Analysis: The Issue of Pakistani Taliban

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Afghanistan`s President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan` Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is attending the trilateral summit with Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Ankara on Thursday.

Afghanistan`s President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan` Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is attending the trilateral summit with Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Ankara on Thursday.

By Abdul Hamid Chohan

ANKARA - Afghanistan`s President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan` Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is attending the trilateral summit with Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Ankara on Thursday.

While Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has reportedly been holding secret talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s government have, not for the first time, more openly entered into negotiations with their Pakistani cousins.

The talks to end the Taliban insurgency in Pakistan, which the government says has killed at least 12,000 since 2004, began on February 6 with an immediate agreement for a ceasefire between the government and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the coalition of Taliban groups across Pakistan.

The three-member committee representing the militants, which consists of religious leaders close to the group, also surprisingly agreed to present the Taliban leadership with the condition that any talks will take place within the framework of the existing constitution, something the Taliban have always refused to accept.

The ceasefire ended the spiralling violence between the TTP and Pakistan’s security services since November 2013, when the militants launched a campaign of retributory attacks after their leader Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed by a U.S. drone strike.

Mehsud’s death also marked an abrupt end to a previous round of negotiations, which Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had initiated immediately after taking office in August 2013.

Reaction in Pakistan however, has been split: while the likes of Imran Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaf support talks, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) aggressively oppose them. Sharif’s government has made it clear that talks rely on TTP refraining from violence and the army have twice carried out bombardments of North Waziristan, in retaliation to TTP attacks on security forces, since December 2013.

Hamid Hakimi, a researcher at Chatham House, said the elevated levels of violence in recent months have made it difficult for Sharif to raise support for the negotiations.

“TTP is proving a serious predicament and problem for Nawaz Sharif – like the group has been to the previous Pakistani administrations – in that he wants to deal with militancy through negotiations,” said Hakimi. “But gathering support for dialogue with the TTP is virtually impossible due to increasing levels of violence.”

Some Pakistani analysts have suggested that both sides are probably trying to buy time: the government for a military operation after the end of Pakistan’s harsh winter; the Taliban for a renewed campaign of violence, perhaps after NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan which could allow them to find sanctuaries across the border.

Skepticism remains about whether the negotiations can bring a lasting peace in Pakistan and the region or whether they will further damage the country’s internal security. Despite the intensity of their attacks, the Taliban can never bear Pakistan’s regular armed forces, while it would also be difficult for Pakistani army to totally control Taliban strongholds if the withdrawal of NATO forces leads to the Afghan Taliban becoming stronger.

Origins

A potential barrier to negotiations is that, unlike Mullah Omar’s Afghanistan Taliban, the Taliban in Pakistan are not unified. The group emerged in a nascent form in 2004 to oppose the military presence in Federal Agency for Tribal Areas (FATA) but became more aggressive when they organised as the TTP in 2007. This coalition of 40 leaders of small tribal militias united gave them a shared name but did not change the fact that the different groups have often had conflicting ambitions.

The TTP have had various aims since their formation but officially prioritise the establishment of Shari’a in Pakistan, by implementing parallel legal and political structures in FATA, and expelling NATO from Afghanistan and Pakistan’s military from the tribal areas.

In reality, much of the Pakistani Taliban’s militancy has been focused against those inside the country who oppose their rigid interpretations of religious. They have attacked religious and tribal leaders, targeted Shi’a Muslims and destroyed the shrines of Sufi saints revered by many Pakistanis. They have recently outraged ordinary Pakistanis with their attacks on schools and anti-polio campaigns, which they claim are a cover for foreign spies.

The Taliban’s emergence in Pakistan was linked to the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan in 2001, which led to militants fleeing across the border. As a result, the Pakistan military began incursions into the tribal areas to clear out foreign fighters, enraging many of the local militant leaders in the process. The original Taliban, formed by Nek Muhammad Wazir, was concerned mainly with Pashtun rights.

An early agreement between Wazir and the government to end the militancy was broken off when the Taliban leader was killed, a few weeks later, in a June 2004 U.S. drone strike.

After the TTP formation in 2007, the group consolidated their power by striking deals with General Pervez Musharraf, alongside fighting the military, that essentially allowed them autonomy in FATA.

The Afghan Taliban were formed by young Pashtun who had fled from Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation of the country in the 1980s. They were educated and trained in small religious schools across the border in Pakistan and then joined the resistance against the Soviet army. Many of the leaders of Pakistan’s Taliban had been educated and trained alongside the young Afghans. During the period when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, many Pakistanis crossed over the border to help in the implementation of the group’s idea of religious law.

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