Make it ‘behind the curtain’ activity
It is an interesting development that TTP is showing overtures to indicate conglomerate’s intent, rather eagerness, to enter into serious negotiations with the government. In a recent interview with the BBC, TTP Chief Hakeemullah Mehsud has said that Pakistani government should have officially announced initiation of peace talks and should have sent a tribal Jirga to them for that purpose. He said Taliban are ready for serious talks with the government and would welcome such an effort from it. He vowed to provide a government Jirga with complete security if it was sent to them. He said that for any ceasefire to be credible “it is important that drone strikes are stopped”. “We don’t wish to negotiate with the media….neither do we wish to hear the government’s preconditions through the media nor do we want to put our precondition in front of it,” said Mehsud.
While distancing himself from terrorist attacks on public places, Mehsud blamed spy agencies for such activities. “Purpose behind those attacks is to turn the masses against Taliban so that public support towards us is stopped...The government of Pakistan bombs innocent tribal people due to the pressure of America”, he said. He denied carrying out the recent deadly attacks in public places. “We consider the safety of Muslims, of scholars, of mosques and madrassas as our sacred duty...As for explosions which cause damage to the life and property of Muslims, we have denied any link in the past, we deny any link today”, he added.
Punjabi Taliban commander Asmatullah Muavia has also disassociated his group from the recent attack and is willing to hold “unconditional and serious talks” with the government to present a clear stance on the proposed dialogue. “We are not involved in the recent attacks on Saints Church, Secretariat bus and Qissa Khwani Bazaar,” he said. Once again it strengthens the point for looking into the possibility of a third party involvement aimed at derailing the dialogue process. In this context, the third party twin attack on the Indian security forces personnel in IHK to derail Nawaz-Manmohan meeting on the sidelines of UNGA may be a reference point.
Though these articulations may be a gimmick, aimed at gaining public sympathy, however, if correct, it raises many questions on the way Pakistan has handled the TTP issue over the previous years. May be a third party has been doing such actions hiding behind the TTP’s shadow. The second condition regarding cessation of drone attacks coincides with the national consensus that drone attacks are illegal; they violate a number of international laws and the national sovereignty. Pakistan has repeatedly protested against these attacks. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif raised the issue at the UN General Assembly on September 29. He is expected to discuss the matter with President Obama as well, during the forthcoming summit. Mehsud’s deputy, Waliur Rehman, and predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, were both killed in drone strikes, and he has himself survived a missile strike by a drone.
Third wish that TPP does not want to negotiate through media is also understandable. Major chunk of our media, especially the electronic component, is infested by various conflicting influences and cannot be trusted as an honest broker; sombre national matters certainly need serious, professional and focused approach. Media meddling in Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) crisis is still fresh in public memory. Negotiation processes better remain a ‘behind the curtain activity’ and only essentials be brought to public notice.
Though in a face saving rhetoric, the TTP chief has said that withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan will not change anything and Taliban would carry on with ‘as usual activities’ in Pakistan. It is a fact that with the withdrawal of occupation forces, the overseas pay masters of TTP will no longer be interested to foot its bill. Nevertheless, it may continue to receive financial and logistics support from regional spoilers, but it would be rather limited in size. Hence, most analysts foresee a sharp capacity decline in the TTP by 2015. Moreover, due to envisaged squeeze in funding, intra TTP tensions would pick-up on the issue of sharing the spoils. In all probability, TTP will not be able to keep together its nearly 30 component entities.
On September 9, the federal government had decided to hold talks with Taliban. Then on, September was the deadliest month in Pakistan’s decade long ‘fight against terrorism’. The string of attacks called into question the sanity of government’s initiative to make peace with the Taliban.
However, all is not well on TTP side. It appears divided over the issue of dialogue with the government. While the group’s central leadership says it’s amenable to negotiations, its Mohmand Agency chapter says talks with the government are doomed. “We demand rewriting of Pakistan’s Constitution”, the Mohmand Agency chief of TTP, Umar Khalid Khurasani said in a recent statement. “We will withdraw support from any Taliban commander who compromises on this demand,” he added. Of late TTP’s second in command Lateef Mehsud was snatched away form Afghan forces by NATO/ISAF while he was on his way for a debriefing session at the Afghan National Intelligence Directorate. He has since been interned in Bagram jail.
Chief of the Army Staff General Kayani said last week that the army fully supported the dialogue process initiated by the national leadership to tackle the menace of terrorism. He cautioned that terrorism was a big challenge, and it was imperative that the dialogue process should forge unity among the nation instead of creating any division and it must be within the constitutional parameters.
It is reassuring that while pursuing the option of negotiations, government is mindful that ultimately it will have to take on the irreconcilable elements by force. Therefore several measures have been taken to enhance the state’s capacity to fight the terrorism. Federal government has toughened its anti-terrorism laws by introducing around a dozen amendments into the Anti Terrorism Act 1997, to provide for longer detention for suspects and acceptance of electronic evidence as well as trials via video link in serious criminal cases. Now, the investigating officer shall be required to complete the investigation of the cases falling, under the mandate of the ATCs, within 30 working days. In turn, ATCs shall conduct the trial on day-to-day basis and decide the case within seven days. In addition Sindh Assembly has taken the lead by unanimously passing the Sindh Witness Protection Bill 2013. The bill provides protection to witnesses and their families, thus enabling them to provide evidence in criminal proceedings.
During his recent visit to terror-hit city of Peshawar, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that government is making a new law as well as taking practical steps for improving quality of law enforcement to curb terrorism. He said that to effectively counter terrorism, there is need to have special counter terrorism force along with a strong intelligence network. Having mobilized unwavering national consensus on the issue of eradicating terrorism, the federal and provincial governments need to act fast and demonstrate their will to actually combat this menace. Effects of their efforts must translate into sharp reduction of incidents of terrorist attacks. While taking effective anti-terrorism measures, an all out effort should be made to capitalize on the opportunity thrown up by TTP’s inclination for talks.