Af-Pak Diary

Pakistan: Talks about Talks with the Taliban, Again

06 Jan, 2014    ·   4238

D Suba Chandran comments on the new variables at play in talking to the Taliban

Talks about talks with the TTP seem to have become seasonal in Pakistan. There is another effort, this time to initiate a new round of talks with the Pakistani Taliban, now under the leadership of Mullah Fazlullah. This time, not only is Fazlullah in the picture, but there is also another player – Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, the leader of his faction of the JUI and also the chair person of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council.

While this initiative is not the first one in the last two years, the issues and questions remain the same for Pakistan’s leadership and civil society. Is the TTP monolithic, and serious about talks? While there is a larger consensus amongst the political leadership, are the military and the civil society on board? What would these talks be aimed at? And more importantly, are there lessons to be learnt from the previous initiatives and failures?

Broader Political Consensus
There seems to be a broader consensus cutting across party lines in initiating negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban. In fact, this latest round started in 2012 itself, when Hakimullah Mehsud was the leader of the TTP.

Imran Khan has always remained the most ardent supporter of this initiative. In fact, he even wants to provide an office to the Taliban in Peshawar and perhaps even in Islamabad! Despite the TTP not announcing its support for Imran Khan (remember, they opposed his entry and the proposed march to Waziristan earlier in 2012, to protest against the drone attacks. Though the security forces stopped his march, it was believed there were threats of suicide attacks), he has remained a staunch supporter, favouring talks with Taliban. Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N have also supported such an initiative in public and it was even part of the election campaign in 2013. The Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a conglomerate of primarily right-wing groups, now led by Maulana Sami ul Haq, has also offered its support.

There were numerous all parties’ conferences and discussions within Parliament during 2012 on the subject; at the last meeting of the all parties’ conference held in September 2012, it was unanimously decided to initiate talks with the Taliban. Though couched in politically correct phrases such as ‘sovereignty’, ‘peace’, ‘stability’ and ‘international law’, the September resolution gave the final nod to Nawaz Sharif to initiate a formal negotiation with the TTP.

Multiple suicide attacks including the mayhem in All Saints' Church in Peshawar killing nearly 80 people and the assassination of Major General Sanaullah Niazi by the TTP during the same month, followed by the US drone attack killing Hakimullah Mehsud in early November resulted in the above initiative not taking off.

Enter Samiul Haq
After Mullah Fazlullah took over the as the chief of the TTP, the political leadership in Pakistan once again revived the talks, which had been on hold since September 2012.

A major development in this new round is a broad consensus amongst various political parties on making Malauna Samiul Haq the primary anchor in taking the talks with the Taliban forward. Apart from his ardent support of such an initiative’ there seem to be a few more factors in Nawaz Sharif pitching Samiul Haq as the lead from the government side.

First, Samiul Haq, though not much of a political support (in terms of adequate seats either in the provincial legislature of the Khyber Paktunkwa or the national Parliament), is the leader of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council. As has been shown repeatedly, the Difa has a substantial presence in the streets and has been a lead actor in the anti-American protests within Pakistan.

Second, media reports from Pakistan also convey that Samiul may have the much needed link with the new TTP leadership. Khalid Haqqani, the Head of Taliban Shura, and currently, the deputy to Mullah Fazlullah is believed to have been educated at the Madrassa Darul Uloom Haqqania in Akora Khattak. This madrassa, where a substantial section of the Taliban leadership across the Durand Line was educated, including Mullah Omar, is owned by Samiul.

Perhaps, for Nawaz Sharif, bringing Samiul is a masterstroke. Bu, will he be able to deliver?

Military, Civil Society and Mullah Fazlullah: Are they on Board?
While there is consensus within the political leadership in talking to the Talban, is the same enthusiasm shared by the military and civil society? Especially since the TTP is now under Fazlullah, who was a on war path killing scores of military men and innocent civilians in his previous version as the leader of the Swat Taliban?

While the military has made several deals with the multiple TTP factions in the FATA, especially in North and South Waziristan, it has led a series of bloody operations against the Taliban in Swat since 2008-09. Is the new COAS, Gen Sharif, on board with a dialogue with Fazlullah? The civil society within Pakistan is divided, with the liberal section voicing its concerns publicly in the media.

Finally, are Fazlullah and the rest of the TTP factions interested in such a process? If it was the case, why did the TTP greet the announcement of APC in September 2012 with a series of suicide attacks?