Talks or firepower? Islamabad’s Taliban dilemma

Mansoor Jafar
Mansoor Jafar
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Last week was one of the worst in Pakistan’s history that witnessed as the ongoing wave of terrorism in the country reached new heights. A series of fierce terrorist strikes hit many cities across the country, taking over one hundred lives and leaving a larger number of people wounded.

The irony of the matter is that while all the terrorism happening in the country is blamed on Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been delaying peace talks with the group. The government is ignoring the unanimous mandate given several months ago by the parliament and all political parties to negotiate peace with Taliban.

Ever since the Pakistan army launched the U.S. orchestrated military operation in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan in February 2004 to flush out Taliban, Pakistan has been witnessing the civil war like situation. The angry Islamist militants from the tribal region began targeting armed forces through bombs and suicide attacks to take revenge against the Pakistani military and the U.S. for its drone attacks.

However, this war took an ugly twist in late 2007 when bomb blasts also began targeting innocent civilians. Following every attack, some unknown Taliban spokesmen in their messages from undisclosed location, always claimed the responsibility of targeting the civilians.

Over the last few years, the Pakistani parliament, through unanimous resolutions, has authorized the respective governments to negotiate peace with the angry Islamist militants three times. This mandate was given twice by former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani but he never showed a serious intention towards peace talks. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif gave an addition mandate five months back.

Strangely, both the prime ministers have mysteriously refrained from holding peace negotiations with Taliban as military operations continue, making the situation worse. Parliamentary resolutions have warned that using military force against Taliban would never solve the militancy issue, since even the NATO forces failed despite being armed with modern weaponry and technology.

The political parties warned the governments that excessive and unnecessary use of military force against tribal people would result in an east Pakistan debacle, where military operations infuriated the majority of people to rise up against the west Pakistan and caused them to break away to create Bangladesh.

Nawaz Sharif took over power eight months back with the primary promise to the nation that he would negotiate peace with Taliban to rid the nation of bloodshed. But he also avoided making a serious progress towards holding talks, displaying a callous disregard to all the bloodshed happening to his countrymen.

All through the turmoil, the mainstream media demonized the Taliban and put pressure on the government and the armed forces to go ahead with the final military offensive to wipe out the tribal militants, instead of holding peace negotiations. It is alleged that mainstream electronic media never investigated the dark areas of the sudden phenomenon of the Taliban killing civilians.

It was never looked into why they never struck civilians during the previous three years insurgency. Besides, it was also never ascertained that the person claiming responsibility of attacks was the genuine Taliban spokesman or if his message was authentic.

Besides blame for attacks on mosques, mausoleums, places of worship for non-Muslims and markets, the Taliban was also reported to have claimed responsibility for scores of attacks on mosques and seminaries adhering to Deobandi, the same school of thought of the Taliban. One wonders why they have been annihilating their own.

Though PM Nawaz Sharif made big strides towards implementing his remaining agenda of re-establishing peace and friendship with India, helping restore peace in Afghanistan, and normalizing relations with Kabul, his approach towards peace negotiations with TTP remains dilly-dally, raising many doubts about his intentions. He simply keeps ignoring the demands from the saner quarters within the country that he should make sincere efforts towards restoring peace with Taliban.

A fortnight ago, Nawaz Sharif invited the elderly religious leader Maulana Samiul Haq, regarded as the mentor of Afghan Taliban supreme leader Mullah Muhammad Umar, because he is a student at Samiul Haq’s seminary. After the meeting, Samiul Haq told the media that prime minister had desired him to use his influence over TTP to facilitate speed up the peace talk process.

However, this episode took an ugly turn a couple of days ago when Samiul Haq announced he was going to dissociate himself from process. While he claimed to have positive responses from the TTP side to hold negotiations, the prime minister displayed an extremely blasé attitude and avoided responding to him for the whole week despite his repeated messages.

This drama did not end there. In a response to Samiul Haq’s allegations, a spokesman for the leader claimed Nawaz Sharif had never entrusted any responsibility to Maulana Samiul Haq for facilitating the peace negotiations with Taliban. Another spokesman of government jumped in and alleged that Taliban were responsible for stalling peace talks process every time it was about to take off, because they would not renounce violence.

Under the mounting pressure from the weeklong bloodshed, Sharif held another round of consultations with the parliamentary leaders of his party on Monday to decide whether to hold swift negotiations for peace or launch a decisive offensive against Taliban.

The strange and unexplainable evasiveness from holding peace talks by successive governments supports the alleged theory that Pakistani army and government have been on different pages regarding resolving the Taliban threat.

Mansoor Jafar

The meeting remained inconclusive as the party leaders threw the ball back in the court of the PM, authorizing him to decide whether to hold talks or send in military forces. After the meeting, interior minister Chaudhry Nisar told media he did not trust the Taliban anymore as they were asking for talks and killing innocent people at the same time.

On the other hand, TTP spokesman on Monday reiterated the willingness of Taliban to negotiate peace with the government, provided Islamabad display sincerity and avoid military offensives against the tribal people.

In its third statement over the last week, the TTP spokesman claimed that government and army had made a joke of talks by misleading the TTP and the nation with false propaganda.

TTP spokesman stressed it was government’s responsibility to create a conducive atmosphere for talks instead of issuing meaningless statements. The spokesman accused government of making media statements to confuse the public, while the TTP has responded positively to every delegation sent by the government including Maulana Samiul Haq. “The media is controlled by government and the West has continued its propaganda against the Taliban,” the statement concluded.

The strange and unexplainable evasiveness from holding peace talks by successive governments supports the alleged theory that Pakistani army and government have been on different pages regarding resolving the Taliban threat. The political governments favor talks while the army wants to crush them, a sentiment evident from the unannounced military offensives that have always continued. The U.S. and NATO forces are also propelling Pakistan army to go for a decisive kill.

With the mess gets worse every day, the bloodshed is reaching alarmingly high levels and the situation seems to be slipping out of the hands of both the army and the government. Both capital and manpower have been going out of the country in fear of extreme insecurity, causing more financial distress. It is time for the government to show courage and determination to stick to a final decision.


Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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