Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban, perceived as Pakistan’s public enemy number one, was killed last week in his own stronghold by an American drone fired from the other side of the Durand Line. More than solving primary questions, Mehsud’s killing seems to have raised multiple questions.
What will happen to the dialogue with the TTP, which the political leadership in Pakistan, cutting across party lines seem to be supporting and anxious? Second, will the killing affect Pakistan-US relations, as there are serious questions under the garb of protecting country’s sovereignty? Third, what will happen to the TTP?
Post Hakeemullah Mehsud: Will the Dialogue with the TTP Continue?
For the last many months, there has been a serious debate within Pakistan, whether the government should engage in a dialogue with the TTP. Negotiating with the TTP is not a new phenomenon within Pakistan; there have been multiple attempts in the past, starting with Nek Mohammad during 2003-04. Since then, there were multiple attempts in negotiating with the TTP leadership and multiple fractions.
A major difference between the earlier attempts to negotiate with the TTP and the present one, is the extent of support and opposition. Most of the earlier attempts were more in the form of short term negotiations between the military and its ISI with specific groups or individual TTP leaders. In particular, the primary target of these negotiations was the Mehsud and Wazir tribes in North and South Waziristan. It was led by military and intelligence officials either directly, or through tribal elders, some of them are pro-State.
The latest initiative however is political, where the demands have come from leading political parties, with enormous pressure from Imran Khan, Fazlur Rehman and their political parties. Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N seem also to agree with the same, and certainly not pressurized by the former to initiate a dialogue with the TTP.
While the TTP did not speak in one voice in terms of negotiating with the State, there was a general perception that it had come around to the idea by the end of last year. After the elections early this year, the pace picked up, and before Nawaz Sharif’s visit to US in October, it was a foregone conclusion and the question was: when would this dialogue start?
While the political parties seem to be enthusiastic in initiating a dialogue with the TTP, the civil society is extremely polarised. A section within Pakistan’s civil society is extremely opposed to any dialogue with the TTP. This section considers the TTP as the greatest danger to the future of Pakistan, and as posing an existential threat.
Now Hakeemullah Mehsud is killed, will the TTP be interested in negotiating with the State? Much would depend on who would replace Hakeemullah Mehsud. More importantly, much would depend on how strong the TTP would remain after Mehsud.
What will the TTP do? Will it go on an offensive? Or will it get weakened?
TTP’s next course of action would depend on two questions: Who would replace Hakeemullah Mesud as the leader of the TTP? Will the TTP remain strong, or get weakened?
Even under Hakeemullah’s leadership, the TTP never remained a monolithic organization, having absolute command over the rest of groups in other parts of the FATA (outside Waziristan); though the groups in Khyber, Kurram and even Swat had a “TTP” or “Taliban” tag, the TTP remained more as a franchisee, rather than a coherent organization. It was to Hakeemullah’s credit that he used his “Mehsud” strength and his absolute brutality in terms of strategies to keep the TTP under one umbrella.
Will the next leader of the TTP would have the same charisma and brutality, that Hekeemullah possessed? There is already an internal rife within the multiple sub-groups in different tribal Agencies; from Hafiz Gul Bahadur in Waziristan to Maulana Fazlullah in Swat, there are numerous leaders who would like to takeover the leadership of the TTP. Though the “Mehsud” and “Waziristan” factors will play an important role in crowning the next TTP Chief within the TTP, it is not likely to be an easy process.
The TTP is likely to be weakened. Perhaps, the State will be able to divide the TTP and get a section to its side, as pro-State militia. A section of Wazirs are already closer to the State. Perhaps, the Americans have done a huge favour to Pakistan by eliminating Hakeemullah and weakening the TTP. But, does the Pakistani leadership perceive the same way?
Will Pak-US relations get undermined?
The last important question that needs to be discussed is the impact of Hakemullah’s killing on Pakistan-US relations. During his visit to the US, Nawaz Sharif has urged the American President, and repeatedly underlined in his multiple interventions to stop the drone attacks. Pakistan’s position is based on assumption that the drone attacks prevent the proposed negotiations with the TTP. Now, it is an open secret that the TTP has been emphasising on stopping the drone attacks as a necessary pre-condition. Political leaders within Pakistan who ardently support the dialogue process with the TTP such as Imran Khan, have been arguing vociferously to stop the drone attacks.
Drone attack on Mehsud is seen as an American conspiracy to negate the proposed dialogue with the TTP. True, starting from the first drone attack on Nek Mohammad in 2004, there have been a series of attacks against the militant leadership. Though most of these targets were against the al Qaeda leadership hiding in the FATA, the drones also decapitated the TTP leaders, including Hakimullah’s predecessor – Baitullah Mehsud.
But, is there a bigger conspiracy within the US, to prevent Pakistan from talking to the TTP? This argument does not explain the American approach elsewhere to strike a deal with the Afghan Taliban. In principle, the US seems to be pursuing a strategy of negotiations and military strikes vis-a-vis the Taliban in Afghanistan. Within the FATA region, though the primary target has been the al Qaeda leadership, it also included few TTP leaders. There was no major opposition to those killings from Pakistan’s leadership – either in terms of condemning them, or in terms of firing back at the drones.
Will the killing of Mehsud further worsen the bilateral relations between the US and Pakistan? Immediately after the recent drone attacks, including the one that killed Hakimullah Mehsud, there is huge backlash within Pakistan. The drone attack that has eliminated the public enemy number one within Pakistan is seen as the biggest injustice that the US has inflicted! A section of the political leadership, led by Imran Khan wants Pakistan to close down the NATO supply line. Except for calling him as a “Shaheed” and flying the flag in half mast, there seems to be an attempt to eulogize Mehsud and condemning US as a great Satan!
And this is a bigger challenge that Nawaz Sharif will have to face as the Prime Minister.
In arrangement with Rising Kashmir