Talks with the Taliban: Endgame for the TTP

02 Apr, 2014    ·   4366

D Suba Chandran analyses why the real trouble for Pakistan will have its source in the Punjabi heartland, and not the FATA

What does the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) want in Pakistan? How far it will go? Is there a change in its endgame today as compared to its original founding objective?

TTP’s Endgame: Four Objectives
In a conflict situation, especially while dealing with an armed non-State actor, it is not easy to identify and differentiate between the rhetoric and real objective. In order to gain legitimacy for their illegitimate means, any non-State actor is likely to exaggerate the rhetoric.

Though there has never been a comprehensive exposé of what it aims at and how it plans to achieve the same, the 15 points put forward during the February negotiations reveal the TTP’s rhetoric and real demands. They could be classified under four major categories: Afghanistan, Pakistan-US relations, Military operations by the security forces, and a blue print for governing Pakistan, with an exclusive role for itself.

TTP and Afghanistan
The TTP’s agenda and objectives vis-à-vis Afghanistan are more rhetorical in nature and do not have any substantial underlines. The TTP is more focussed on Pakistan, and prefers to leave the state of affairs in Afghanistan to Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network. The TTP fights the Pakistani security forces and goes after targets within Pakistan; there haven’t been any substantial reports of the TTP and its fighters crossing the Durand Line for fighting the International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan.

While they have used the Afghan soil as a temporary hideout, and training grounds, the TTP is unlikely to go after the security forces in Afghanistan. The TTP’s objective in Afghanistan would remain limited to provide the space for Mullah Omar and the Haqqanis, by being a cushion on the Eastern side of the Durand Line.

TTP, the US and US-Pakistan Relations
The TTP objects Pakistan-US relations for two reasons: first, ever since the TTP was formed with substantial support from the al Qaeda, it acted as a veritable arm of the latter, to ease military pressure within Pakistan. Since the start of the Global War on Terror in 2001, the Pakistani military carried out select strikes against the al Qaeda, arresting its top leaders and handing over them to the US. Though the military and its Inter-Services Intelligence hid Osama bin Laden, it proactively assisted the US in neutralising the second tier leadership of the al Qaeda.

Second, the TTP was, for most part, a creation of the al Qaeda, with fewer inputs from the Afghan Taliban. Though Mullah Omar was accepted as the supreme leader by successive TTP leaders, the Mehsud clan associated with the TTP was closer to the al Qaeda than the Afghan Taliban. In this context, the TTP has substantially failed in achieving its objectives. Today, the al Qaeda is neutralised within Pakistan and is in the process of migrating to other regions; perhaps, the process is closer to conclusion.

The Present and the Future: TTP’s New Blueprint for Pakistan
The third and fourth major objectives of the TTP would remain the most crucial in determining the endgame for the Pakistani Taliban. It is hence essential to take into account two crucial factors: the change in Pakistani Taliban’s leadership – from the Mehsuds to Mullah Fazlullah – and the objectives of the multiple franchisees of the TTP.

As mentioned earlier, until 2013, the TTP leadership was closer to the al Qaeda than to the Afghan Taliban. More importantly, despite the occasional emphasis on jihad, until now, the TTP leadership was devoid of any ideological base. The Mehsud leadership acted more as foot soldiers for the al Qaeda’s military objectives, rather than presenting any coherent ideological programme, however warped. Mullah Fazlullah’s elevation as the TTP chief with support from the Afghan Taliban is likely to change the endgame for the TTP. In an interview in early 2014, a Taliban spokesperson made a crucial comment: “Swat Taliban is TTP today.”

In this context, one has to go back and trace what the Swat Taliban wanted and fought for in Malakand, and also analyse Mullah Fazlullah’s personality. Unlike the TTP under the Mehsuds, the Swati Taliban (which can be traced back to the erstwhile Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi in the Malakand region, and which came into existence even before the Pakistani Taliban) had an ideological agenda and endgame, despite the comparatively limited geographical hold.

The TTP’s demands for imposing Sharia law in Pakistan will have to be interpreted in this context. It is unlikely that the TTP wants to impose Sharia all over Pakistan at this juncture, but it would certainly like to start with the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas regions; and unfortunately, the State and its political parties are likely to yield to this proposition in a barter arrangement, further unravelling the FATA.

Finally, the multiple franchisees of the TTP, especially the Punjabi Taliban, are unlikely to stop with limited demands in the FATA or Pashtun areas. Their target would be the heartland of Pakistan, especially Punjab, vis-à-vis the minorities and non-Sunni communities.

The real war against Pakistan would begin once the US leaves Pakistan; and not by the TTP in FATA but by the Punjabi Taliban in the heart of Pakistan. There lies the greater threat for the future of Pakistan.