Issues behind the Sharif-Taliban talks

By Ameen Izzadeen
Acts of terrorism and threats of more violence by the Taliban have quashed hopes for peace in Pakistan. As this article was being written, a breaking news item said a powerful car bomb killed at least 11 policemen and injured scores of others in Karachi.
The attack suspected to have been carried out by a Taliban group, came hours after a warning issued by the main Taliban group –Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that it has launched an “armed struggle” against a polytheistic tribe, which has its origin in the army of Alexander the Great, and Aga Khan’s Ismaili Shiite Muslims in the picturesque northern Chitral Valley.
The video message to the Kalash people who number only 3,500 urged them to convert to Islam or face death.
“By the grace of Allah, an increasing number of people from the Kalash tribe are embracing Islam and we want to make it clear to the Kalash tribe that they will be eliminated along with their protectors, the Western agents, if they don’t embrace Islam,” he says.
Their warning is further testimony that the Taliban know little about the spirit of Islam and its holy book, Quran, which says, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” The Quran also says, “For you, your religion, and for me my religion.”
The Taliban are obviously lacking in understanding of the true spirit of Islam — peace, patience and forgiveness. Therefore, it is dangerous to give in to the key Taliban demand that the whole of Pakistan should be placed under Shariah law. The Shariah law is a sharp-edged knife which is meant to be a scalpel to deal with social ills. It should not be a weapon in the hands of a bunch of half-baked mullahs, who interpret Islam to suit their murderous ideology. In an act of surrender, the previous government in 2009 allowed Shariah Law in certain tribal areas, including the Swat Valley. This came soon after a civil war in the Malakand district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which was formerly known as the North West Frontier Province. The Taliban declared an independent state in the district, hoisted the Taliban flag and trampled Pakistan’s national flag. They also declared the Pakistan army and parliamentarians infidels, and described the country’s constitution as nothing more than an anti-Islamic decree of evil.
The question that arises is: Whether Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s effort to make peace with the Taliban is worth pursuing. Pakistan’s military appears to be sceptical, though it has cautiously welcomed Sharif’s initiative. The military has carried out several successful operations against the Taliban in recent months. Some analysts believe that a decisive operation against the Pakistani Taliban is necessary for the maintenance of peace and dismiss the peace talks as a waste of time as the talks may give an opportunity for the terrorist to regroup.
The TTP is not a single body under the command of one leader. Talha Ibrahim, a conflict analyst of the United States Institute of Peace and research associate at the Pakistan Ka Khuda Hafiz PKKH web portal, says the TTP is an aggregate of several scattered mercenary groups that work under the slogan of takfeer, an ideology that acquits them of the guilt in killing the innocents. Takfeer is a declaration that brands an individual a non-believer.
He says: “Peace talks with an indefinable entity such as the TTP have always been dubious, each time they are initiated; they end up with the killing of the TTP leader who has shown willingness to talk, or die down because of distrust between the different sides. … Nevertheless an effort to contain them through dialogue may not be a bad idea if that equals to saving even only one innocent life, as the use of force, even if surgical, does bear the risk of civilian casualties. Yet it is time that will tell the people of Pakistan whether the TTP menace will eventually be ridden by words or by bullets.”
However, the Sharif government, despite the military’s scepticism, which is probably shared by most Pakistanis, has apparently made peace with the Taliban a high priority. It was one of Sharif’s campaign promises. He probably recognises that TTP is a force to reckon with and a significant section of Pakistanis strongly backs the peace talks.
In addition to the immeasurable human costs, Sharif has probably realised that terrorist attacks are contributing to the country’s instability and preventing the much-needed economic takeoff.
But the Taliban has set tough terms, including the release of all imprisoned fighters and the withdrawal of troops from tribal areas, bringing the entire country under Shariah law, Islamic-based education at all levels, an end to Pakistan’s military support for the United States and a halt to drone strikes, and an end to interest-based banking.
The chief negotiator representing the Taliban, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, told reporters in the northwestern town of Akora Khattak this week that the talks had been “positive”.
Haq, who did not travel personally but sent a delegate in his place, added that the TTP meeting had taken place at a secret location some four hours from Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan.
“This is a war of years and years and one cannot solve it in minutes, nor can one disclose every detail of talks. We have a chance to stop the bloodshed,” he said.
TTP wins public support especially in tribal areas by projecting itself as the enemy of the United States. But this should not give the Taliban licence to commit acts of terrorism against civilians. In fact, their terrorist attacks have killed largely Pakistani civilians – mostly Muslims — and perhaps a few Americans, if any. According to the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, there were more than 1,500 terrorist attacks in Pakistan last year, resulting in 2,050 deaths. Another group, the South Asia Terrorism Portal, reported 3,007 terrorism-related civilian deaths in Pakistan last year.
The Pakistani Taliban is a byproduct of the US misadventure in Afghanistan. The Pakistan Taliban came into being as a movement to support the Afghan Taliban and later it grew stronger with every US drone attack in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
US drone attacks kill more civilians than the intended targets. Such wanton killings of civilians, including women, children and the elderly, have helped the Taliban win more recruits. One Taliban leader who is taking part in the talks with the Sharif government told a news conference this week that TTP has more than 500 female suicide bombers. These women may not be committed to the Taliban’s cause, but they have a score to settle with the US or the Pakistan military, whom they think is doing the dirty job for the Americans. These women have lost their loved ones in US drone attacks.
International human rights groups such as the London-headquartered Amnesty International and the New York-based Human Rights Watch have described the drone attacks that kill civilians as constituting war crimes.
In one such drone attack last year, the then TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud was killed. The attack came days before the newly elected Sharif government began peace talks with him. Some analysts described the drone attack as an act of sabotage by the US.
Imran Khan, Pakistan’s world cup winning cricket captain and leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) which controls the state legislature in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North Western Frontier Province), a Taliban sympathy base, told Bloomberg news agency yesterday the talks would only be meaningful if the United States announced an end to drone strikes.
“If the US stops drone attacks, announces stopping the drone attacks during the talks, it would be a big plus point,” he said.
The Taliban named Khan as part of their delegation for the peace talks with the government. This was in recognition of his campaign against US drone attacks. But Khan, who said he supported the peace process, declined to be in the team.
Although, a host of analysts dismiss the peace talks as a time-buying tactic by the Taliban to regroup themselves following a series of setbacks in their war with Pakistan’s military, Sharif perhaps takes into consideration another key factor — the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The US drawdown will offer more space for the Taliban groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan to unite and give the governments in the two countries a much bigger problem to deal with.
Before the US invasion of Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban was handled by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence. It is not known the ongoing talks are an attempt by the Sharif government to strike a deal first with the Pakistan Taliban and then with the Afghan Taliban to return to the status-quo ante. The Americans had a working relationship with the Taliban in the 1990s. It is not known how they will liaise with the Taliban after the US troop withdrawal at the end of this year. But the US is also trying to talk to the Afghan Taliban with Qatar acting as a facilitator because Washington does not want to take any chances and cannot rule out the possibility of Taliban conquering Kabul after the US troop withdrawal.
Thus there is more to the Sharif-Taliban talks than meets the eye. Besides, there are other regional and international actors who have a stake in Afghan affairs. They include Saudi Arabia, India and China. Only the picture that emerges after the US withdrawal will provide the answer.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka on February 14, 2014)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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1 Response to Issues behind the Sharif-Taliban talks

  1. Fayaz Moosin says:

    Actually if the Pakistan government its members behave islamically, then there is no need for a band of thugs that are the TTP. Rgds

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