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Despite promises to talk, PM Nawaz gets tough on insurgents

Published Jul 24, 2013 06:44am


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Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. — File Photo
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. — File Photo

Months after promising peace talks with insurgents, Pakistan's new prime minister appears to be backing down and accepting that the use of military force may be unavoidable in the face of escalating violence across the South Asian country.

Almost 200 people have been killed in rebel attacks in Pakistan since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to power last month, advocating peace talks with the Pakistani branch of the Taliban.

Sharif's tougher line signals that Pakistan's powerful military still has the upper hand in policy-making, despite hopes that the government would have a larger say after he came to power in the country's first transition between civilian administrations.

"Of course we want to try talks but they are a far off possibility," said a government official, who has knowledge of discussions between civilian and military leaders on how to tackle the Taliban.

"There is so much ground work that needs to be done. And when you are dealing with a group as diverse and internally divided as the Pakistani Taliban, then you can never be sure that every sub-group would honour talks."

The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half the 66 years it has been independent.

Seeking to dispel a view that he is losing the momentum, Sharif, who once said that "guns and bullets are not always the answer", has promised to come up with a new security strategy.

But progress has been painfully slow, blighted by infighting and the army's long-standing contempt for the civilian leadership.

An official report into the killing of Osama bin Laden by US forces in Pakistan in 2011, leaked this month, offered striking insights into just how deep this distrust runs.

In the document, the former chief of the ISI intelligence agency, which is dominated by the military, was quoted as saying bluntly that the country's political leadership was "unable to formulate any policy".

In the meantime, attacks continue unabated.

A bomb ripped through a busy street in Lahore on July 7, striking in the heart of Sharif's otherwise relatively peaceful home city. President Asif Ali Zardari's security chief was killed in a suicide bomb in Karachi on July 10.

"They (the Pakistani Taliban) see this as an opportunity. They want to send a message to Nawaz Sharif of their strength and his relative weakness," said Ahmed Rashid, an author and expert on the Taliban.

"The army is against the talks right now. They want to hammer these guys a little bit more."

Yet, the military and the ISI are in favour of talks involving the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan. Although the Pakistani Taliban accepts the leader of the Afghan faction as its own leader, the two groups operate separately.

Need Clear Plan

Pakistan's military leaders are at pains to distinguish between the Afghan Taliban, which they argue can be seen as fighting against occupation, and its local imitators who they see as domestic terrorists.

The United States wants Islamabad to come up with a clear plan and step up its campaign against groups such as the Haqqani network which regularly attacks US forces in Afghanistan.

The Haqqani network is allied to the Afghan Taliban, but has bases in the rugged borderland between Afghanistan and Pakistan where other militant groups are also based.

"The hardball talk (from the government) has only come because the militants have shown that they really don't care (who is in power)," said Samina Ahmed, South Asia Project Director for the International Crisis Group. "(The Taliban) are willing to take them on regardless."

Known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban is a loose alliance of Al Qaeda linked militants fighting to topple the government and to enforce austere Islamic law.

The army says talking to them is meaningless unless they lay down their arms. But the Taliban themselves, enraged by a May 28 drone strike that killed their deputy chief, Wali-ur-Rehman, are in no mood for negotiations either.

"We have authorised our people all over Pakistan to fully react if the government and security forces conduct operations against them," said one Taliban commander in the tribal western region of South Waziristan.

Confusion on the Ground

Indeed, ceasefire deals have failed in the past, only allowing militants to regroup and strike again.

Sharif's plan sees a shift from the previous government's 3D policy of "deterrence, development, democracy" to "dismantle, contain, prevent, educate and reintegrate".

It's unclear what this means in practice, and there is still no consensus. An all-party conference, designed as a step in adopting the new security plan, has been postponed indefinitely.

One stumbling block is the military - Pakistan's army largely has a free hand regarding internal security. It is the army, its intelligence agencies and the Taliban itself who will decide whether to talk or fight.

Politicians hope that may be changing.

"The army also understands that it can't go it alone any more and for the sake of domestic stability and for its own survival, it may just relent," said a source in Sharif's ruling PML-N party.

For now, Sharif, who has twice been prime minister and was ousted in a 1999 military coup, is maneuvering carefully.

He has made a rare visit to the ISI headquarters to confront the generals face-to-face, while also ordering to set up a working group to initiate peace talks with militant groups.

His main idea is to establish an independent body above the government to coordinate intelligence sharing and correct what is known in Pakistan as the "civilian-military imbalance". Some in the military believe the ball is in his court.

"Today it would be incorrect to say that the army has full control over policy making," said one retired senior army officer. "It is just fashionable to say the army doesn't let civilians work. Question is, do they want to work?"

But for now, when it comes to the Taliban, there is more confusion than clarity.

"On the ground there is no policy as such," said one senior police officer posted in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region on the Afghan border. "Should I fight them or talk to them?"


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Comments (30) Closed

Yawar Jul 24, 2013 07:42am

"guns and bullets are not always the answer" as long as you and the people in your circle are not being targeted

Usman Jul 24, 2013 08:03am

Seriously, what' wrong with Reuters? I clicked on this story to read more about PMLN's stance on militancy, not another rant about Civilian Military supremacy.

Raza Jul 24, 2013 11:50am

At the heart of the matter is the manner through which the security establishment is dealing with the insurgents. One can harly deny from the fact that the age old policy of good taliban and bad taliban is still intact. If the security establishment is in view of fighting with the taliban and dismantle them then it should struck a blow against all insurgent groups irrespective of their identity. Unfortunately, there are some militant groups in the country who have given free hand to strike against state appratus and innocent civilians on the basis of sectarian and racial discrimination. This policy on the part of security establishment should come to an end if the country is to be kept aloof from more chaos and miseries.

muzammil ullah khan Jul 24, 2013 11:51am

The only solution to Taliban problem is to eliminate Taliban . Nothing short of it .

pakistani Jul 24, 2013 12:41pm

Fight with them. This should be very clear policy of Nawaz government. This is the only way Pakistan can survive.

Iqbal Jul 24, 2013 01:59pm

Only the title of this news item mentions the PM. Rest of the article goes on army-bashing.

Ahmed Jul 24, 2013 02:52pm

What a dubious report by reuters. All they want is to create an impression that the security establishment is bad. In the past the same side was blamed by reuters et al that they are too soft on insurgents and terorists. That PPP government wants to fight with them but military wants peace. Now that PML-N came to power, having said that they will talk to TTP (highly impracticle) and now changing their stance after realizing the facts on ground, reuters takes the opposite line. What is this - bad quality of journalism or down right conspiracy to always show Pakistan in negavtive light ? Its a shame we have such new reports appearing when we need consensus on this war against TTP/LeJ/Terrorists. We dont need to see this in terms of civilians govt. or Army. Its PAKISTAN's fight and if mililary has realized this belatedly, lets go ahead and end this nonsense. Shame on reuters.

Ahmed Jul 24, 2013 02:56pm

And its USA that wants to talk to Afghan Taliban and wants ISI to "deliver" them Taliban so that peace agreements could be formulated in Afghanistan. So what is Pakistan's military fault if its helping US negotiate with Afghan Taliban ? As for Pakistan, its certain TTP are groups of criminals just using the name of Islam to continue ruling their areas.

Syed Jul 24, 2013 04:41pm

No dialogue with the enemy of the country. They openly declared war against the brave Pakistani Army so why to to talk, a very stern and decisive war should only be the answer to these coward so called Mujahideen call, they are bloody Munafaqeen. Our Army can do the job within days but need peoples backing and people of Pakistan has given their mandate in the recent election, the PM needs to wake up and clean this mess before it is too late.

pathanoo Jul 24, 2013 05:36pm

Nawaz Sharif needs to bite the bullet and declare a clear, pithy policy against the Taliban rather than issuing cliches statements encompassing every thing for every body. He needs to choose a path to control/eliminate Taliban. And, CHOOSE NOW.

Desi surfie Jul 24, 2013 06:00pm

Nawaz to get tough on Taliban... How is it possible when he has all the political responsibility without the actual power....on the other hand Pakistan security establishment has all the power without any political responsibility :))))

Zubair Khan Jul 24, 2013 06:02pm

Changing of mind set is not that easy task. Military has upper hand in Pakistan and will remain so for long time to come. Turkish model is cited but for that country has to have civil leadership of very high stature full of moral values practicing in daily life. At the end of tunnel no such civil leadership is visible. So do what military brass says as there is no other choice.

NASAH (USA) Jul 24, 2013 06:19pm

The treacherous enemy will sit down only when the Nawaz government talks from the position of STRENGTH -- the army as the instrument of strength is at Nawaz disposal -- it is up to Nawaz to decide to use it as his STICK against the Terrorists before offering them the 'carrots'.

Eddied Jul 24, 2013 07:10pm

This report identifies the biggest problem...incredibly after 40 thousand people have been killed..Pakistan has no policy on dealing with TTP?...we hope that the new PM will have the courage to attack these murderers...TTP are not honorable men who need to be talked with...they are killers of children and should just be eliminated...

Rao Jul 24, 2013 08:54pm

Terrorism will be defeated only if action is taken against all groups indulging in violence

Indian abroad Jul 24, 2013 10:17pm

Nawaz sharif have to get tough on these buch of mullas who is trying to defame the country in the name of islam,pakistan strong army can handle them.lets go Nawaz sharif i know pak public wants that.

Indian abroad Jul 24, 2013 10:17pm

@pakistani: indeed.

Faraz Jul 24, 2013 11:41pm

The Taliban will be eliminated with one week to 10 days at the most, IF Pak Army and ISI make it a principle that they will not support the so called "Good Taliban". Fighting these "Naughty Taliban" will not help Pak

Omer Irfan Kayani Jul 25, 2013 12:05am

Is he really serious about it?,last time he was in power and this time before getting elected he was quite cosy with allies of TTP,if anyone cares to remember.

Hamza Jul 25, 2013 12:57am

The taliban have no theology or ideas, all they do is kill women,children and worshipers. The only way to get rid of them is to keep priuce tags on their heads, the people, the Government, The military all need to contribute to eradicate them.

Silajit Jul 25, 2013 01:02am

Dear Pakistani friends,

Please adopt the same policy towards the Afghan Taliban that you adopt towards the TTP. They're killing men, women and children in addition to troops in Afghanistan, just like they are doing in Pakistan. So, please drop the double talk and root out ALL the Taliban from your side of the border. Then Afghans and Pakistanis can live together in peace and harmony.

zia khan Jul 25, 2013 01:15am

The writer talks about confusion in policy regarding Taliban but in fact this article is an attempt to create more confusion. Government is just a month old & as prime minister Nawaz has to understand and develop working relationship with all organs of the state including ISI to formulate a policy to make them achieve goals set by the government. It is only the performance that will establish the writ of the government over military and civil organs of the state and most importantly, the people.

aamir Jul 25, 2013 02:47am

@Ahmed:/ certain to whom? what TTP is for Pakistan, Afghan Taliban are for Afghanistan.

Haider Jul 25, 2013 04:49am

First sensible statement came out from current government officials, Guys just let ARMY handle and squash these enemies of Pakistan once for all.

Sumant Bhalla Jul 25, 2013 05:25am

The militants are against the Military. The Military are against the people. The establishment is comatose. What a mess!!!!

Faisal Jul 25, 2013 06:31am

a timely decision whethr good or bad is always way better than no decision at all.make a consistent and long term policy n then stick to i wonder when THE SECUIRTY DILEMMA of our army will make way for a more realistic policy whicb incorporats the developmnt of our own people n not the UNDEVOLPMENT of neighbours.

A.A.khan Jul 25, 2013 10:01am

The problem is related to all of us. Everyone really knows who is wrong? The media keeps double standard-demanding a strike when the Government negotiate the problem but curse when it takes action. To me, we are suffering as a nation mainly because of immature media. Anyone showing aggressiveness over a tolerable government becomes a HERO with a free hand to say anything. This divert the attention of the government from serious thinking to abrupt action which is not good. If a group is just active to kill us, either for money or power, don't we have the right to be protected. I have certain reservations on this write up and hope that media will also help to protect us, rather than planning to kill us.

Omair Jul 25, 2013 10:04am

Take a decision and firmly stand by it. The last govt. was totally confused about its decision making.

Noor Jul 25, 2013 10:26am

What about Imran's PTI who is bent on making everyone believe that talks might solve the problem. In my mind as a nation we need to decide if religious fanaticm of Talibans and their supporters is acceptable or no. There are many educated people who are not sure whether to chose civility or Taliban, then how can we blam uneducated and illiterate people who support this "cult" just because of their same sect. This is reality whether we like it or no. Even the likes of Javed Ghamdi (same sect as Taliban) had to leave the country just because Taliban are not prepared or rather educated to face the truth. I am sure one day they will knock at the doors of Munawwar Hussain, Fazlur Rehman and company to teach them also their form of Islam but then it will be too late. We need a complete house by house scrutiny and security clearance of every individual across the country if this menace has to be defeated. Immediate use of force whitch I support is only a small part of permanent solution.

SHAFIQ Jul 25, 2013 01:51pm

The prime minister is right. You can not talk to a diverged group with non negotiable stance. The situation may be different if ttp (there are 7 different groups atleast one in each agency) accepted the verdict of the many millions of Pakistani people.

The Constition and the elected government are not negotiable.

Army must destroy them root and branch. If for nothing else , just to demonstrate that they are worth the money we spend on them and they are there to back up the elected government ofvthe country. Shafiq