Pakistan at a crossroads

January 29, 2014 12:04 pm

TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) has courageously carried out new string of attacks on security forces in Bannu and Rawalpindi. The attacks come after a couple of months of relative calm as the Taliban regrouped following the death of leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike in November. A drone also killed his deputy Wali Ur Rehman earlier in the year. It may signal the start of a campaign of attacks by the TTP, partly in revenge for the death of their former leader, Hakimullah Mehsud. It certainly seems that these bombings are the beginning of a campaign, instigated by the recently returned Maulana Fazlullah, who is believed to be camping in Dir and is trying to cement his position as undisputed leader of the TTP. Maulana Fazlullah is under pressure to take the revenge of his predecessor’s killings. Before these attacks government was very eager to start the peace talks with Taliban. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan previously said that government is ready for talks with the TTP to end the decade-old insurgency in the country. Many prominent people and parties gave support to these proposed talks. Maulana Samiul Haq also known as “Teacher Of Taliban” welcomed the Taliban’s offer for holding talks with the government. Haq that time has called on the government to take immediate steps to initiate the dialogue process.

But after these bold attacks all these equations changed drastically. Pakistani state has been under growing pressure both from the civil society and hawks in the Pakistani army to do more to crush the insurgency as no meaningful talks have taken place for years. Even the Nawaz Sharif government was accused of making personnel of security forces as a sitting duck. Pain of these tragic incidents was felt not just in Bannu or within the army but in all spheres of the government and in every nook and corner of the country. So in retaliation Pakistani fighter jets carried out airstrikes in the restive North Waziristan, killing at least 50 Taliban fighters including important commanders Wali Muhammad and Adnan Rashid. Following a wave of fighter jets strikes, the army later called in helicopter gunships to shell suspected hideouts of the militants. Military officials said fighter jets were targeting only militant positions around the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. But Taliban spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid claimed that in Mir Ali and Miranshah in North Waziristan Agency, innocent people were massacred in the name of Taliban. Over the past few years, the Pakistani military has carried out several offensives against Taliban in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan but this was first strike in North Waziristan since 2007. These raids came as a surprise to many because the government has not ordered strikes in North Waziristan since it signed a peace accord with a Taliban faction led by a local commander from the area.

Some analysts suggest that current military operation in North Waziristan should not be viewed as a proper military offensive and hence not be mistaken for a change in policy of the state. The analysts believe Pakistani leaders are still not clear about how to counter militancy. The government says the airstrikes are actually in retaliation to the Taliban attacks on Pakistani soldiers. It is nothing more than that it can be called as basically a small-scale punishment. The government doesn’t have a strategy to fight the militants. Don’t mistake these strikes for a resolution to eliminate Taliban insurgency.

Some security experts have differ view they believe that the strikes are likely to hamper the Pakistani government’s efforts to start a dialogue with the militants. The Taliban and their partner Sunni extremist groups had already rejected Islamabad’s talks offer. Now, after the airstrikes in North Waziristan, they seem all the more determined to create unrest in the country. Pakistan Taliban central spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid warned that his group would be compelled to take revenge. Moreover Maulana Samiul Haq, with close ties to the Taliban and previously a staunch supporter of the peace talks said that he would no longer act as a government-backed peace broker with the militants after the airstrikes. Whatever be the fate of proposed peace talks be but one thing is certain that Pakistan political leaders are in a dilemma over how to tackle this Taliban menace. The famous Chinese general and philosopher, Sun Tzu, once said, “Know thy enemy and know yourself, and you can win a hundred battles.” The Pakistani leadership should know the Taliban before opting for any option of talks or operation, both militarily and on the turf of ideology. The leadership fails to understand that, over the years, power and influence has been slipping from the traditional Deobandi school of thought to a more rigid Takfiri ideology thereby, the Taliban are not some disgruntled elements to depend on the traditional Deobandi scholars to facilitate talks with them is either imbecility or lack of seriousness.

It’s not only a divided house, but still there exists a strong empathy factor combined with those who strongly feel that this is still not our war. To comprehend the Taliban phenomenon in the northern areas, one has to see the whole picture. The Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan has remained a de facto autonomous region since the country’s independence. There was minimal government interference in that region until recent times. The tribal lords controlled those areas and were cooperative toward governments. All was well until Pakistan allied with the US. External hands fuelled the fire by assisting anti-government Islamist elements which turned against Pakistan. A military operation to clear the area of militants is a huge task, and there is a chance of collateral damage as well. There is also a different opinion which thinks that there are people among the militants who are tired of militancy and have realized that they are being used by the religious leaders in the name of Islam to achieve political gains.  Such people are looking for an opportunity to break away from the militants. The dialogue offers them an opportunity in this regard. Unless there is a combined, coordinated and well synced inter-agency response that has both civil and military actors working in tandem, nothing will be possible to achieve being it a negotiated peace or even major military offensive to wipe out Taliban. So it’s a need of the hour that there should be a clear cut strategy for dealing with Taliban insurgency and all the stakeholders of the Pakistani society should be a part of it.

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Manish RaiAuthor is freelance columnist based in New Delhi and Editor of www.viewsaround.com can be reached at [email protected] and article was written with the help of inputs received from Ibrahim Lucky of thedemocrate.com from Lahore, Pakistan

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