Headway in peace talks?


The news from all sides involved in the peace negotiations is that optimism is rife about headway being made. The two negotiators who flew to North Waziristan for talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) shura, Professor Mohammad Ibrahim of the Jamaat-e-Islami and Maulana Samiul Haq’s coordinator Maulana Yousaf Shah are hopeful that a ceasefire may soon come into effect. The shura, which received the government team’s set of demands, is reported to have given a positive response to the proposals and in turn sent their demands through these intermediaries. The second set of demands have not yet been revealed. The burning issue remains whether the TTP has accepted talks within the framework of the constitution or, as Maulana Abdul Aziz keeps insisting, is bent upon rejecting the constitution and relying on the Quran and Sunnah as ‘their’ constitution. According to the above two intermediaries, during their talks with the shura, both sides agreed to work for a better environment, pledged to exercise extreme restraint, and rounded off this bit of information with the priceless piece that the Taliban are ‘in no hurry’. In addition, they insist that the government should not make any ‘unnecessary’ demands so as not to complicate the talks, without specifying what they consider ‘unnecessary’. Although the shura’s latest demands are not known, we do know that they have put forward 15 tough demands the other day. These include the release of all 4,000 Taliban prisoners, including those awaiting execution, and the withdrawal of the army from the tribal areas. It does not take a genius to understand that these demands are aimed at strengthening the hand of the TTP by restoring its imprisoned fighters to its ranks and leaving the tribal areas at their mercy. A TTP commander is quoted as saying these two demands are a ‘test case’ for the government. Indeed they are, but not in the sense the commander means. If the government were to accede to these two demands, it would strengthen the widely held perception that the dialogue process leads to a surrender by the state before the terrorists. While Maulana Samiul Haq, Professor Ibrahim and Mufti Kifayatullah are painting the talks process as positive and optimistically proclaiming it will lead to peace, critics are apprehensive that this may turn out to be the peace of the graveyard as far as state and society are concerned.
The voices of opposition to these developments are plenty, but they seem incapable of creating a critical mass of opinion to overcome the steady march of the terrorists to centre-stage and further, thanks to the prevaricating approach of the government and its blind (some say cowardly) adherence to a process that promises possible disaster. Opposition senators the other day expressed their apprehensions and criticism of the path taken by the government. For one, a very valid point was raised in the house by Senator Raza Rabbani of the PPP when he questioned why only right wing interlocutors are represented in the negotiating teams and no liberal, democratic and progressive voice is part of the process. As critics have previously noted, both sets of committees are pro-Taliban. Where then is the alternative presence? Meanwhile the optimism of the pro-Taliban clerics involved in the talks process contrasts sharply with the situation on the ground. On Monday, four women were killed by a suicide attack in Peshawar, three school teachers were killed in Hangu district and seven troops injured by a bomb blast in North Waziristan. Eleven people were injured on Tuesday in another grenade attack on a cinema in Peshawar. Does this sound like peace is about to break out?
Meanwhile, despite a Corps Commanders’ conference on Monday, ostensibly to discuss ‘professional matters’, the silence of the army on the peace process or the security situation in the country has been dubbed ‘deafening’ by some commentators. Hopes (and illusions) of peace aside, the situation is at a delicately poised conjuncture, with worrying divisions emerging in the polity and society, in conjunction with a possible civil-military disconnect.  *

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