Is TTP serious about talks?

taliban_reuters_terrorism in pakistan By   Mohammad Jamil

The leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in a television interview invited representatives of the government to meet on its controlled territory for serious talks about bringing peace to the country. Hakimullah Mehsud told a BBC journalist that he would guarantee the protection of government negotiators in order to start a discreet dialogue rather than trying to negotiate through the media. “The proper way to do it is that if the government appoints a formal team, and they sit with us, and we discuss our respective positions,” he said, adding that neither side should have any publicly announced pre-conditions. But in the same breath he stated that any deal acceptable to the TTP would have to lead to the imposition of Sharia law in the country and an end to CIA drone strikes in FATA. There is indeed mechanism provided in the Constitution to amend the Constitution. But the problem is that majority of the people do not subscribe to the interpretation of Islam as perceived by the militants.

Earlier, the TTP spokesman had come out with a 35-point agenda, which included demand for release of 4765 prisoners languishing in different jails in Pakistan, release of Mumtaz Qadri who had killed former governor Salman Taseer, and handing over to it former president Pervez Musharraf. If the TTP wants to hold negotiations without preconditions, there seems to be a paradigm shift in militants’ stance. But one has to tread the course carefully, as Hakimullah Mehsud said that TTP or its affiliated group was not involved in attack on the Church, and at the same time he justified the attack by saying it was in accordance with dictates of sharea. He should realize that according to Islamic injunctions that Islamic or Muslim state is supposed to protect the life and property of the minorities. It was hoped that militants would announce ceasefire, as the government had already given a gesture of goodwill by postponing the death sentence to the militants that include TTP operatives and commanders.

The militants’ watchers are of the view that whenever they talk about the talks, they want a breathing space to regroup and consolidate. The TTP had offered peace talks to the newly elected government, but after the drone strike killed Wali-ur-Rehman, the TTP withdrew the offer. The TTP leader should understand that Pakistan has been protesting and trying to persuade the US to stop drone strikes, and that it cannot declare war on the super power especially when efforts are being made to get Pakistan declared a rogue state due to heinous acts of the terrorists. Having all said, the question is whether the TTP is serious in holding talks with the government? Its spokesman is on record having said that the TTP never made an offer for talks. However, the All Parties Conference had passed a resolution that dialogue with the militants was the first option to bring peace to the country.

Despite that overture, Major General Sanaullah Niazi, Lt. Col. Tauseef and soldier Irfan were killed in a roadside bomb attack in Upper Dir district after they were returning from visiting forward posts along the Afghan border. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had claimed the responsibility for the attack. After the martyrdom of military officers, some terror apologists had the audacity to quote TTP’s rhetoric that in case India attacks Pakistan, it would fight India to the hilt. After killing 40000 innocent citizens in suicide attacks, through IEDs and bombings, and having martyred 5000army personnel and disabled in equal numbers, what service they have done to the country. In fact by launching attacks on military check posts and other assets they are weakening the armed forces, and at the same time tarnishing their image. Anyway, People of Pakistan have full faith and confidence in its armed forces, and would not need the help of misguided and imbecile elements who have blood of thousands of Pakistanis at their hands. Even as religious figures have been targeted by the extremists, both fatally and abortively, the religious tribe is loath to even name the militants organization while condemning their activities; what to talk of putting peer pressure on them to dissuade them away from bloodletting and violence.

Rather they often justify militants’ vile activities on grounds patently spurious. It is now for the civilian and military leadership to think out a strategy, which indeed they should have done long time ago, but apparently have not done so far. Extremism has indeed become the biggest internal threat to the country; rather it has turned into a dreadful threat to its very existence. The perpetrators of terrorism are laying claims to religious motivation, albeit very dubiously. The way they destroyed schools, shrines and attacked mosques and worshippers knocks the bottom of their pretense of being practicing Muslims. The sophisticated weaponry militants possess and use; the fighting expertise they display and unlimited funds they have go to prove that they are not religiously motivated but the proxies of certain alien powers. Unfortunately, our past government as well as present government has been hesitant to name the countries that support the militants.

Having said that, the government would have to use diplomatic channels to persuade the so-called friendly and other countries to stop funding the extremists and terrorists, and to take steps to stop material support from abroad through our porous border. We cannot overlook the sensitivities of the coastline before any action, and the borders would have to be sealed. It is still fresh in the minds of people that Pakistan had been dismembered because of material support from across the border. There is an example of Sri Lanka, where a lot of negotiations were held with the Tamil Tigers. Then PM Bandaranaike had offered special status for the territory held by them; but to no avail. However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was successful in cutting their supply line. While the government should prepare for the worst, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should announce the names of team/jirga to hold talks with the TTP leadership to see as to how far the TTP leadership is serious in holding dialogue.

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