Talking to the Taliban

Government should negotiate only if it has the upper hand & feels that talks are only way to maintain that advantage.


Editorial February 04, 2013
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan (L) and with new TTP member Adnan Rasheed address a press conference in Shabtoi, a village in South Waziristan, on February 2, 2013. PHOTO: AFP

The one thing that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) recognises above all else is weakness. It is constantly probing for vulnerabilities in the state and security apparatus, ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. Tactical concerns guide its every move. This is why the latest offer of peace talks, from TTP spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan, should be dismissed immediately. Previous calls for negotiation have been made only because the TTP felt it needed time to regroup. Under the cover of talks, the Taliban was able to buy time and then, as soon as it had recovered its former strength, it returned to its violent ways. The government should negotiate only if it has the upper hand and feels that talks are the only way to maintain that advantage. Right now, this is not the case.

The preconditions set by the Taliban for peace talks betray what their real agenda is. Ehsan demanded the release of three captured TTP leaders: Muslim Khan, Haji Umar and Maulana Mehmood. Muslim Khan was the spokesperson for the TTP in Swat who had called for the families, in particular children, of soldiers to be targeted and killed. Quite how releasing him will serve the cause of peace is unclear. Certainly, his over three years of incarceration are unlikely to have made him any less radical and violent. Haji Umar, also a spokesperson for the TTP, was the man who confirmed that Baitullah Mehsud had been killed in a drone strike and his arrest was of great value in gaining intelligence about the leaders and actions of the TTP. Maulana Mehmood, meanwhile, was a member of the Taliban’s political wing and as such one of the more brutally violent men even within the militant outfit. Releasing these three men would not only be a moral outrage, it would also encourage the TTP in its belief that greater violence is always the answer.

It is also curious that the Taliban have named PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman and JI leader Munawar Hasan to act as guarantors that the military will not violate the terms of any negotiation. Conveniently enough, the government and the military are not given the opportunity to appoint any guarantors of their own who can hold the TTP to the same standard. That this suggestion has been made just as election campaigns are about to commence is unlikely to be a coincidence. The three parties are among the most right wing in the country and have favoured negotiations with the Taliban. Now that they have been asked to act as guarantors, another suggestion which the government should shoot down without hesitation, it is likely they will go on the campaign trail and denounce the government for not considering this idea. This will sow further political dissension at a time when unity is essential. Division, it seems, is part of the TTP’s agenda.

Some unlikely support for peace talks is emerging from within the ANP, where K-P Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain said that lasting peace can be secured through talks with the TTP. Hussain has been a stalwart in the fight against militancy, having survived an assassination attempt and lost his son to the Taliban. The ANP, more than any other political party, has been in the frontline of the fight against the Taliban so it is perhaps understandable that it is weary and looking for a way to end this war. Peace talks, however, will only end up prolonging the fight as the Taliban regroup for another day.

There should only be one condition for peace talks to be held and that is the complete cessation of violence. Nearly every day, the TTP attacks the military at check posts and there are frequent bomb blasts and suicide attacks in major cities. So long as these continue unabated, it will be impossible to trust the Taliban when they call for peace talks. We also have to ask ourselves what our ultimate goal is. Do we want to maintain the status quo, where the TTP rules large swathes of territory or disarm them forever? Peace talks will only ensure the former.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2013.

COMMENTS (25)

Hasan Mehmood | 8 years ago | Reply

@Mir Ali: {The only way to peace is talks. The British followed by the Russians and Americans have learned this lesson the hard way}

This applies to Afghan Taliban and not to TTP. Nobody is occupying our country. We have our own Army, parliament etc. Its the TTP who are gunning for taking control of our country in spite of being in a microscopic minority. For GOD's sake don't take leave of common sense just because you are sympathetic or apologetic regarding senseless religious terrorism.

Hasan Mehmood | 8 years ago | Reply

The supposedly main plank of TTP crusade and agenda for talks is complete enforcement of Sharia. Let’s take them at face value. Now if the GOVT. has any common sense, it should immediately ask TTP to forward the names of religious scholars among their ranks who must have graduated from any Maddrasa (any sect), are well known to general public, well versed in religious theology and written religious books or Fatwas which are a source of reference for at least their own sect. Let them put up someone like Qazi Hussain / Mufti Naeemi / Fazlul Rehman etc from their side. Mind you I am not talking about religious scholars who are sympathetic or apologetic. They must belong to the core of Taliban. Surely they cannot proceed to kill left / right and centre in the name of ISLAM without any religious GODFATHER among their ranks. I am sure the TTP will be left speechless. Surely we cannot discuss religious issues and demands having far reaching implications for public in general and women / minorities in particular with the likes of a Lift operator / Bus driver or a one eyed foot soldier. All we need is to puncture the balloon of religious pretension with which it is so simple to blackmail even the educated among us.

Editor ET: Please publish my comment. Its an entirely different angle.

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