TTP TalksTalking to the Taliban 

By S. M. Hali 

Acting upon its election campaign pronouncement, PML (N) is keen to hold peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) to bring relief to the people from terror attacks. Unfortunately, an incessant barrage of attacks by various assailants has shaken the resolve of the current incumbent in the corridors of power at Islamabad. The casualty figures from June 6, 2013 the date Mian Nawaz Sharif took oath as Prime Minister till August 25 indicating 685  killed (including terrorists) and 721 injured in 75 different incidents (data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal), speak for themselves.

PML(N)’s attempts to organize an All Parties’ Conference (APC) to bring the different political blocs on the table for devising a comprehensive strategy to deal with terrorism  have come to naught forcing the ruling party to go solo in drafting a National Security Policy.

TTP, which initially welcomed PML(N)’s invitation for peace talks, withdrew its response even before the installation of the new government after a drone strike killed the Deputy Commander of TTP, Waliur Rehman Mehsud and six others in the North Waziristan tribal region. It is still not clear whether Waliur Rehman, was eliminated at the behest of the TTP Commander Hakimullah Mehsud, since the duo had divergent views on peace negotiations with the government of Pakistan or his whereabouts were deliberately leaked to the CIA by vested interests in an attempt to sabotage the peace talks. Besides the head money levied on Waliur Rehman by Pakistan for his terror attacks locally, he was also wanted by the CIA for his threats to wreak havoc on the US and NATO.

TTP retaliated violently to Waliur Rehman’s successful targeting; the statistics quoted above are evidence of their wrath. Targeting law enforcing agencies, women, children and ethnic minorities, TTP expanded its list of victims to foreigners. The worst being on June 23, when 10 foreign tourists-cum-mountaineers were ruthlessly slaughtered in a base camp of Nanga Parbat mountain range, raising international furor. The miscreants also symbolically struck a blow at the very heritage of Pakistan by torching the Ziarat Residency, where Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah spent his last days.

There has been a flurry of movements in the last week towards peace talks but they are engulfed in the fog of uncertainty. On August 31st, the Information Minister disclosed to the media that the government has held several rounds of “secret” talks with the banned TTP and its associated militant groups. Coincidently, the revelation came two days after Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, assured Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of his every possible assistance in negotiating a peace deal with the outlawed militant group and has been tipped to be appointed as the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly on Foreign Affairs. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a veteran politician is not above extracting the proverbial “pound of flesh” but that is for the government to decide.

Interestingly, the Interior Minister was quick to deny any clandestine moves to parley with the TTP and has promised transparency.

The TTP, which comprises a motley crowd—ranging from former religious scholars and students to stark criminals—is also divided on the issue of talks with the government. Hakimullah Mehsud’s spokesperson has already rejectedreports about talks with the federal government, stating that there was no way TTP would dissociate from al-Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a precondition by the government for talks, while two of its spokesmen have been removed for expressing their enthusiasm towards peace talks.

The government has already lost some of its bargaining chips after the TTP freed 35 of its battle-hardened combatants by storming the Central Prison at Dera Ismail Khan in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on July 29.

Perhaps it would be prudent for the government to solicit the services of Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, a renowned religious scholar, sometimes referred to as the “father of the Taliban”. Currently  he is the chancellor of Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania, a Deobandi Islamic seminary, the alma mater of several Taliban leaders. The erudite scholar is respected by  Taliban leaders on both sides of the divide as their teacher and former mentor. President Karzai, during his latest visit to Islamabad, sought Pakistan’s help in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. With the Army and the Civilian dispensation being on the same page with respect to talking to the Taliban, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq may play an important role to convince Afghan and Pakistani Taliban to shed militancy and sit at the dialogue table in the name of humanity and restoring peace in the region.