AKORA KHATTAK: His back leant on a cushion against the wall, eyes half-closed, he gave some quick lesson to one of the disciples in waiting while another massaged his leg and in-between managed incessant phone calls for him.
A religious scholar who heads the sprawling Darul Uloom Haqqania, on the Grand Trunk Road in Akora Khattak, Maulana Samiul Haq’s political stock has suddenly gone up, his eldest son’s defeat on a National Assembly seat notwithstanding.
“The Taliban consider me their father”, Samiul Haq obviously relishing the talk, continues. “The Afghan Taliban,” he hastens to add in the same breath.
The religious institution created by Sami’s father, Maulana Abdul Haq in Sept 1947 includes some famous alumni, the likes of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and the head of the Haqqani network, the veteran Jalaluddin Haqqani.
The Afghan Taliban have influence but no control over the Pakistani Taliban, he explains. But he acknowledges that he does not know the Pakistani Taliban.
The 76-year-old Maulana from Akora has become the fifth politician to jump into the fray to help end Pakistan’s over a decade-long violent militancy.
Incoming prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Jamaat-i-Islami chief Syed Munawar Hasan have all called for dialogue with the Taliban.
But while there seems to be some consensus on negotiations, there seems to be little or no understanding of the complexity of the issue, the groups involved, their ideological linkages, but often divergent agendas, in tactical and regional context.
What to negotiate and with whom?
Knowing your interlocutor
Broadly speaking, there are six categories of militant groups — foreign, national and local — operating in Pakistan.
Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and its Affiliates:
Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan: Led by its ameer, Hakeemullah Mehsud, this is the largest network. Having been displaced from its native South Waziristan, the TTP, now headquartered in North Waziristan, serves as a platform for several other groups with cells and operational capabilities across Pakistan.
It has a national agenda but collaborates with other groups, too, both across the border as well as inside Pakistan.
Then there are several affiliated groups, which though independent in operational matters, have ideological and operational linkages with the TTP. These include the Tehreek-i-Taliban Mohmand, Tehreek-i-Taliban Bajaur, Tehreek-i-Taliban Swat, Tehreek-i-Taliban Darra Adamkhel, Orakzai and Khyber. The TT(B) and TT(S) have in the past had separate peace talks with the government.
Hafiz Muhammad Gul Bahadar Group: The Miramshah-based Hafiz Mohammad Gul Bahadar has also had a peace agreement with the government since 2008 (revived), the terms of which have never been implemented amid attacks on security forces and counter-artillery shelling. Authorities in North Waziristan’s regional headquarters have no control over the area whatsoever. The Gul Bahadar group and the state operate on the principle of live and let-live.
Smaller & Independent Groups: These are all based in Khyber tribal region and include Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-i-Islam, Nahi-wa-anil-Munkar, pro-government Ansarul Islam and another relatively smaller group. There are a few independent groups also operating in Darra Adamkhel and other places.
Pro-government group: The Wana-based late Maulvi Nazir Group is the only so-called pro-government militant group, whose interests lie across the border in Afghanistan and has so far refused to be drawn into conflict with the Pakistani security forces following an agreement in 2007. That agreement still holds. Authorities in South Waziristan’s regional headquarters, therefore, enjoy some administrative control.
The Punjabi Taliban: There are at least nine known groups called the Punjabi Taliban, many of them disillusioned by what they saw as retired Gen Pervez Musharraf’s betrayal of the Kashmiri freedom struggle. Others have stridently violent sectarian agendas — all based in North Waziristan.
Foreign Groups: In terms of strength, chief among the foreign groups operating from North Waziristan, are the Haqqani network (the biggest group), followed by militants affiliated with Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al Qaeda Central, the Islamic Jihad Union, Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, Turkish Gamaat, Dutch Taliban, DT Mujahideen, Islamic Movement of Turkestan, Azeri Jumaat, Taifatul Mansurah and one other group.
What to negotiate?
**What does the TTP want?****
Based on failed peace agreements, aborted talks and statements at different times, the TTP’s main talking points could be summed up as:
1) Establishment of caliphate and enforcement of Sharia to replace the existing “infidel” democratic system and the Constitution.
2) Pakistan pulls out of the US-led war on Terror, end drone strikes, sever ties with Washington and foreign policy should be within the dictates of Islam.
3) Pakistan Army’s withdrawal from tribal areas, relocation of security checks posts and handing over security to the Frontier Corps.
4) Release of all TTP prisoners.
5) The TTP will not lay down arms.
6) Support the Afghan Jihad.
7) Compensation and war reparations.
What does the government say?
1) Renounce militancy and lay down arms.
2) No parallel administration.
3) Expel foreign militants.
4) Accept the state’s writ, Constitution and law of the land.
5) No prisoner exchange.
Why have peace agreements in the past failed?
Peace agreements were aimed at buying peace rather than ensuring lasting peace, allowing the parties to maintain status quo.
1) Terms of the peace agreements were not implemented, particularly those concerning renouncing militancy, running parallel administration and presence of foreign militants.
2) Lack of an effective mechanism to implement the peace agreements, relying on a weak tribal system to deliver in the face of a strong militant presence, leading to total capitulation.
3) Lack of trust and mutual suspicion between the two sides.
4) Lack of understanding of the existing ground realities in the tribal areas, the tribes and their influence and/or lack thereof, the groups, their influence, area of jurisdiction, scale and extent of activities and their agendas.
5) Lack of clarity, coordination, unified and coherent strategy amongst the various state organs and players involved in the conflict and at times their divergent agendas.
The Legal Question: Before the government initiates peace talks with any or all of the militant groups, it will have to address the legal question. The militant groups have been proscribed under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, and therefore, it will have to reverse the decision before it can legally enter into any negotiations with them.
Clearly, the government will have to analyse the pros and cons of any decision to engage with militants, learning lessons from past mistakes.