ISLAMABAD: The provincial and federal governments are looking for clerics who may have influence with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as they no longer believe that the usual suspects such as Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Maulana Samiul Haq can prove to be of use.
In fact, the PML-N government at the centre and the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have not spoken to these two leaders about the proposed talks with the TTP since the second week of July.
Instead, the PML-N government in the centre and the PTI government in KP are trying to contact the Taliban leadership based in North Waziristan through lesser known religious leaders based in KP.
It is learnt that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has started looking for clerics who still wield influence on Taliban ranks in tribal areas.
The official spokesmen of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI-F and Maulana Samiul Haq’s JUI-S confirmed this.
“The Nawaz Sharif government is not actively pursuing this issue any more,” said Maulana Yousaf Shah, the official spokesman of JUI-S.
Similarly, Jan Muhammad Achakzai, spokesman of JUI-F, said that the last meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman on this issue took place in the second week of July.
Yet, these two leaders have not stopped playing to the press galleries, giving statements about the talks and implying that they are still involved in behind-the-scenes talks.
Their ploys were lent further credence when the American Ambassador visited Maulana Sami in Akora Khattak in July.
“First the American Ambassador met Maulana Samiul Haq and requested him to play a role in contacting the Taliban and later Nawaz Sharif sent a special emissary to him (Haq). In the same month Imran Khan sent the Chief Minister, Pervez Khattak, to him to discuss the same issue,” Maulana Yousaf Shah said.
He claimed that “Maulana Samiul Haq can influence the attitudes and policies of Taliban if the government and the military can assure him about their peaceful intentions.”
But since July these two clerics have not been approached.
A senior federal government official confirmed that the Sharif government had not contacted Maulana Fazl on this issue since July.
In the past these two religious leaders had acted as mediators between the tribal militants and the Pakistan army.
For instance, security analyst Brig (retd) Shaukat Qadir said that in 2003-2004 the then crops commander Peshawar, Lt General (retd) Safdar Hussein, requested Maulana Sami to convince the militants to talk to the military.
“Initially the tribal jirga asked the militant commander Nek Muhammad to stop fighting but he didn’t listen. Then the Maulana convinced Nek to talk to the military,” said Brig (retd) Shaukat Qadir, adding that this “influence is now a thing of the past”.
Former military official and security analyst Brig (retd) Mehmood Shah agreed that in 2004 JUI leaders had acted as mediators between army and tribal militants but he had a different take on the results than Qadir. “Those talks failed primarily because JUI men created further misunderstandings,” said Shah, who was Secretary Fata at the time.
Experts say that in the past the main reason for this perception of influence was the Deobandi background of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban.
However, with time these Deobandi ties have weakened.
Saleem Safi, a senior journalist who has written extensively on the Taliban, said that the Pakistani Taliban could no longer be called Deobandi outfit. “The Pakistani Taliban are now more influenced by the Al Qaeda-linked Arab Salafi groups, as well as Pakistani Salafi groups such as Lashkar-i-Taiba.”
“The influence of Deobandi religious scholars such as Maulana Samiul Haq is non-existent,” he added.
No wonder then that Maulana Fazl is no longer claiming that he can bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
“Maulana can serve as guide to the Jirga, which will hold talks with the Taliban. He can guide the government on how to hold the talks with the Taliban,” says Achakzai.
He adds that “if any religious leaders think that they can tame the militant commanders on their own, they are wrong. Maulana Fazlur Rehman cannot tame all the militant commanders”.
As a result, the federal and provincial governments are now looking elsewhere.
A Peshawar-based senior journalist says that the KP chief minister told journalists in an off-the-record briefing that the government had made a mistake by reaching out to Samiul Haq.
Whether or not Maulana Sami realises what has happened, Maulana Fazl is aware of the changed stakes. In fact, the changed political realities have forced the wily Maulana to adapt quickly.
He now wants to sit on the government’s side of the negotiating table: “Maulana Fazlur Rehman can even neutralise the Taliban’s religious and militant narratives,” says Jan Muhammad Achakzai.
The writer is a reporter with the Herald