The renewed attempts by the Pakistani State to initiate another round of dialogue with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have gained momentum, and numerous measures are in place. The government has appointed a four-member committee to negotiate with the TTP; the TTP for its part has formed two committees – a political committee led by Maulana Samiul Haq, comprising people outside the TTP to negotiate with the government committee; and a second committee comprising TTP ideologues and fighters to operate as a link between the TTP leadership and the political committee.
Talking to the Taliban: What is the Endgame for the State?
It should be clear at the outset, it is not the TTP that was keen on negotiating with the State; rather, it is the State, especially this government, which is interested in initiating the talks.
What does the State want to achieve through this round of talks with the TTP? It is obvious, that the State would expect the TTP to cease violence and stop militancy. On this issue, the State has a wider consensus – supported by the Parliament, Military and the Civil Society. None within Pakistan (outside the TTP and its multiple franchisees all over the country) would like to see violence and mayhem perpetrated by the Taliban to continue.
Second, the State would expect the TTP to respect its writ, especially in non-tribal areas and the settled districts within KP and outside it. While the State would be willing to live with the TTP as a non-violent and non-State actor within the FATA, it certainly would not want the TTP to cross the tribal agencies.
Besides the above, is the State likely to demand that the TTP should give up its position on Afghanistan and imposition of Shariah within Pakistan? Is the State also likely to demand that the TTP should not provide base for the Afghan Taliban and support them against the established government and the international security forces in Afghanistan?
Unlikely. For the State it is a secondary issue or worse not an issue at all. If the State in Pakistan and its security Establishment themselves are backing Afghan Taliban, it would not make sense that they ask the TTP not to do so.
Talking to the Taliban: Are there Redlines for the State?
How far is the State willing to go to achieve the above?
While there is a consensus at the political level (especially amongst the leading political parties both within and outside the Parliament) towards initiating a negotiation process with the TTP, there seems to be no threshold set by the State towards how far it could go to accommodate demands made by the TTP.
In the absence of open documents and/or policy outlines, any answer to the above questions will be conjectural.
One of the principal demands of the TTP is the release of Taliban internees who are currently in state captivity. While the State is likely to bargain on the specifics of the releases, one can expect it to yield to the TTP’s demand. While the State would not release all Taliban prisoners, a few important members who are part of the leadership are likely to be freed. The State and the TTP would dub this as a goodwill gesture. For, ominous as it may sound, if the TTP has agreed to come to the negotiating table as a ‘goodwill gesture,’ the State will have to return the favour. After all, it is the State, and not the TTP, that has been keen on initiating the negotiation processes.
The TTP’s second demand is likely to be vis-à-vis the US and Afghanistan. This would include the severing of all ties with the US and its support to the international security forces in Afghanistan, and an end to the drone strikes in the North-West Frontier Province. On this demand, the State will act in a pussyfooted manner. While there would be heavier emphasis on sovereignty and respecting Pakistan’s internal peace processes, much would depend on the government’s ability to cope with the US pressure on both accounts.
Depending on the value and significance of the targets, the US is likely to go ahead with the drone attacks. Perhaps, the number of attacks would reduce, but only for a brief while. The US is unlikely to abandon the campaign of drone attacks; neither would it stop pressurising Pakistan from doing more in Afghanistan. After all, this would be an intrinsic part of the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue, tied to crucial economic and military aid for Islamabad.
Another major demand of the TTP would be the imposition of Sharia law in the country. In fact, irrespective of what the TTP leadership wants, hard line members of the nominated team, such as Maulana Samiul Haq, are likely to insist on it. While the State would resist such a move in the rest of Pakistan, it would be willing to provide a space, perhaps within the FATA as the previous government attempted in Swat, few years ago.
In fact, while negotiating over the three aforementioned likely demands of the TTP – the release of Taliban internees, the severing of ties with the US and ending drone attacks, and the imposition of Sharia law – the State has little manoeuvring space. Perhaps, it is not strong enough to impose its will. At least for now.