rise.

“The army chief … is thinking: ‘Mian Sahib (Nawaz Sharif), enough is enough’,” a senior army officer serving in the strife-plagued tribal area along the Afghan border told Reuters during a visit to Islamabad.

The military-civilian discord has been the source of tension throughout Pakistani history but Sharif’s election has raised hopes the government would get a larger say following Pakistan’s first transition between civilian administrations.

Sharif promised to hold talk with the militants during the election campaign, a welcome vow for many Pakistanis who, while abhorring the bombers, have never been convinced of the necessity of joining the US-led campaign against militancy.

The army, which keeps thousands of troops in the tribal belt, opposes talks with the Pakistani Taliban, saying previous attempts to bring the militants to the negotiating table yielded no results.

Frustration spilled into the open on Sunday when a roadside bomb killed a general and another officer near the Afghan border, just days after government officials promised to launch peace negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban soon.

“This incident has dealt a serious blow (to the peace process),” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar told parliament this week. “We have come to a standstill.”

‘Quite disturbing’

The tension comes at a crucial time when speculation is mounting over who will replace the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, arguably Pakistan’s most powerful man, who is due to retire in November.

The army put out a toughly worded statement this week.

“While reaffirming the army’s support for the political process, (Kayani) also said, unequivocally, that terrorists will not be allowed to take advantage of it,” it said.

“The army has the ability and the will to take the fight to the terrorists.”

The United States, Pakistan’s biggest donor, is pushing Islamabad to step up its campaign against groups such as the Haqqani network which regularly attacks US forces in Afghanistan from hideouts in Pakistani mountains.

“The absence of a strong government narrative on how to counter terrorism is quite disturbing for everyone, including the army chief,” said a senior Western diplomat in Islamabad.

The Pakistani Taliban are a fragmented alliance of factions with no coherent voice. Some within the group have announced preconditions, while others have denied this. The government would not say who would talk to whom, where and when.

“Until they (government) say out loud who the enemy is, there can be no policy and there can be no results,” said the senior military officer.

The army says it would not agree to any preconditions, particularly the withdrawal of troops from tribal areas.

“They are saying: ‘Get out of here and let us be kings’,”  another army source also serving in the tribal belt said of the Pakistani Taliban. “That’s not an option.”

Reader Comments (51)

  • Waqas
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:15PM

    I am not a big fan of army’s involvement in political matters but i totally support this stance taken by Army. Mian sahb and Mr. Khan can say whatever they like but if the militants take control of the areas again then their will be no way back. Army has to step in here and take a clear stance.

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  • just_someone
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:16PM

    Although I dont support military intervention at all, in this case something good is coming out of it. These barbarians only listen when the barrel of the gun is on them. There is no talking to them

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  • Zaida P
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:16PM

    So much for talks with the terrorists !! I wonder what IK would have done.

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  • Dr. Faisal Naqvi
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:20PM

    The fact of the matter is that nation has given mandate to Nawaz Sharif and Co. and not Ashfaq Pervez Kayani! the army is bound to listen to the civilian government and not the other way round. We must proceed with democratic norms. This above the law mentality has destroyed this country!

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  • abc
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:20PM

    Any preconditions would jeopardize the talks lets be clear if we have to talk we should come clean. The nation has suffered a lot and the economy of the country is collapsing. If we cannot part our self and make strong decisions than we will all be responsible for collective failure.

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  • akhtar Baloch
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:29PM

    The only ones talking any sense, well done PAK ARMY! Your nation salutes you!

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  • Sep 20, 2013 - 6:35PM

    No talks with terrorists, I hope Pakistan army can and will restore the writ of government on every square inch of Pakistan where people of Pakistan can live as free citizens

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  • Animal Farm - Desi
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:37PM

    Our political leaders are again going for ad hoc decisions by giving in to the demands of TTP- just to have “peace” for their term in the government and may be only in Punjab. For God sake don’t surrender.

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  • A-No.1
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:38PM

    “The army says it would not agree to any preconditions, particularly the withdrawal of troops from tribal areas.”

    Army says no withdrawl. PHC says no withdrawl. Ab PTI kia karey KP mein?

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  • Sodomite
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:40PM

    Another coup in the making.

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  • Burjor Rustomji
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:44PM

    Who in his right mind would want to negotiate with criminals. That is the problem with Pakistani political leadership, they do not know right from wrong, good from bad. Armed murderers, terrorists, thugs, bombers, people of the worst kind, are to be neqotiated with, unarmed people with a cause are sent to jail. Ours is a nation with despicable double standards, hypocrisy, bigotry. 40,000 to 50,000 people have allready lost their lives. Did India negotiate with Kasab??. Pakistan nation is yet to find out what Pakistan is about, is it about religion, is about being anti Hindu, is it about ego’s of our leaders, is it just a farce, a time pass nation, a shear waste of time ???.

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  • Furqan
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:45PM

    Set our men free, pull back from tribal regions and vacate Islamabad to start negotiations. What a way to peace!

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  • Nadir
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:46PM

    Why does Kayani not want to give peace a chance? As Maulana IK says we must withdraw troops.

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  • Dr. Bill
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:49PM

    Generals !!! enuf is enuf …… you are not in-charge here ….PM is to command …he will take a decision and inform you ….you have to obey the orders …. i don’t know as the ranks goes up you start ignoring the chain of command …..PM is the commander in chief…….This is not Egypt…..

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  • Bilal
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:50PM

    General Kiyani should put his foot down now.The conditions set by TTP are unacceptable.They want army to leave FATA so that they can again rule FATA,slaughter patriotic people and regain their lost strength.

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  • saleem MQM
    Sep 20, 2013 - 7:00PM

    I Totally support the army . Nawaz Sharif needs to pack up his bags and leave.Recommend

  • fawad
    Sep 20, 2013 - 7:09PM

    So in the end it is the army who makes it policies. Is it official now?

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  • Atif Aleem
    Sep 20, 2013 - 7:12PM

    No sane person can support army’s undue involvement in political affairs but at least on this point, every one who abhors terrorists will support the stance what the Pakistan Army has adopted after the shahadit of its high profile personnels. This negotiation drama can lead us right into the heart of darkness. By no mean, we can afford to share even an inch of our state with the hooded beasts called Taliban. We must have to defend our thousands years old civilization. Also, we must have to protect our children’s future at the hands of those savages. But, how can we do so untill the supporters of Taliban in the shape of IK’s party government is there???? This is of course a big question mark.

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  • Khurram khalid
    Sep 20, 2013 - 7:13PM

    the army’s position is right.

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  • Iftikhar Khan
    Sep 20, 2013 - 7:13PM

    We do need to get out of US war and the only way to do that is to provide justice to all the torrorist firmly and efficiently for our own sake. If we do that then there would be no need for US to keep dorning us.

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  • Khurram
    Sep 20, 2013 - 7:28PM

    In classic Egyption style, the usually democracy-championing, army-bashing liberals will now jump ship to welcome increased military involvement in policy making!

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  • Pmahmud
    Sep 20, 2013 - 7:33PM

    An effort by ??? to sow discord. What is new?

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  • fawad
    Sep 20, 2013 - 7:49PM

    If Army has to make the policies, why have these civilian dummies at all? Lets bring martial law and end this story once and for all.

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  • Liaqat Yousufzai
    Sep 20, 2013 - 8:02PM

    Those who oppose the talks with Taliban are either innocent or don’t bear the brunt of the terrorism. We in the affected areas (somehow) understand that the solution lies in the negotiation because war of nine years is not heading towards a logical end./

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  • Saif
    Sep 20, 2013 - 8:27PM

    Now it’s clear for everyone that Pakistan in the war of terrorisme has lost more then 40.000 including civilians and soldiers. How can a government thought to make peace talks with terrorists? It’s totally incomprehensible therefore I support the army and their stance. Nawaz Sharif is shooting himself by making peace with terrorists. Another question is who is going to get beneficial from this preace agreement ofcourse TTP.

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  • ModiFied
    Sep 20, 2013 - 8:33PM

    Amy and common Pakistani is on the same page. Mian sahib and IK can not influence TTP to lay down arms. Same is the case of LoC. Army thinks differently than Mian Sahab and this is why LOC is tense once again. Expect more troubles ahead…

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  • Mark
    Sep 20, 2013 - 8:34PM

    Hope the Pakistanis will now realize better…as to why India doesn’t want to withdraw troops from Kashmir

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  • Ahmed
    Sep 20, 2013 - 8:34PM

    At no point TTP or related terrorist could be allowed to set terms. Political leaders especially PM n IK seem failing badly to control them and in past PPP government soft corner towards these terrorist only increased their activities. All sane Pakistani will stand behind army in this case.

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  • Rex Minor
    Sep 20, 2013 - 8:46PM

    Let me try again and see if the ET has the will to publish which I said before. The Taliban leadership should demand of Nawaz Sharif to retire the current army chief before they would be prepared for a dialogue with Pakistan Government!!! This is the only way to prevent the current mini civil war turning into a total civil war!

    Rex Minor

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  • NK
    Sep 20, 2013 - 9:14PM

    ET what happened to my comment?

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  • Pmahmud
    Sep 20, 2013 - 9:24PM

    Could anybody show where Nawaz has proposed pulling troops from any place. It is IK who said that troops be pulled from some part of Swat.IK is not PM.

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  • hamza khan
    Sep 20, 2013 - 9:34PM

    @Dr. Faisal Naqvi:

    a mandate to make wrong decisions that impact the lives of millions? take down the security barriers inside islamabad and i’m fine with PML-N negotiating all it wants with the TTP, so that every once in a while when an MNA gets picked off in a suicide bomb the ruling parties realize what the army is facing.

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  • hamza khan
    Sep 20, 2013 - 9:35PM

    damn those SSG guys!

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  • hamza khan
    Sep 20, 2013 - 9:43PM

    @Khurram khalid:

    the armys position has been this since day 1, when president musharraf was COAS as well. no political solution from a position of weakness. at that time, IK and his taliban apologists spread fear that we were ‘killing our own people’ and the entire country turned on its own army (shameful) and forgot about the sacrifices our soldiers had made for them. today, i think back and it makes me sad and angry that people did not understand this same concept at that time.better late than never i guess. only 40000 ppl dead at the hands of TTP.

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  • waqas
    Sep 20, 2013 - 9:50PM

    If Nwaz Shareef has made the decision then he should face the bullets, why should Army lay down lives for the foolishness of PMLN ?

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  • logic
    Sep 20, 2013 - 10:06PM

    What happened to the consensus at APC held few days ago ?

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  • Raj - USA
    Sep 20, 2013 - 11:25PM

    3rd time unlucky????????????

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  • Raj - USA
    Sep 20, 2013 - 11:26PM

    I would not like the army rule but the civilian government should stop appeasing the terrorists and ask the army to go after them with full force.

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  • ali ahmed
    Sep 21, 2013 - 12:04AM

    this time he will go to turkey ..empty hand

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  • AJ
    Sep 21, 2013 - 12:06AM

    Pakistan Army is right…! Government and Taliban have reached on agreement 5 times previously. Every time, Taliban broke the agreement..

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  • Saghar Abbas
    Sep 21, 2013 - 1:07AM

    Army is fighting with these terrorist who want to enforce their sharia on country. Killing innocent peoples and destroy strategic interest of nation. Army chief is continuously monitoring and is grantor of security of nation and their interest. If basic ideology is main reason based on which they destroy our national interest, attack our army despite of our willingness for negotiation. My support is with army on matters related to security of our country. Khan is not mature politician and PM Nawaz sharif has no idea about ground reality.
    Its Matter of Army let them handle, PM should take initiatives related to construction and development of economy.

    ” I am ordinary citizen of this country and My support is with interest of Pakistan”

    We are not ready to bow in front of few terrorist groups as we are powerful nation. If they adopt peaceful negotiation we spare their lives, other wise our army will destroy their traces for ever”

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  • Pmahmud
    Sep 21, 2013 - 1:29AM

    @Raj – USA: you should worry about your own country!

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  • Parvez
    Sep 21, 2013 - 1:44AM

    This looks more like a tussle as to who’s in charge and less about a solution to the extremist problem. The beneficiary of this tussle will the extremists and those that back them both here and abroad.

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  • KH
    Sep 21, 2013 - 1:48AM

    where is my comment, so comments against this article will not be allowed….?

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  • Kaleem
    Sep 21, 2013 - 1:52AM

    “The army chief … is thinking: ‘Mian Sahib (Nawaz Sharif), enough is enough’,”

    Mian sb is not naive, he is seasoned. Actually he is saying that to all parties in APC who jointly stressed for dialogue. Secondly, our nation still carries undemocratic mindset, if the govt is not to their likeness, they would wish army to intervene. This above the law mindset has destroyed our country for 36 years of martial law. Recommend

  • H
    Sep 21, 2013 - 2:02AM

    army hasn’t been able to sort this mess in 12 years and they have no right to interfere. It is the govt’s decision and they should learn to take orders.

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  • jadugar
    Sep 21, 2013 - 2:58AM

    The sacrifices are being made by the Armed forces and the innocent Awam of PAKISTAN and least by the Politician. General Kayani may be the best option available to Pakistan against these power hungry Killers. The Govt. may have all the good intentions but is inexperienced in the matter of terrorism. I am betting on General Kayani.Recommend

  • observer
    Sep 21, 2013 - 10:05AM

    All through the past the Pakistani Government of the day has been urging the Pakistan Army for action to clean up NWA. And all the time the Army refused to do so, because they wanted to do it at the time of their ‘Choice’.

    http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/national/18-Aug-2012/nwa-operation-at-time-of-choice

    And now suddenly they seem to be eager for action.

    Something does not quite add up.

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  • mind control
    Sep 21, 2013 - 10:12AM

    Army, government at loggerheads over Taliban talks

    A. In 2011 the Army disagreed with the Government and refused to take action in NWA.

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/277120/north-waziristan-us-may-attack-but-theyll-think-10-times/

    B. And then in 2012 the same story was repeated.

    http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/national/18-Aug-2012/nwa-operation-at-time-of-choice

    Now, suddenly in 2013 they are singing a different tune.

    They are consistent in opposing the Government.

    Moderator ET- May please note that I am quoting public information.

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  • Vakil
    Sep 22, 2013 - 8:06AM

    If the Army and the Government are at “loggerheads” about … (whatever!), you know what the best thing would be to do (for PM Mr. NS)? Well, how about calling an “APC” to ‘sort out’ this problem?!! So simple really… now WHY couldn’t any other enlightened person think of it before???

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  • JD1
    Sep 22, 2013 - 9:08AM

    With our sort of democracy full of black money, i support army intervention in any case. And these terrorists will gradually attempt to occupy the whole of our country, its high time to nip this evil in the bud.

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