Pakistan is planning to enlist Saudi Arabia’s help in brokering a peace deal with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in its quest for peace in the long term.
When Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal meets Pakistani officials during his two-day visit beginning today (Monday), one of the key agenda items would be to explore the possibility of Riyadh’s role in the government’s peacemaking efforts, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government is struggling to revive the nascent peace efforts ever since the killing of TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike in November last year. His successor Mullah Fazlullah has so far refused to respond to the government’s peace overtures.
Sources familiar with the development disclosed that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was likely to request the Saudi foreign minister to use his country’s ‘good offices’ in persuading the TTP and its affiliates to come to the negotiating table.
The Saudi foreign minister will meet President Mamnoon Hussain, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz. Saud al Faisal is also expected to meet prominent religious leaders, including chief of his own faction of Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (F) Maulana Fazlur Rehman as well as Maulana Samiul Haq, who is known as the father of the Afghan Taliban.
A senior foreign ministry official did not confirm religious leaders’ meeting with the Saudi foreign minister. However, sources told The Express Tribune that both these leaders were likely to meet the top Saudi diplomat at the sidelines of the reception being hosted by the prime minister. Their meeting is likely to focus on efforts to strike a peace deal with the TTP.
Both Rehman and Samiul Haq, who are considered close to the Saudi rulers, are intensifying efforts to bring the TTP to the negotiating table as most of the militants studied at their seminaries.
Another official pointed out that the government believes Saudi Arabia could use its ‘clout’ over some of the TTP affiliates for an agreement.
When contacted, a senior member of the federal cabinet insisted that the Saudis were careful in getting involved in the process considering the TTP’s links with al Qaeda.
However, a senior leader from a religious party said Riyadh could use its ‘financial leverage’ over the Taliban. “Money matters a lot for these groups (TTP) and the Saudis can buy anything,” said the leader, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
But a government official said it was unclear whether the Saudis would be willing to play a role as they have their own interests in the region.
Defense analyst Lt Gen (retd) Talat Masood is of the view that Riyadh could influence the TTP by squeezing their funding which comes from the Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia.
“Secondly, they (the Saudis) can use their links directly or indirectly to persuade these groups for talks,” he told The Express Tribune.
Jan Achakzai, a spokesperson for the JUI-F chief, said that as Saudi Arabia was a friend of Pakistan it could help the country’s peace efforts.
“But the fact of the matter is that we haven’t evolved a consensus on how to execute the peace plan. Hence the question of seeking help from Saudi Arabia is premature at this stage,” he argued.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2014.