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#4290, 3 February 2014

Af-Pak Diary

Taliban Talks and the Four Horsemen: Between Peace and Apocalypse
D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS

The previous article in this column discussed the talks about talks with the Pakistani Taliban, and Sami-ul-Haq being projected as the interlocutor between the State and the Teherik-e-Taliban (TTP).

Since the previous column was written in early January 2014, three major developments have taken place. First was a short military campaign against the militants in Waziristan. Second was appointment of a 'four member committee' by the government to negotiate with the Taliban. Third was the acceptance of the TTP to negotiate with the State, along with nomination of a team from the Pakistani Taliban.

While the decision to negotiate with the TTP and the latter’s response was itself a substantial achievement, the harsh reality is that the problems for the State have just begun. Given the issues and questions, this process is likely to be anything but easy.

From Sami-ul-Haq to the Four Horsemen: A Changed Strategy by the Government
During the last week of January 2014, the government appointed a four member committee to negotiate with the TTP, comprising of Rahimullah Yusufzai, Irfan Siddiqui, Rustam Shah and Major (Retd) Amir.

Rahimullah Yusufzai is a well-known and independent senior journalist. His writings in  mainstream newspapers have been balanced and he his insights are respected. Irfan Siddiqui is also a senior journalist, but today he is known more as a pro-Nawaz person; he is also a Special Assistant to the Prime Minister. Major Amir has been reported as a former ISI officer who is close to Nawaz Sharif. According to Amir Mir, "Major (retd) Amir... has a murky past being the alleged architect of the infamous 'Operation Midnight Jackal' to topple the first government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1989." (The News, 30 January 2014). Rustam Shah is a former diplomat who has served in Afghanistan and is known to be sympathetic to the Taliban.

In terms of the composition, it could be generally agreed that two of them (Irfan Siddiqui and Major Amir) are seen as closer to Nawaz Sharif. There is nothing wrong in Sharif choosing his confidantes, in fact, given the intricacies it is always useful for the Prime Miniester to choose a team he has confidence in. However, as Fazlur Rehman has already criticised, they were not chosen on a consensus, nor they have a political background. The four horsemen are all professionals in one field or the other, but have never been politicians. 

Will the four horsemen be able to deliver? Except for Fazlur Rehman, the rest of the political leadership, cutting across political lines at the national and regional levels, seems to have faith in the new initiative.

From Suicide Attacks to a Ten Member Committee: Understanding the Change in TTP
What has changed for the TTP in the last month that it has agreed to negotiate with the government? 

Was it because of the military strikes in Waziristan? Given the nature of the attacks and the short duration, it appears that the military strikes were aimed more at convincing the US, where Sartaj Aziz was attempting to revive the strategic dialogue between the two countries, rather than at bringing the Taliban down. Had the latter been the case, the strikes would have continued until the TTP begged for a dialogue. However, this was not the case. 

Why did then the TTP agree to negotiate? Does it really believe in negotiating with the government? Or is the negotiation a strategy of its ongoing war with the State?

What would the TTP Demand?
Will this negotiation between the TTP and the government be without any preconditions? Unlikely. The TTP is likely to emphasise that there should be no military strikes in the first place. As a logical extension of that, it is likely to pressurise the State to tell US that the latter completely stop its drone programme. In fact, the TTP leadership should be more worried about the drone strikes than the military strikes. However indiscriminate the military strikes are likely to be, they can never be as precise as a drone attack. The TTP is also likely to demand the release of its top leadership, who have been arrested by the State and kept in different jails.

Politically, the TTP is likely to pressurise the government to sever ties with the US and ensure that the Durand Line becomes irrelevant for the Afghan militants. 

Will the TTP also demand the imposition of shariah elsewhere in Pakistan, as it demanded in Swat? It may place that demand but is unlikely to carry it forward, given that the time is not ripe. Such a demand may perhaps be acceptable for the State in remote FATA or the Swat valley, but not acceptable in the rest of Pakistan. Not yet.

How Far will the State Go in Yielding to the TTP?
Clearly, the State is not keen in pursuing a military option vis-à-vis the militants. The TTP would not be satisfied with the status quo. 

The primary question is not what the TTP wants. Rather, it is how far the State is willing to go to accommodate the TTP. 

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