print
memri
February 2, 2014 No.
1064

Concern In Pakistan Over Government's Negotiations With The Taliban

By: Tufail Ahmad*


Taliban fighters somewhere in the Pakistani tribal region

Introduction

This paper reviews the latest developments in Pakistan regarding a formal initiative launched by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who took power after the May 2013 elections, to hold negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), a conglomerate of jihadi organizations that have declared the Pakistani government and military apostate and are fighting to enforce sharia rule.

It also looks at a sharia-for-peace pact that resulted following similar peace negotiations, launched by the secular federal and provincial governments that came to power in Pakistan following the February 2008 elections, with a Pakistani Taliban faction by Maulana Fazlullah, now emir of the TTP. It analyzes the unchanging Taliban standpoint regarding enforcement of sharia rule.

The paper also examines concerns emerging in Pakistan regarding the Sharif government's move to hold peace negotiations with the Fazlullah-led Taliban, who are widely despised for their sustained attacks on public places in Pakistan and killings of innocent civilians and soldiers, as well as for their bombing of mosques, schools, and Sufi shrines across Pakistan in recent years.

The Government Negotiating Team


Left to right: Rahimullah Yousafzai, Rustam Shah Mohmand, Maj. Muhammad Amir and Irfan Siddiqui

On January 29, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced the formation of a four-member committee to hold peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, with the purpose of the talks being to end the cycle of terrorist violence underway in Pakistan.[1]

The committee members are: Irfan Siddiqui, journalist and advisor to the prime minister on national security affairs; Maj. (ret.) Muhammad Aamir, a former intelligence operative; Rahimullah Yousafzai, a senior journalist known for his long-standing contacts with the Taliban; and Rustam Shah Mohmand, the former Pakistani ambassador to Kabul.

Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan will serve as the "focal person" to the committee, possibly to advise and facilitate resources for negotiations with the TTP.[2] Speaking in the National Assembly (the lower house of the Pakistani parliament), Prime Minister Sharif also announced that he would "personally oversee" the four-member committee and added that talks and violence could not go together.[3]

The committee is authorized to set the terms of negotiations with the TTP. Irfan Siddiqui, the committee member and advisor to the prime minister, told a journalist: "We've been given an open mandate and complete authority to initiate dialogue.... We're waiting for the Taliban's response so that a proper mechanism could be put in place for talks."[4] There is an expectation that more members could join the committee.

The Taliban Team And Nominees


Left to Right: Muhammad Ibrahim, Abdul Aziz, Maulana Samiul Haq, Mufti Kifayatullah, Imran Khan

It should be noted that in recent years the Pakistani Taliban have indicated that they are willing to hold peace talks if the government is sincere in implementing Islamic sharia rule in Pakistan. Following the announcement of the formation of the government negotiating team, TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid reacted the same day, January 29, stating: "We have taken the government's decision seriously and will inform it about our stance after discussion in the Shura meeting."[5]

The next day, on January 30, the TTP spokesman commented on the Taliban's objectives: "Whether it be through war or negotiations, our objective is to implement sharia."[6] The TTP shura (executive council) discussed the matter as a priority. On February 1, after three days of shura discussions, the TTP released the names of five prominent Pakistanis. According to some media reports, the TTP asked the government to add these five members to the four-member government committee. However, according to the Roznama Ummat daily, TTP spokesman Shahid said that these five members would "represent" the TTP in the talks.[7]

The five members nominated by the TTP are: Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party which rules the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province; Maulana Samiul Haq, the chief of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-S) party; Maulana Abdul Aziz, the radical cleric of the Red Mosque of Islamabad which is known for the 2007 military operation there; Professor Muhammad Ibrahim, senator and leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province; and Mufti Kifayatullah, former lawmaker and a leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) party.[8] Imran Khan and Maulana Abdul Aziz have declined to represent the Taliban in these talks for varying reasons.

According to the report, the TTP is in the process of forming a nine-member committee of its own.[9] It is not clear whether the five representatives sought by the Taliban will be included in this nine-member committee, as the actual modalities of the talks are not clear. However, the TTP has not announced the members of its nine-member committee, which is expected to represent various factions within the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and most likely will be headed by one of the leading commanders such as Adnan Rasheed, Khalid Sajna or Qari Shakeel, according to a media report.[10]

Peace Negotiations With Taliban: 2008 And 2014


Malala Yousafzai, shot by Maulana Fazlullah's fighters

The peace talks with the TTP emerged on the agenda of Pakistan following the May 2013 elections as a result of which Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party rules the federation and Imran Khan's PTI party rules the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Both the federal and the provincial governments are led by center-right, pro-Taliban parties. There is almost an exact historical precedent for talks with the Taliban: after the February 2008 elections in Pakistan, the then-governments of Pakistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (the latter was known at that time as North West Frontier Province) also adopted a policy of accommodation and peace talks with the Taliban. Similar talks have taken place before 2008.

As the peace negotiations were underway in 2008, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) published a research paper by this author, examining how the Taliban commanders were emboldened as a result of the governments' policy of reconciliation with the Taliban faction active in the Swat district and its neighborhood.[11] At that time, the peace negotiations were carried out by secular governments in Islamabad and the province with the TTP faction led by Maulana Fazlullah and his father-in-law Sufi Muhammad, and resulted in a sharia-for-peace agreement as a consequence of which the Taliban began enforcing sharia in Swat and neighboring districts and imposed total ban on girls' education by early 2009.

It was around this time that Malala Yousafzai, a teenage Pakistani girl, was writing her anonymous online diary about how the Taliban were enforcing the sharia rule in her district and closing girls' schools; for writing the diary she was shot in the head in October 2012. She survived against all odds and now lives in exile in Birmingham, England, and is known globally as the icon of girls' education movement. Importantly, Maulana Fazlullah, who was then only a local commander and enforcing Islamic sharia only in Swat, is now the overall emir of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), having succeeded Hakimullah Mehsud who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on November 1, 2013.

Amid the 2008 peace negotiations, this is what the Taliban said about their objective: "We want to implement the Islamic system not in a limited area [of Swat and Malakand] but in the entire country."[12] Compare this statement with TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid's statement on January 30, 2014: "As Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says that he will catch a breath only after ending terrorism from Pakistan, our stand similarly is that sharia be implemented in the country as soon as possible because Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and we will implement sharia in it – whether it be through negotiations or [if] we have to fight a war."[13]

Maulana Fazlullah, whose jihadi fighters shot Malala Yousafzai and with whom Pakistan is beginning peace negotiations in early 2014 once again, has made numerous statements outlining his ideological objectives. In March 2012, Fazlullah stated: "Passion for jihad is just like an addiction. Once it has entered your heart and mind, it will be impossible to drop it out. For example, no matter how spicy food is, once a man becomes addicted to it, he can't eat food without chilies. Jihad is like addiction. If a drug addict can't survive without drugs, then how can a true mujahid lift this passion for jihad?"[14]

He also stated: "Now the change is inevitable as cracks have appeared in the rank and file of the government and military forces [of Pakistan]. They are now begging us for reconciliation. All such development is the fruit of... [the mujahideen's] sacrifices and patience."[15] In a Taliban video released in December 2013, Fazlullah said: "Allah willing, those youth who are alive who will give such mouth-breaking response against these apostate military and secret agencies that will be remembered not only by Pakistan but by India and the entire world of unbelief. In this way, our jihad will continue till the day that either sharia is implemented in this country or our martyrdom is achieved."[16] Fazlullah has made a number of such statements.

Concerns Over Pakistani Government's Peace Initiative


Maulana Fazlullah, formerly of Swat, now emir of TTP

Within hours of the government's announcement of the composition of the four-member committee to hold talks with the Taliban on January 29, the TTP carried out a suicide attack and multiple bombings against the checkposts of the paramilitary Rangers force in Karachi, killing several securitymen.[17] The TTP immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Journalist Amir Mateen commented: "The prime minister was not ambiguous when he declared in his speech that talks and violence could not go together. This was the only red line in his speech. And how did the Taliban respond to that? They could have easily kept quiet or deflected it. But no.... You have to give them credit for being straight, if not audacious. Within hours of the PM's daring, the TTP owned that it had killed three Rangers."[18] The attack was followed quickly by a major attack on February 2 in Peshawar in which two hand grenades ripped through a packed cinema hall; the TTP did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack.[19]

In an editorial dated February 2, the liberal newspaper Dawn warned the Sharif government that it is dealing with a new jihadi force in the TTP, which is deadlier than its previous versions, for example during similar peace talks in 2004. The editorial stated: "The TTP of 2014 is nothing like the Nek Mohammad-led group of predominantly Mehsud militants in 2004. In fact, Nek Mohammad would possibly not even recognize the TTP of today – though he would surely admire the scale and scope of its activities and ambitions."[20] It added: "the TTP is ... the single greatest threat to the internal security of Pakistan that this country has ever known – and that failure to deal with it now will... have catastrophic consequences for this country and its future. The real threat the TTP poses is twofold: one, the increasing clarity of its goals and agenda; and two, an ever-growing resilience and understanding of how to achieve its goals."[21]

In an editorial dated February 4, Lahore-based newspaper Daily Times examined the fate of the peace deals with the Taliban in 2004, 2005 and 2008, stating: "The aims behind the formation of the TTP were to wage war against the Pakistani state..., impose their version of sharia, and attack the U.S. and UK for being the architects of the Afghan war. The group has been successfully mounting attacks on the Pakistani government, its army and the secular parties, not to mention ordinary citizens. Their devastating reach into the urban areas of the country has virtually left the state in a limbo. The state in the past reached a number of peace deals with the TTP to bring them into the mainstream. In April 2004 the Shakai agreement was signed with Nek Muhammad. In February 2005 the Srarogha peace deal was inked with Baitullah Mehsud, and in April 2008, the two sides reached a peace deal to end violence in the Swat valley. Interestingly, the trend has been that the TTP would sabotage the peace deals within hours of their signing. In fact the deals actually provided a boost to the otherwise unknown militant group, evoking a sense of importance and stature in nonentities like Nek Muhammad and Baitullah [Mehsud]."[22]

In an article, journalist and author Amir Mir warned that the Sharif government doesn't have the Pakistani military onboard the peace talks and the Taliban are seeking to seize the Pakistani military installations. Mir quoted TTP commander Omar Khalid Khorasani as saying in a March 2012 video: "We aim to counter the Pakistani government, its intelligence agencies, and its army, which are against Islam and have oppressed the mujahideen. The Taliban want to replace the English system of democracy with Islamic sharia as the Pakistani system has nothing to do with Islam. The Taliban want to seize the Pakistani nuclear weapons and other resources, including the army, to defend Islam. Another objective is to use Pakistan's military might including the nuclear bomb, army, and other resources, to guide other Muslim countries for the sake of Islam."[23]

In a satirical column, Pakistani columnist Ayaz Amir wondered how a settlement with the TTP could look like in terms of a financial package for the Taliban, or other concessions such as the renaming of roads and parks after jihadi commanders, or permission for jihadi forces to kill Shia Muslims whom they consider infidels. Amir stated: "The Taliban are likely to hold out for nothing less than $10 billion. Even then they will say they are doing us a favor. If a settlement is what we want, there is no getting round this problem. The Race Course Ground Rawalpindi should be named Hakimullah Mehsud Shaheed Memorial Park; Ayub National Park should be Baitullah Mehsud Shaheed National Park; and Benazir Bhutto International Airport would be appropriately named Commander Nek Muhammad Shaheed International Airport...."[24]

* Tufail Ahmad is Director of the MEMRI South Asia Studies Project.

Endnotes:

[1] Roznama Express (Pakistan), January 30, 2014. The original English of all reports used in this dispatch has been lightly edited for clarity.

[2] Roznama Express (Pakistan), January 30, 2014.

[3] Thenews.com.pk (Pakistan), January 29, 2014.

[4] Tribune.com.pk (Pakistan), February 1, 2014.

[5] Thenews.com.pk (Pakistan), January 29, 2014.

[6] Roznama Express (Pakistan), January 31, 2014.

[7] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), February 2, 2014.

[8] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), February 2, 2014.

[9] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), February 2, 2014.

[10] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), February 2, 2014.

[17] Roznama Express (Pakistan), January 30, 2014.

[18] The News (Pakistan), January 31, 2014.

[19] Dawn (Pakistan), February 2, 2014.

[20] Dawn (Pakistan), February 2, 2014.

[21] Dawn (Pakistan), February 2, 2014.

[22] Daily Times (Pakistan), February 3, 2014.

[23] The News (Pakistan), January 31, 2014.

[24] The News (Pakistan), January 31, 2014.