IT appears the prime minister’s revised offer of talks to the militants in his first address to the nation accentuated the existing differences among the latter on how to respond.
This was demonstrated by the conflicting responses from Asmatullah Muawiya, commander of the so-called Punjabi Taliban, and Shahidullah Shahid, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman. It remains to be seen whether the government is consciously trying to create rifts or it is a natural outcome of the negotiation process.
Some media reports indicate that Muawiya’s faction of the Punjabi Taliban and some other militant groups are willing to engage in talks. Assessing the extent of rift within the Taliban ranks in the context of negotiations is thus important.
First, let’s see what is happening on the ground. Media reports and sources privy to emerging developments suggested that the government had already established indirect communication with different factions of the Taliban with the help of religious scholars and tribal elders, although the TTP has since denied this.
Before the denial, indications were that these scholars and elders had won the confidence of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network before initiating the peace process.
The TTP’s core leadership, led by Hakeemullah Mehsud, is still reluctant to engage in peace talks. The Swat, Darra Adam Khel and Mohmand Agency chapters of the TTP will go with Mehsud. That implies Hakeemullah Mehsud still holds the key to peace talks.
But the emerging divergent views from within the umbrella organisation of the TTP have impacted the group’s militant operations as it was largely dependent on the Punjabi Taliban for its operations in the Punjab and Islamabad area.
There are also reports that pro-talks elements within the Taliban ranks are trying to revive the Shura-i-Murakeba, which was formed to resolve internal differences.
Initiated and brokered by Al Qaeda, the shura served as an alliance of sorts for the Haqqanis, the Mehsud-led TTP and Taliban groups led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Mullah Nazir. It played an important role in resolving the differences within the TTP and in keeping the group united.
The shura had become almost non-functional after the killing of Taliban commanders Mullah Nazir and Waliur Rehman Mehsud in two separate drone strikes.
The purpose behind reviving the shura is to bring together all Taliban groups within and outside the fold of the TTP on a single platform to develop consensus on peace talks with the government. It is yet too early to predict the success or failure of this initiative.
It is, however, somehow foreseeable what they could demand from the government if all Taliban groups come under one umbrella and do away with the government’s ‘quandary’ of who it should talk to.
The militants’ previous charter of demand, which was released last year, included conditions of non-interference from Pakistan in the Afghan war and constitutional and foreign policy reforms in line with the precepts of the Quran and Sunnah.
The militants also demanded that Pakistan refocus on the war of ‘revenge’ against India. Interestingly, these demands were presented by Muawiya and endorsed by the TTP’s top leadership.
In the current scenario, according to some media reports, Taliban groups are emphasising a general amnesty for Taliban militants, release of their prisoners and non-interference in their affairs with foreign militants and engagement in Afghanistan.
The government demands are for the Taliban to detach themselves from sectarian organisations like the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and elimination of militant operations inside Pakistan.
If it is correct and the government is pursuing this narrow agenda, it throws up a lot of questions. This approach will not lead to a permanent solution even if it provides temporary respite from terrorist attacks.
Instead, the focus should be on dismantling and neutralising the militant groups and reintegration of the militants into society.
This objective can be achieved through a well-crafted and vigilantly designed negotiation policy, which would not only cover internal security issues but also the regional, ideological and political aspects of the larger question of national security.
The lesson that the government should learn from the best practices of negotiations with non-state actors across the world is that this process should be a long one otherwise militants will continue to challenge the government.
Apart from the conditions put forth by both sides, if the government plan is to weaken the terrorists while triggering internal differences, the chances of success of such a strategy would depend on the terrorists’ internal mechanism to counter the attempt.
So far they have remained attentive on that front and have foiled most such endeavours, including the attempt at exploiting differences among Hakeemullah Mehsud and Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, the head of TTP’s Bajaur chapter, Waliur Rehman and other small commanders of the Kurram and Khyber agencies.
As mentioned earlier, the Shura-i-Murakeba was formed for this purpose. Though the motives of revival of the shura are different this time, this attempt could see the coming together once again of groups that have recently revealed rifts among themselves.
Even if the government succeeds in creating rifts among militants, it would only provide temporary relief on the security front and give the government more time to evolve a better counterterrorism mechanism.
But how will the government handle and deal with militant groups that detach themselves from the TTP? Would they be allowed to launch their militant campaigns from Pakistani soil against other countries, as in the case of the Uzbek and Tajik militants that have become a liability for Afghanistan and Pakistan?
At every step, the government will have to face many dilemmas. Success on the counterterrorism front will depend on how it responds to these challenges. Ignoring valid questions can prove devastating. At least this is one lesson that the new government should learn from previous governments’ counterterrorism practices.
The writer is a security analyst.