Talking to the Taliban: With Whom, On What and for How Long?

06 Jun, 2013    ·   3977

D. Suba Chandran assesses the stakeholders and the possible focus of these negotiations

For the last two weeks, especially after the elections are over, there have been increased discussions within Pakistan, on talking to the Taliban. While a section, especially the liberal one is unhappy with such an initiative, the leading political parties, at least those who have won considerable votes and seats in the last month elections, seem to believe in negotiating with the Taliban.

The crucial question is what would be the focus of these negotiations? And more importantly, who is willing to speak to?

The Taliban is not a monolithic entity in Pakistan. Broadly, the Taliban could be classified into the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban primarily consists of two large entities the Quetta Shura, led by the Mullah Omar, and the second one the Huqqani network. Clearly, the new government in Pakistan, and those who are willing to negotiate with the Taliban, are unlikely to speak to the Afghan Taliban. It is clear they are planning to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban generally referred as the Teherek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Unfortunately for Pakistan, the TTP is not a monolithic organisation either. It is deeply divided and also highly fractionalised. While the TTP with its base in North Waziristan is believed to the core, especially after the killing of Baitullah Mehsud, the TTP headquarters in North Waziristan no more control the rest of the organisation. For all practical purposes, the TTP in the other Agencies of the FATA South Waziristan, Khurram, Khyber and Bajaur, and the TTP in Swat act independently on their own. While Ehsanullah Ehsan, the spokesman of the TTP was the primary contact for the TTP, he does not speak for the entire TTP.

On the other side of the table, those who are willing to speak to is also not a monolithic group. The current drive to “talk to” the Taliban though is led by Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan and Fazlur Rahman, other political parties, especially the Jamaat e Islami and Sami ul Haq (who heads his own faction of the JUI), seems to be on the same page. Though the PPP has not made any public statement on speaking or not speaking to the Taliban, from its reluctance to engage the TTP while in power, it could reasonably concluded, that the party is not in favour of negotiating with the TTP.

Surprisingly, the Awami National Party, the leading secular political party (though unfortunately lost miserably in the 2013 elections) is also in favour of talks with the TTP. It is ironic that the ANP, which was the primary target of the TTP led violence in KP during the last few years, has shown its willingness to talk to the TTP.

Now, the primary question is is the military in Pakistan also willing to speak to the TTP. Though the recent speech of Gen Kayani (in April 2013) in a ceremony at the GHQ in Rawalpindi clear states that a small faction cannot be allowed to use violence to impose its distorted ideology and defy the constitution. Clearly, from the statement of Kayani, it is obvious, that the military is not keen on negotiating with the TTP. However, the military in Pakistan has been pursuing a dual strategy vis a vis the TTP ever since it was created during the middle of the last decade.

On the one hand, Pakistan’s military did initiate few military operations in the FATA, especially in North and South Waziristan, Khurram and Khyber, and also outside the FATA especially in Swat. The military was repeatedly targeted by the TTP in the FATA and elsewhere in Pakistan. The TTP led multiple massacres within the tribal regions, and took the fight directly into military’s heart, when it targeted the GHQ in Rawalpindi and attached Gen Musharraf’s convoy with multiple suicide attacks.

On the other hand, the military however, also engaged a section of the Taliban in the FATA. Led by Maulvi Nazir, this section is generally referred to as the pro State Taliban, friendly to Pakistan’s military. This section has also helped the military in targeting some of the al Qaeda elements hiding in the FATA, especially the Uzbek militants. The military also has a good rapport with the Huqqani network; the Huqqanis are believed to be hiding in FATA region, and targeting the US led ISAF in Afghanistan, and also organizing multiple suicide attacks in Kabul.

Clearly, neither the Taliban is monolithic, nor those who want to engage it. However, the bigger question is, what is there to talk about?

When the Taliban announced its willingness to negotiate with the previous regime, earlier this year, during January February 2013, there were few pre conditions. They include that Pakistan should be governed according to the Shariah, Islamabad and Rawalpindi should stop all support to the US led War on Terrorism in Afghanistan, release the prisoners and ensure there are no drone attacks.

Can any government ruling either at the national or provincial levels, accept the above pre conditions? The Shariah as interpreted by the Taliban will take any country to the stone age, and ensure there is a blood bath between the Sunni and non Sunni sects, and more importantly, even within the multiple Sunni sects. If one has to take into account the attacks that the TTP was involved in the last few years, it could be easily concluded, that after taking on the Shias, Hazaras and the Ahmadis, the TTP will target the multiple Sunni sects as well. In fact, the saints of Sufi Islam became the primary target during the last couple of years, when the TTP targeted their shrines and their followers.

Even if the rulers of Pakistan would like to, they may not be able to deliver the second major request of the TTP stopping the support to the US led War on Terrorism in Afghanistan. The American pressure, and the need for international aid to sustain its economy would ensure, that the rulers of Pakistan continue to support the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan. Otherwise, why would the Zardari regime open the NATO supply lines across the Khyber and Chaman passes?

On the drone attacks, few days ago, Dr Javid Iqbal made few interesting observations in the Rising Kashmir. The hard reality for Pakistan is that the US would continue the drone attacks, irrespective of Pakistan government’s support. The new government, including that of the PTI in Khyber Paktunkwa, will be unable to stop the drone attacks.

So, what will the negotiations with the Taliban achieve? Is there a common ground? The truth is, based on the previous negotiations and agreements with the TTP, such talks have remained temporary and achieved less on the ground. But, it may gain some political mileage for the new government. Until they are broken by another spectacular suicide attack by the TTP in the heart of Pakistan.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir