Peace talks with TTP
The Pakistani Taliban has demanded release of militant prisoners and withdrawal troops from the tribal areas. “Pakistan must take steps which can develop an atmosphere of trust and can remove doubts and suspicion. We cannot move forward unless the government accepts our demands”, spokesman for the banned TTP told the BBC and western news agencies. As a gesture of goodwill or confidence building measure, the TTP has released eight abductees – employees of Gomal Zam dam, and Pakistan had made an offer to Taliban for unconditional talks. However, the TTP has come out with demands before talks can begin. Reportedly, the TTP has finalized a 35-point agenda, which includes 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. On Sunday, a Taliban bomb killed two senior military officers and a soldier in Upper Dir. One would not know what message they are trying to convey.
Last month, Pakistani Taliban had said they were ready for dialogue with the new government, but will also be ready for a full scale war if an operation was launched against them. The TTP was responding to remarks by Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who had said that the government was ready for peace, as well as war. Despite the government offer for talks, there was no ceasefire from militants’ side, and since the PML-N government was formed after May 11 elections, militants had killed more than 400 people in suicide attacks and bombings within two months. It appears that militants want to keep the pressure on the government so that they enter into negotiations with the position of strength. Yet, the desire to achieve peace is obvious from both the sides. It has to be said that peace is an indispensable condition to the revival of economy, which will help create jobs for the unemployed and increase revenue whereby the government could provide education and health facilities to the people.
Of course, the government has to establish the writ of the state either through negotiations or use of force. It is hoped that militants would announce ceasefire, as the government has already given a gesture of goodwill by postponing the death sentence to the militants that include TTP operatives and commanders. All political parties had reached consensus on holding talks with the militants, and there is indeed positive response from the TTP leadership as well. But the fact remains that there are many militant groups as stated by Imran Khan, Chairman Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf as well as by the government functionaries. Therefore, the government should shortlist the groups with whom it would like to start talks. But there are caveats, as in the presence of differences between Punjabi Taliban and the TTP it is yet to be seen whether the TTP could use its influence over all groups to accept the decision of the TTP for ceasefire and to take the negotiations to the logical conclusion.
There are also reports that militants and some criminal groups are generating funds through ransom, extortion and by terrorizing the people. Militant organizations require funds not only to support specific terrorist operations, but also for training and maintaining the terrorist outfits. They need financial resources to promote militant ideology, pay operatives and their families, bear travel expenses, recruit and train new members, acquire weapons and launch attacks. Terrorists’ sources of funding include zakat, donations, charities, drug trafficking, arms smuggling, thefts, bank robbery, and kidnapping for ransom. Having found the terrorists strategy of fund raising as profitable other criminal groups have started using the identities of terrorist organizations to earn more. It goes without saying that unless there is effective check on terrorist financing especially from their backers and other countries, fight against terror may not succeed.
One should hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Whereas, the government should enter into dialogue with the groups willing to work for ‘peace and Islam’ and convince them that the Constitution provides the mechanism to stop legislation repugnant to Islam, and also to bring the existing laws in accordance with Islamic injunctions. But that has to be done according to the articles enshrined in the Constitution. On the other hand, the government agencies have to work on war footing to identify the groups that are being funded by alien agencies or countries. The government would have to persuade the 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.
Although the decision of the APC and the government to hold talks with the militants should be pursued with full vigor, other options should be simultaneously considered. We have a study case of Sri Lanka, where it was primarily due to the unrelenting efforts and sheer determination of Sri Lankan leadership that it could decimate Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan (LTTE) ending the decades-old civil war and battle for carving out an independent ethnic homeland. For over three decades, Sri Lankan government fought the Tamil Tigers and also held negotiations with the LTTE a number of times. At least, once the then prime minister Bandaranaike had offered to amend the constitution to give a special status to the region inhabited and controlled by the LTTE; but Tigers wanted nothing short of independence. However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa managed to cut the supply line of ‘Tigers’ including the main source of supply of arms to Tamil Tigers in shiploads from Singapore, financed by Tamil Diaspora. The lesson is that unless the financial and material support is cut through intelligence and use of diplomacy with other countries, it is difficult to win the war against terrorism.