Barely a day after mounting an audacious attack on the security forces, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) held up a white flag, signalling its willingness to enter peace negotiations with the government if three senior politicians would act as guarantors.
Saturday’s assault on a military camp in the Lakki Marwat district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa claimed the lives of nearly two dozen people, including 11 civilians.
“We do not trust the army, it has always broken past agreements, even agreements we made with politicians,” said Ehsanullah Ehsan, the spokesperson for the proscribed group, in a video message. “We need solid guarantors who can assure us about the army, because the army is the real power in Pakistan.”
Ehsan proposed the names of three politicians who could mediate the TTP’s talks with the military: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Nawaz Sharif, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Jamaat-e-Islami amir Syed Munawar Hasan.
As a confidence-building measure, the Taliban called on the government to release five of their men who could participate in the negotiations – including Muslim Khan, Maulvi Umar and Maulana Mehmood. “The government should release five TTP cadres This is necessary so that a five-member TTP political committee can participate in negotiations,” Ehsan said.
Maulvi Umar, a TTP spokesperson and a close associate of Hakimullah’s predecessor Baitullah Mehsud, was captured by security forces in August 2009. Muslim Khan, the spokesman of the infamous Mullah Fazlullah, the TTP chief in Swat, was arrested a month later following a major military operation in the region.
In the 30-minute video Ehsan is flanked by Adnan Rashid, a former Pakistan Air Force technician and mastermind of the 2003 assassination attempt on former military ruler Pervez Musharraf. Adnan, along with dozens of hardcore militants, had escaped in the 2012 brazen Bannu jailbreak.
The video shows two masked men standing behind Ehsan and Adnan, with a copy of the country’s Constitution lying on the table in front of them. The Taliban have called for rewriting the Constitution in accordance with “Islamic sharia”.
About nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan’s offer to mediate between the Taliban and the government, the spokesman said that the militia would consider the offer of Dr AQ Khan, who is an “asset of the nation”.
It’s the second dialogue offer from the TTP. The first one was made by the militia’s chief Hakimullah Mehsud on December 28, also in a video message. Hakimullah is on a list of global terrorists and carries a $5 million bounty on his head.
The TTP spokesman accused the government of reneging on earlier peace deals and trivialising the matter. However, he added that his group would wait for a “positive response” to their latest offer.
He also sought to quell reported schism within the militia. The TTP is united under the leadership of Hakimullah Mehsud, he said and named Mullah Fazlullah as the head of TTP in Malakand, Umer Khalid Khurasan in Mohmand Agency, Maulana Abukar in Bajaur Agency and Waliur Rehman in South Waziristan Agency.
Ehsan renewed threats against secular political parties and warned of attacks against them. “We have an ideological war with Awami National Party, Pakistan Peoples Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement. We will target them for their secular policies,” he added.
He blamed the MQM for the killing of religious scholars and innocent civilians in Karachi. “We have declared war against the MQM. We have killed their leaders and we will continue to mount attacks against them in the future,” he threatened.
Ehsan threatened that his group would avenge the execution of Ajmal Kasab, one of the 10 gunmen involved in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. He called upon India to hand over the body of Ajmal Kasab, who was hanged to death in an Indian prison last month.
The TTP spokesman also claimed that his group’s presence is not limited to tribal regions. “The TTP is now a global organisation. It has a strong network throughout the world,” he said.
He also condemned the French military intervention in Mali as an “ideological war”.
“The French government has attacked mujahedeen in Mali and America has also agreed to support France. I ask the whole Muslim world to unite because it is an ideological war,” the TTP spokesman said. “If America is supporting France on an ideological basis then in same way all Muslims should unite and support one another.” (With additional input from agencies)
Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th, 2013.