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Preconditions for talks

February 04, 2013

THE mystifying offer by the Taliban for talks with the government was renewed on Sunday with the release of a video in which Ihsanullah Ihsan, the TTP spokesman, appeared to scale back the TTP’s preconditions for talks. Release several prisoners and invite guarantors to the talks, the TTP has now demanded — but is it just another tactic to sow confusion and perpetuate the uncertainty in society and the state? There is good reason to be sceptical of the TTP’s latest offer: after all, the TTP spokesman has made the offer before, only for Hakeemullah Mehsud to spell out what the TTP was willing to do and accept — and none of what the TTP chief suggested is remotely acceptable. The constitution cannot be scrapped, democracy cannot be done away with and the state cannot accept armed militias as legitimate entities — all of which Hakeemullah Mehsud demanded in his own elaboration recently about what the TTP wants.

There are at least two plausible reasons for the TTP’s offer. One, the umbrella organisation has found itself under intense pressure from the state and senses its growing isolation, particularly with public opinion turning against the TTP’s violence and perverse agenda. Two, the TTP may sense that its principal and last big sanctuary, in North Waziristan, will be taken away eventually and is trying to delay the squeeze there for as long as possible. For now, it does not appear the TTP is in fact genuinely interested in talks: Ihsanullah Ihsan made his offer while accompanied on camera by Adnan Rashid, whose presence will be a red rag to the army given his role in attacks against the military. And even if it were inclined to genuinely negotiate with the state, would the minimum conditions that the state would impose — giving up violence, evicting foreign militants and not disrupting the electoral process in Fata — ever be agreed to by the TTP?

If it were just a game of cat and mouse and PR battles between the TTP and the government that has been playing out in recent months, it would be easy enough to dismiss. But there is a disturbing, and perhaps not incidental, effect that the TTP’s offer is having: injecting the militants into mainstream politics. Picking favourites, suggesting some parties are more reliable guarantors than others and explicitly marking some parties as targets of violence have the effect of arranging parties in some vague way in pro-Taliban and anti-Taliban camps. The politicians need to be unequivocal in their rejection of militancy and the Taliban’s agenda. Or else the TTP may just end up hijacking the politicians’ agendas.