PESHAWAR: The only certainty to be gleaned from Sunday’s denials and rejections is that the Pakistan Taliban do not speak with one voice.
A day after a Taliban leader – recognised by many as the Pakistani Taliban’s deputy chief – announced the group was negotiating with the government, militants contacted The Associated Press to deny the story.
Maulvi Faqir Mohammad said on Saturday that the Taliban were negotiating with the help of local tribal elders in the Bajaur Agency, even going as far as saying the talks were “going in the right direction” and could expand beyond Bajaur.
Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan rejected the claims, however, saying there would be no negotiations until the government imposed Shariah in the country. Ehsan has been equally uncompromising in the past – he has previously denied reports of peace talks by unnamed commanders and intelligence officials.
“Talks by a handful of people with the government cannot be deemed as the Taliban talking,” Ehsan told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Faqir Mohammed has long been identified as the group’s Bajaur head. He is reported to have fled to Afghanistan in recent years to escape army operations. Another commander, Mullah Dadullah, now claims to be Taliban chief in Bajaur. Dadullah contacted the AP on Sunday and denied the group, also known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), was negotiating with the government.
“As TTP chief responsible for Bajaur, I am categorically saying there are no talks going on between the government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban at the Bajaur level or the central level,” Dadullah said, also speaking from an undisclosed location.
Ehsan, the spokesman, said Dadullah rather than Mohammed was the head of the Pakistani Taliban in Bajaur.
K-P governor denies talks
Denials also came from the other side. In a statement issued on Sunday, the governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Barrister Masood Kausar, said that peace talks with militants were not taking place,
The statement clearly rejected the claims that the government was talking to the Taliban. “No relief will be given to any militant in any case,” said the statement. “Even if the militants lay down their weapons unconditionally and surrender they will still be tried in a court of law.” Kausar rejected the claims of Faqir Muhammad that some militants had been released, saying: “They (the Taliban) would have to pay for their doings.”
The governor further said that peace had been returned to the Bajaur Agency after great sacrifices by the people and security forces. “There is no space for any peace talks in the current scenario,” his statement said.
White House firm on TTP
The US is also keeping a close eye on developments. Speaking to The Express Tribune, White House spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said the US had seen reports of the TTP negotiating with Pakistan. She added, though, that they “do not appear definitive at this point.”
Hayden said that the White House was not in a position to comment on the details of any such talks. “Our overall views on reconciliation are well-known as is our view that Pakistan has an important role to play. When it comes to the TTP, we continue to underscore to Pakistan that groups such as the TTP threaten Pakistan and the region,” said Hayden.
The White House spokesperson added that the US would not like to see the gains of the Pakistan military lost, warning that terrorists should not be afforded safe havens in the country. “We also continue to be concerned about militant violence against Pakistani civilians,” she said.
(APP, with additional reporting by Huma Imtiaz in Washington)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2011.