Peace talks impasse?


It was perhaps inevitable that the wave of intensified attacks by terrorists since the talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) began should sooner or later become a serious threat to the very continuation of the dialogue. That point appeared to have been reached on Friday when the two committees appointed by the government and the TTP met, later producing a joint statement. The statement reveals more in what it does not say rather than what it explicitly spells out. The committees want the TTP to suspend all terrorist attacks while the talks are ongoing. In a bit of face saving, the TTP-appointed committee put in its two cents worth by asking the government too not to take any actions that may impact negatively on the talks. As though the government has actually lifted even a finger to assault the terrorists! One positive in the statement was the call for the TTP to release kidnapees Shahbaz Taseer and Haider Gilani, the sons of slain Governor Salmaan Taseer and former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. One hopes that the talks process will at least yield this humanitarian outcome. The TTP-appointed committee’s head, Maulana Samiul Haq, called an ulema conference on Saturday to garner support for the peace talks. He also voiced his hope (as did fellow committee member Professor Ibrahim of the Jamaat-e-Islami) that a ceasefire would be achieved within 48 hours. We shall see. The TTP are being consulted by Samiul Haq and company regarding the government’s strict message that a continuation of the attacks and the talks cannot run side by side. In the first 45 days of 2014, 46 attacks have occurred all over the country, in which 361 people have been killed (277 civilians, 84 personnel of the security forces) and 487 injured. And all this was going on while not a single drone strike was in evidence since December 2013. That should take the wind out of the sails of those like Imran Khan who had pegged the terrorist attacks to retaliation against drones. And Imran Khan’s statement the other day that the former COAS said there were only 40 percent chances of a military operation succeeding was a case of the PTI leader either deliberately or because he failed to properly understand what General Kayani said, turning facts in their head. PML-N’s Raja Zafarul Haq told the Senate that in fact General Kayani had said a military operation would bring down terrorist attacks by 40 percent straight away. Of the 46 attacks since January 1, the TTP has only taken responsibility for one, the bombing that killed policemen in their bus in Karachi. All the other attacks have either been denied by them or a pregnant silence maintained. Conspiracy theories of a ‘third force’ operating to sabotage the peace talks have proved to be so much hot air. Attacks in Karachi and elsewhere in the country are continuing. A Rangers sector commander in Korangi, Karachi, escaped a suicide bombing on Friday but four people, including a Rangers officer, were injured. This is the same area in which three polio workers were gunned down last month. Peshawar’s cinemas have closed indefinitely after two recent blasts. Eight people were wounded on Friday in the same city in a blast targeting a police car. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Taliban control one-third of Karachi. Sobering facts indeed.
The prospects for the peace talks were always dim. First and foremost, what the growing frustration of the committees shows is that the composition of these committees, in which the government or elected members of parliament on the one hand, and the TTP on the other are not directly represented, have no powers to take decisions, but can only act as conduits passing messages back and forth between the government and the TTP. This could turn out to be a long and cumbersome process which, if the terrorist incidents continue, could come a cropper soon. The sixty four thousand dollar question then remains, what Plan B, if any, does the government have? Is the military preparing to take action in case the talks fail? Will the civilian and military sides agree on what is to be done and how to go about it? The next few days bear watching.  *

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