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TTP talks

November 24, 2011

REPORTS of peace talks with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan have been surfacing in recent days. The first thing to note about them is their unreliability: various statements given to the media contradict each other and are hardly consistent with facts on the ground. On Wednesday, the Taliban spokesperson himself denied the reports and claimed responsibility for an attack on a police station in South Waziristan. And even as some Taliban commanders were earlier telling reporters that talks were taking place, Hafiz Gul Bahadur was threatening the government from North Waziristan and forbidding civilians from working on army-led infrastructure projects in his area. Meanwhile, some reports said the ceasefire is limited to South Waziristan, while others claimed it is countrywide. Neither ring true. Kurram and Orakzai agencies continue to see clashes between militants and security forces, and the latter were attacked in South Waziristan last month. Schools continue to be blown up in several areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata. Targeted killings of administration officials have not ceased; over Eid, a suicide bomb attack in Swabi killed a former nazim belonging to the Awami National Party.

Speak to those with knowledge of how the Taliban are faring, and they will confirm that there is reason for scepticism. Despite these recent attacks, the TTP appears to be on the back foot in many tribal areas, and the Bajaur, Mohmand and Swat leaderships seem to have fled to Afghanistan. In this context, suggestions of talks may in reality have been feelers sent out by the Taliban in light of the all-party conference resolution of Sept 29 that said the Pakistani administration would hold a dialogue “with our own people in the tribal areas”. The fact is that the implementation of that resolution is in the very early stages; the parliamentary committee in charge of it was formed just a few days ago. But as it does move towards talks, the administration must keep in mind the long list of past failed negotiations with the Taliban. If the TTP really is on the back foot, that is a position any peace process must take full advantage of.