The Pakistani government has shelved planned peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, following the election of a new Taliban chief. Mullah Fazlullah has shunned the negotiation table and sworn to avenge the death of his predecessor Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike earlier this month.
Following Mehsud's death, the Pakistan Taliban also known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a loose coalition of militant factions primarily operating along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region, named Fazlullah, the man behind the attack on education activist Malala Yousufzai, as their new chief.
Mullah Fazlullah is believed to have been chosen because he has never been in favour of peace talks. Last month in a video, Fazlullah claimed responsibility for assassinating a high-ranking military officer and vowed to attack the most powerful man in Pakistan, the army chief. CNN's Pakistan correspondent Saima Mohsin tweets:
— Saima Mohsin (@SaimaMohsin) November 8, 2013
Who is Fazlullah?
This is the first time that the Pakistani Taliban have chosen a leader who does not come from the country's volatile tribal belt that borders Afghanistan. Fazlullah rose to prominence in 2007 through fiery illegal radio broadcasts in Pakistan's Swat valley, where he spoke against the Pakistani state, female education, and demanded the imposition of a harsh version of Islam, which earned him the nickname “Mullah Radio.” He is believed to be hiding in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Soon his militant group started blowing up schools, forcing men to grow beards and preventing women from going to markets. After a failed peace deal with Fazlullah's father-in-law, the Pakistani military pushed his militant group out of Swat by 2009.
Writer, public policy analyst and anchor Raza Rumi (@Razarumi) sarcastically tweets:
So one “our own people” heads the TTP. Why is everyone so shocked. He is only fighting US imperialism. So what if he kills Pakistanis.
— Raza Rumi (@Razarumi) November 7, 2013
Recalling the state of education during the times of Mullah Fazlullah in Swat, writer and columnist Bina Shah (@BinaShah) tweets:
The Taliban agree there is an Education Emergency in Pakistan: Too much of it.
— Bina Shah (@BinaShah) November 7, 2013
Political Push for Peace Talks
In September, the All Parties Conference (APC), a coalition of political parties in Pakistan, unanimously agreed to try “peace talks” with the Taliban. Members of the APC believe peace talks will give respite from Taliban violence unleashed in Pakistani cities through sporadic attacks.
Mehsud was killed a day before the scheduled talks were to begin. Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose party governs the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province recently said, “the American lobby in Pakistan doesn’t want peace on this soil,” at a press conference.
Like Imran Khan, most key political parties and the Pakistani government said the US drone strike “sabotaged” proposed peace talks with the Taliban. Fazlullah’s new position presents potential trouble for Imran Khan, because Swat which was once Fazlullah's stronghold, is a district in Imran's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province.
The New York Times Pakistan Bureau Chief Declan Walsh (@declanwalsh) emphasizes the seriousness of the situation:
Whither Taliban talks now, given Mullah Fazlullah's history of reneging on peace deals and fact that he operates inside KP province?
— Declan Walsh (@declanwalsh) November 7, 2013
Former ambassador to the US and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) politician Sherry Rehman (@sherryrehman), asked whether all the talk about peace talks was just a game of badminton:
TTP chief says they don't feel like talking. What's the new plan? Dither some more? Shake fist at the US? Another APC? #ShuttlecockCentral
— sherryrehman (@sherryrehman) November 7, 2013
History of Failed Peace Talks
The past record of peace deals with Taliban is not good. Peace pacts signed in Shakai (March 2004), Sararogha (February 2005), Miramshah (September 2006), Khyber (September 2008) and Swat (April and May 2008) were all broken. Except for two, most of these peace pacts were directly negotiated by the army. And with Fazlullah's aggressive threats against the Pakistan army, it seems unlikely that they will come close to the negotiating table.
“It takes two hands to clap,” an opposition politician not in favour of peace talks explained in a Pakistani news report, “there is talk of ‘dialogue, dialogue’ from this side and ‘refusal, refusal’ from there [the Taliban].”
Lawyer and columnist Babar Sattar, who is opposed to peace talks writes in Pakistani daily Dawn:
By appointing Fazlullah as its new head, the TTP has tried to slap out of confusion those of us [Pakistanis] who believe that terrorism is simply a tribal response to drones and will wither away once strikes end and the US withdraws its troops from Afghanistan.