Security agencies want the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to abandon their strongholds of Orakzai and Khyber for a possible truce but are not keen to wrench back the control of other lawless tribal regions from the militia.
Officials and TTP affiliates told The Express Tribune on Friday that the militia was being pushed to vacate Orakzai Agency because of its close proximity to the garrison city of Kohat.
“We don’t want to run unnecessary risk. If we tolerate the Taliban presence, it will be a strategic mistake. We will be on their target, if things go wrong again in the future,” said an official privy to the ongoing peace talks between the militants and security agencies.
Same is true for Khyber Agency, which borders Peshawar, the capital city of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa that has borne the brunt of the war on terror in the past three years, the official said. “We cannot continue to allow them to maintain a presence near our cities from where they can plan and mount attacks,” the official added.
Both sides, however, said that the military was not keen on regaining complete control of other tribal regions, which are controlled by the TTP or its splinters including South Waziristan, Bajaur and Mohmand – the regions that share borders with Afghanistan.
Serving and retired military officials said the Taliban could not be trusted because of their ‘dubious’ past when they used peace accords for expanding their reach.
Though the Pakistani military denies it publicly, it was reported last week that its peace negotiations with the Taliban had entered a make-or-break phase and an agreement was possible in weeks to come.
But at least two militant commanders loyal to Hakimullah Mehsud said that it looked hard for both sides to find common grounds for TTP’s withdrawal from Orakzai and Khyber.
“Hakimullah was a TTP commander in these areas before taking over the group’s overall command … he won’t like to see Orakzai and Khyber slipping out of his hands so easily,” said one of the commanders.
It was, however, not clear how strong Hakimullah’s control over the group was as there were reports of several top commanders revolting against him in recent months.
Several TTP associates said Hakimullah was no more a functioning head of the group he once controlled with absolute authority and his role had been taken over by Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud, his longtime deputy but a bitter rival now.
Commanders close to Wali said he was more than willing to have an unconditional accord with the Pakistani government as soon as possible.
It was not immediately known whether TTP commander for Orakzai, Maulvi Noor Jamal or Mullah Toofan, and for Dara Adamkhel (another region close to Kohat) also supported Rehman. Officials said the military was still facing some ‘pockets of mild resistance’ in Orakzai.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2012.