Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must be scratching his head, wondering what his next move should be. On the other hand, the militant leadership is probably enjoying cups of green tea in a mud-house somewhere in the tribal region. The beardos can afford to relax – after all they have just checkmated a confused and clueless political leadership while also putting to the test the political rhetoric of those who have gone hoarse lobbying for peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.
The nomination of the five-member committee to represent the Tehreek-i-Taliban in talks with a four-member government-nominated team appears to be a smart political move by the TTP.
The TTP-nominated committee is representative of the school of thought which vociferously advocated peace negotiations with the Pakistani militants.
The militants have nominated PTI chief Imran Khan; Maulvi Kifayatullah, the burly, former JUI-F MPA from Mansehra; JUI-S leader Maulana Samiul Haq, who until recently claimed to have been tasked by the government to engage the militants; the Jamaat-i-Islami leader from Bannu, Professor Mohammad Ibrahim; and the famous Lal Masjid cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz.
The TTP spokesman said that the banned organisation had spoken to the individuals and had obtained their consent.
Among the bearded crowd, the clean-shaven Khan seems like the odd man out but then, perhaps more than the others, he articulated and forcefully pushed for a dialogue with the militants. Not just that, he ordered his party men to forcibly stop supplies for foreign forces moving through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa before entering Afghanistan. His party also staged a sit-in to protest drone strikes in our tribal regions.
So, tactically and politically speaking, the militants have chosen an ideal team. The ones, who believed that peace was possible, have been given the task to make it possible.
Let militants not be blamed for lack of seriousness or resolve; let their chosen few speak for them and vouch for them by engaging the official handpicked team, the majority of whose ideological bent of mind may not be different from their supposed interlocutors.
It’s a win-win situation – tail, I win, head, you lose! Like-minded people on both sides. As one commentator put it, it was a case of Liverpool playing against Liverpool.But this is not all what it is all about. The TTP has put the political parties’ own rhetoric to test. Will Khan now come forward and be part of a team representing the militants and risk being permanently called a Taliban Khan by his political detractors?
Even more interesting is the fact that his party’s government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has endorsed and supported the official team by nominating Rustam Shah Mohmand to it. How will Mohmand – a government interlocutor – confront his own party leader sitting on the other side of the table?
However, Khan has made it clear he wouldn’t be part of the Taliban-nominated committee. “This is beneath his stature,” a party leader said.
JI’s Prof Ibrahim was smart. He acknowledged having been approached. However, he added that while he had consented to be part of the effort he would do so only as a mediator between the government and the Taliban.
Samiul Haq, who opted out, is simply miffed that Prime Minister Sharif did not return his calls. Hence, he has adopted the wait-and-see approach – in other words he will not commit either way till the situation clears up.
Maulana Abdul Aziz too has been a bit ambivalent. He said he was willing to help as much as he can but added that till the government imposed the Sharia or appeared sincere in doing so, he would not become part of the team.
This leaves behind Maulvi Kifayatullah, who was once JUI-F’s contact person with the late TTP leader, Waliur Rehman, to respond to the nomination.
But where does this leave the government’s initiative? What will the prime minister do to achieve political consensus for his peace initiative? Or will he now swallow the bitter pill and do the seemingly unthinkable – order a military operation – now that at least four of the political parties which supported his move, have now been chosen by the militants to sit on the opposite end of the table?