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Reports on Taliban-Pakistan Peace Negotiations – What to Believe and What to Reject


Recently, a series of Western news agencies have carried reports claiming that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP or the Movement of Pakistani Taliban) and the Pakistani government and army are engaged in peace negotiations, but these reports contradict ground realities in the Pakistani-Afghan jihadist region. 

The TTP, which is headed by Hakimullah Mehsud, owes its allegiance to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Taliban. It should also be noted that Mullah Mohammad Omar is not the leader of the Afghan Taliban only, but he is considered Emir-ul-Momineen (leader of the faithful) by all Taliban groups, their affiliates and major Al-Qaeda organizations, including those in Iraq, Algeria, Yemen and Somalia. Even Osama bin Laden declared bai'ah (allegiance) to the Taliban leader.

Hakimullah_Mehsud_Emir_of_Tehreek-e-Taliban_PakistanThe Taliban and Al-Qaeda groups are motivated by an ideological ambition to enforce Islamic Shari'a and their demands for peace negotiations essentially include a demand for the enforcement of Islamic law in Pakistan or elsewhere. They have nevertheless held occasional talks for tactical reasons or for prisoner release.

This analysis seeks to decipher the context of the recent Western media reports regarding the beginnings of Pakistan-Taliban peace negotiations.

Western Media Claims

On November 21, Reuters carried a report saying that the TTP, a conglomerate of jihadist militant organizations in Pakistan, "is holding exploratory peace talks with the Pakistani government."[1]

The report quoted an unidentified Taliban commander as saying: "The talks are focused on the South Waziristan region and could be expanded to try to reach a comprehensive deal. The Taliban are making several demands including the release of fighters from prisons."[2]

On the same day, i.e. November 21, the AFP released a report saying that "senior commanders in the Pakistani Taliban… claimed to be holding initial peace talks with the government that could end a wave of bombings that has killed thousands of people in Pakistan."[3]

For its report, the AFP quoted an unidentified Taliban commander, who claimed to be on a 10-member peace negotiations committee, as saying: "Peace talks are continuing with the Pakistani government and army. We have had two rounds of such talks."[4]

The report also quoted a second Taliban commander, who too was not identified, as stating: "Peace negotiations have been going on [for] several weeks. Our first condition was to stop military offensives in the tribal areas."[5]

On November 22, the Associated Press carried a report saying that the Pakistani Taliban – i.e. TTP – has "declared a cease-fire to encourage nascent peace talks with the government… a move that appears to show the deadly group's willingness to strike a deal with state."[6]

Reporting that the ceasefire has been "in effect for the past month and was valid throughout the country," the AP quoted a Taliban commander as saying: "We are not attacking the Pakistan army and government installations because of the peace process…."[7]

The AP report, which was titled "Pakistani Taliban declare nationwide ceasefire," did not identify, like the other Western news agencies, the Taliban commander who made the claim, but added that he is "close to" Hakimullah Mehsud, the Emir of TTP.[8]

TTP and Pakistan Army Responses

Reacting to this flurry of reports, the Pakistan Army – which is known for brokering peace accords with the Taliban in the Pakistani tribal areas – as well as the official spokesman of the TTP dismissed talks of peace negotiations.

On November 22, 2011, the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) department, issued a press statement, numbered PR274/2011-ISPR, denying the Western media reports regarding peace negotiations.

The ISPR statement stressed: "Strongly and categorically refuting media reports, a spokesman of ISPR said that [the] Army is not undertaking any kind of negotiations with TTP or its affiliated militant groups. Such reports are concocted, baseless and unfounded…"[9]

Ehsanullah Ehsan, who is the main spokesman of the TTP, also dismissed the reports of peace talks, stating: "At the moment, the chapter of peace talks with the government is completely closed."[10]

Conclusion

In recent years, the Pakistani Army is known to have brokered peace agreements with militant commanders. Of over a dozen such pacts brokered in recent years, only two – one each with Taliban commanders Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir Ahmad – have endured, sometimes in diluted form. Both of these commanders are known to have adopted a pro-government stance in recent years, but the two agreements with them are also reported to be under strain.

For now, the Western news agencies' reports about new peace negotiations have been totally rejected by the Pakistani Taliban commanders and the Pakistani Army.[11] However, it is possible that some Pakistani intelligence officials in the tribal region are in contact with various Taliban commanders, but such contacts are part of daily life in the jihadist region and do not involve talks on the future of peace in Pakistan.

It should be noted that the Pakistani Army has indeed destroyed the hideouts of some Taliban commanders in recent years. For example, TTP commander Maulana Fazlullah, whose militants began enforcing Islamic Shari'a and a total ban on education for girls in Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 2009, and TTP Deputy Emir Maulvi Faqir Muhammad of Bajaur Agency have fled to the neighboring areas in Afghanistan. The militants loyal to them have launched incursions into Pakistani territory this year. Amid Pakistani security operations in North Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur has also threatened to end his agreement with Pakistan.

While these militants are fighting against the Pakistan Army, it is also true that they will be willing to enter some kind of tactical negotiations that could help them recuperate and rehabilitate. In the summer of 2011, when Pakistan came under pressure from the U.S. to launch military operation against the Taliban's Haqqani Network, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani launched a verbal counter-attack against the United States, saying that Pakistan "is ready to start talks with all factions of the Taliban, including the Haqqani Network."[12] Maulvi Faqir Muhammad smelled an opportunity and welcomed Gilani's offer of peace talks.[13]

With regard to the Taliban position on holding peace talks with Pakistan, the Taliban are always willing to hold negotiations. However, they have always made impossible demands such as the enforcement of Islamic law in Pakistan, cessation of Pakistani military operations in the tribal region and ending Pakistan's relationship with the United States. For example, in October 2011, when Maulvi Faqir Muhammad welcomed the Pakistani prime minister's offer of peace talks, he reiterated the following condition: "The government should reconsider its relationship with the United States and enforce Islamic Shari'a in the country."[14]

It can be concluded that the Taliban commanders and local Pakistani officials have always maintained a relationship, especially when inquiring about local incidents or to resolve local disputes. At any point of time, such officials and intelligence operatives are in contact with key Taliban commanders – directly or through tribal elders. Regarding the Western media reports about the beginnings of peace negotiations, it remains to be seen how authentic these reports turn out to be.

For now, it can be argued that there is nothing new in these reports regarding talks for peace or an understanding for ceasefire between the Pakistani Taliban and Pakistani Army. The Taliban's own ideological campaign is underway. Most recently – on November 7, 2011, the first day of Eid al-Adha (the feast of sacrifice) – a Taliban suicide bomber dressed in the garb of a beggar killed Hanif Jadoon, a Pakistani politician belonging to the secular Awami National Party.[15] On November 23, two days after the media reports on so-called peace negotiations, the Taliban attacked a police station in Pakistan's Dera Ismail Khan district and Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan took responsibility of the attack, again re-stating the known Taliban position: "We are not talking to the government and will not be part of any dialogue with the government. This is a clear message for those who are thinking that we are involved in negotiations."[16]

* Tufail Ahmad is Director of MEMRI's South Asia Studies Project (www.memri.org/sasp)

 

Endnotes:

[1] www.tribune.com.pk (Pakistan), November 21, 2011.

[2] www.tribune.com.pk (Pakistan), November 21, 2011.

[3] The News (Pakistan), November 22, 2011.

[4] The News (Pakistan), November 22, 2011.

[5] The News (Pakistan), November 22, 2011.

[6] www.dawn.com (Pakistan), November 22, 2011.

[7] www.dawn.com (Pakistan), November 22, 2011.

[8] www.dawn.com (Pakistan), November 22, 2011.

[9] www.ispr.gov.pk (Pakistan), November 22, 2011.

[10] The News (Pakistan), November 22, 2011.

[11] It should be noted that some local journalists, in competition with each other, publish reports which they try to attribute to anonymous Taliban commanders.

[12] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 3, 2011.

[13] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 4, 2011.

[14] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 4, 2011.

[15] www.tribune.com.pk (Pakistan), November 7, 2011.

[16] www.tribune.com.pk (Pakistan), November 23, 2011.

© 1998-2011, The Middle East Media Research Institute All Rights Reserved

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