DailyTimes | Dead ends

As Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif speaks eloquently in
London about the need to continue negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the army issues ultimatums, sporadic incidents of violence continue around the country. Two men from the pro-government militia Tauheedul Islam were killed in Khyber by a roadside bomb on Tuesday. Officials say the pro-government militia has been in a running conflict with the Lashkar-e-Islam, which was responsible for last month’s attack on a vegetable market in Islamabad. On the same day security forces killed seven militants in a gunfight in Mingora district of Swat after a tip-off about an explosives cache led them to the militants’ hideout. Two security personnel were injured in the fighting. Violence between rival terrorist groups also intensified on Tuesday. Reports say that as many as 14 militants were killed in fighting between rival factions of the TTP, with supporters of the Khan Said Sajna faction battling members of the Shehryar Mehsud faction in the Shawal area of North Waziristan (NW). The two factions have been engaged in a bloody leadership struggle for over a month. The origins of the conflict appear to be the appointment of the non-Mehsud Mullah Fazlullah as supreme commander of the terrorist organisation. Fazlullah hails from Swat and was chosen as a compromise candidate after the terrorists’ former leader Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike in December last year. The rival Said Sajna group has made headlines lately for its vicious attacks on Fazlullah’s supporters, which have even shocked other groups in a notoriously brutal terrorist organisation. Members of the Sajna faction have gone so far as to say they will kill Fazlullah if given the chance.

Lately negotiations seem to have taken a backseat to the PM’s economic and other initiatives. The process has stalled for some days, with the government appointing a subcommittee to look into the complaints of the formal negotiating committees. Nothing is a better indicator of bureaucratic malaise than subcommittee formation, and lately even members of the terrorist negotiating committee have expressed their frustration with the militants. The process is further complicated by the current succession struggle within the terrorist organisation, which has left the government negotiating committee wondering who they are negotiating with or if their ‘partners’ have the ability to speak for the group as a whole. Direct talks between the government and the terrorists were delayed as a result, though even now it is unclear if the talks have any relevance since negotiating with one group may not necessarily lead to a cessation of hostilities by other groups. While the terrorists appear to be fracturing, this does not mean that terrorism has been put on hold. The discovery of militant infiltration into Swat is particularly troubling since Swat was cleared of militants in a successful military operation in 2009. Re-infiltration suggests that without the necessary transition to civilian government in the Swat Valley, it will be difficult to create support among the local population for keeping the terrorists out. Military success needs to be reinforced by developing the narrative that people’s lives are better under the Pakistani state than under the militants. This requires civilian engagement and development in the areas that remain under military control. The prospect of long-term military occupation and the continuously stalling dialogue also present another picture: militancy could become the de facto state of affairs in the north-west of the country unless it is dealt with right now. This is a valid concern after seven years of terrorism. Long running terrorist insurgencies, such as those of FARC in Colombia or the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka are not uncommon, with both sides settling into a stalemate possibly lasting years. Terrorism becomes a feature of daily life. Those insurgencies were eventually ended with much greater death and destruction and only after many civilians were killed in the process. This cannot be allowed to happen in Pakistan. Proactive decisions are needed now to deal with militancy in the tribal areas. Ignoring it will not make it go away.*