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Pakistan's govt blundering into a blind alley?

Publication Date : 18-02-2014

 

Barely a week after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced launching a new peace initiative to end more than a decade of militancy and terrorism, there were telltale signs the road to peace would not be easy.

In an email on February 7, Omar Khorasani, special assistant to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Mohmand (TTM) chief Mohammad Wali aka Omar Khalid Khorasani, had put a big question mark on the fate of peace talks, citing what he called killings-in-custody of “activists” and “workers” in Peshawar and Karachi.

“We are forced to review if it is possible for us to participate in such talks?” he asked. “We are considering whether we can betray the blood of these two workers killed in Peshawar and thousands of other martyrs by becoming part of such treacherous negotiations.”

This was followed by another email on February 10, citing again the alleged killings-in-custody of another two associates in Peshawar, accusing the government “of provoking us to pave the way for an operation and war against us”. “We know how to avenge the death of our people,” he said.

Four days later, a suicide bomber struck a bus carrying police commandos in Karachi, killing 13 of them. TTP’s central spokesman Shahidullah Shahid immediately claimed responsibility, citing it an attack to avenge the deaths of its people in Peshawar, Mardan and Swabi.

Acknowledging that the attack was a “setback”, an unnerved Sharif told media on board his plane that the peace process needed to be accelerated.

So, just when government and militants’ interlocutors were working out the modalities of what has been called a “ceasefire” and Maulana Samiul Haq, militants’ chief negotiator promising good news to the nation, came in another video email from Khorasani accusing the government and the intelligence agencies of not wanting peace and announcing the killing of 23 militiamen.

The men from Mohmand Rifle of the paramilitary Frontier Corps were held hostage following an attack on Shongari checkpost in Mohmand tribal region. Eleven FC men were killed in that attack. The militants seized 32 militiamen. Khorasani did not say a word about the fate of the remaining nine soldiers in their captivity.

The TTM `commander’ also announced that the Taliban Mohmand shura headed by its chief Omar Khalid Khorasani was in session and a decision on whether or not to continue to be part of the negotiations would be announced in due course.

Will the Afghanistan-based TTM take its own course or will it follow the North Waziristan-based TTP to pursue peace? The 39-year-old Omar Khalid Khorasani is known to be independent minded – often at odds with the TTP leadership – but if there is one militant commander with most attacks to his credit it would undoubtedly be him.

A former fighter of the Jamaat-i-Islami-affiliated Hezbul Mujahideen and a Qandhari-Safi by tribe, Mohammad Wali remains the unchallenged and undisputed TTM leader in his native Mohmand. In July, 2008, he had ruthlessly purged a militant group led by a Jamaatud Dawa’s commander Shah Khalid. The JuD commander and his deputy Qari Obaidullah were executed along with their men.

In late 2009, the military had to launch two back-to-back operations Brekhna-I (Lightning) and Brekhna-II to regain control of the Mohmand tribal region. Government officials now say that Wali has camped up close to the border in Lalpura – one of the 22 districts of Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province with a small population of less than 20,000 mostly Mohmand tribesmen.

Like Khorasani, the recently-chosen TTP emir Maulana Fazlullah is also based in Afghanistan to launch attacks inside Pakistan.

In fact, so troubling is their presence in Afghanistan that the issue was on top of the agenda of “tense-meeting” between President Karzai and the DG ISI during PM Sharif’s visit to Turkey last week for a trilateral summit on Afghanistan. That the killing of the 23 militiamen occurred on the Afghan soil will not help relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan and Kabul’s quest to persuade Islamabad to encourage the Afghan Taliban.

But what probably is more puzzling is what course would the peace negotiations with Pakistani militants take. Khorasani and Maulana Fazlullah are close to each other. In fact, the TTM was one of the principal backers of his ascension as the TTP emir. Two, Qari Shakeel, the head of the TTP’s political shura guiding and monitoring Samiul Haq-led three-member committee, is TTM’s nominee on the TTP’s central shura. So, is there a split within the TTP? Not really. There may be issues of communication, but they are, to borrow a favourite government term, on the same page.

What about the government? Are the government and the military on the same page? They don’t seem to be. The clichéd same-page mantra does not necessarily mean the Khakis have the same view and take on the situation. It is just that, as one official put, their “hands are tied”.

The way the negotiations have been held and made a mess of in full media glare and with its participation, many officials believe, has furthered militants’ agenda and narrative rather than helping the government’s cause and has also raised many eyebrows.

The confusion that is reigning supreme at the top and mounting casualties from a series of terrorist attacks, have led many to wonder if the government, blowing hot and cold, really has a well-thought-out strategy and knows the dynamics and complexities of the issue.

In all appearance, the peace talks have hit a dead-end and unless there is a dramatic breakthrough, the government may soon find out that it does not have the luxury of buying more time to pursue an elusive peace with militants in the tribal borderland.

 

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