Taliban Play Trump with Peace Talks in Pakistan

The Pakistani government finally announced their negotiating team for peace talks with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The banned militant outfit responded with their own team, which includes politicians from the very parties that were backing the government's peace talks, including cricketer-turned- politician Imran Khan, who declined the role.

In an analysis piece written for the daily Dawn, Peshawar-based journalist Ismail Khan writes:

It’s a win-win situation – tail, I win, head, you lose! Like-minded people on both sides. As one commentator put it, it was a case of Liverpool playing against Liverpool.

Lahore-based tweeter Faisal Sherjan tweets:

Peace talk committees

While speaking to parliament on January 29, 2014 Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that regardless of the recent deadly attacks by the Taliban, Pakistan hopes that its talks-first approach will help end violence in the country.

Sharif's four-member committee to pursue talks “immediately”, includes well-known journalists Rahimullah Yousufzai and Irfan Siddique, former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand (who is also a member of Imran Khan's party); former Intelligence official Major (Retired) Amir Shah.

The Taliban announced team to facilitate talks with the government, includes three top Islamist party leaders Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, Mufti Kifayatullah and Prof Ibrahim Khan, the controversial former chief cleric of Lal Masjid Maulana Abdul Aziz, and former cricketer turned Chairman of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) party Imran Khan.

Imran Khan's nomination resulted in lots of buzz on Twitter, from his critics who call with “Taliban Khan” for his pro-talks stance and his supporters who defend him vociferously. 

On his official Twitter account, Imran Khan distanced himself from the Taliban nomination:

Former Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman believed that the Taliban were trying to exert power over the talks: 

Taliban attacks throughout Pakistan

Following the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike in November last year, newly elected TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah shunned the negotiation table and swore to avenge the death of his predecessor. The group has since carried out attacks in Pakistan's major cities.

Views after deadly suicidal attack on Chief of the Crime Investigation Department (CID) of Sindh Police Chaudhry Muhammad who killed in attack. Image by ppiimages. Copyright Demotix (9/1/2014)

Views after deadly suicidal attack on Chief of the Crime Investigation Department (CID) of Sindh Police Chaudhry Muhammad who killed in attack. Image by ppiimages. Copyright Demotix (9/1/2014)

In some of the major attacks of 2014, a senior police officer Chaudhry Aslam was assassinated on January 9 in an IED blast in Karachi. Aslam was highly critical of TTP activities in the city and had either arrested or killed several TTP members in recent years. The TTP Mohmand Agency group claimed responsibility for that attack.

Later on January 19, Taliban militants hit a security convoy in the Bannu area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and killed 20 people. The next day, at least 13 more people were killed in a bomb explosion in Rawalpindi.

With this violence in mind, some are skeptical of the prudence of peace talks. According to an article published by the Asian Human Rights Commission:

“It is madness for sheep to talk peace with a wolf,” said British historian and clergyman Thomas Fuller. In other words, we cannot change the nature of wild creatures. We cannot predict when snakes, lions, wolves or any other wild animals will attack, and without protecting ourselves we cannot sit calmly. In the context of Pakistan, the sheep is the government, and the wolf is the Taliban. It is madness on the part of the government to want peace talks with the Taliban, who only understand the language of weapons and violence.

Yet another report called the “Pakistan Security Report 2013” compiled by the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) showed that in 2013, TTP remained the reason behind unrest in the country:

Compared to 2012, the number of reported terrorist attacks in Pakistan posted a nine per cent increase while the number of people killed and injured in these attacks increased by 19 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively. Despite the killing of its top brass in drone attacks and military operations by Pakistani security forces, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) remained the major actor of instability in the country in 2013 through its alliance with numerous militant groups. It carried out 645 terrorist attacks in 50 districts, claiming the lives of 732 civilians and 425 security forces personnel.

Split opinions on peace talks

Pakistan first proposed negotiations with the Taliban in 2004, but talks have not been successful. According to Prime Minister Sharif, this is the Taliban's final chance to come to the negotiation table and halt their violent activities in the country. 

The country's major political parties have split down the middle on the issue: Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) have hailed the government’s decision, while Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) are not so hopeful about the talks and wanted a full force, comprehensive military action against the TTP. 

The selection of the negotiators has also raised some eyebrows when it comes to their credentials. 

Pakistan Peoples Party Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari delivers a speech at a public gathering to commemorate the 6th anniversary of the death of Benazir Bhutto. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (27/12/2014)

Pakistan Peoples Party Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (27/12/2014)

After Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's announcement of more talks with the TTP, Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari reacted in utter disappointment on Twitter:

For senior anchor and political analyst Syed Talat Hussain, the committee is just for distraction and nothing more:

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