ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s efforts for a peace settlement with Taliban have reached a deadlock amid government indecision and splits within the insurgent movement, a report by the Wall Street Journal quoted officials as having said.
The negotiations are aimed at a comprehensive agreement with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). While that goal remains elusive, the talks could succeed in breaking off one major faction of the group, the officials said. A commander known as Sajna looks poised to agree to terms with the government that would take his faction out of terrorist activities within Pakistan, thus dividing the TTP, some officials said.
Overall, however, the talks, which have been pursued with vigor since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif formed the government’s negotiating committee in late January, appear to have merely bought time for both the government and the militants.
“The talks have stalled because of the infighting among the TTP and also because of a lack of trust between TTP and the government sides,” said Rustam Shah Mohmand, a member of the committee.
The talks process has reduced the attacks from the TTP and its allies, and earlier this year resulted in a month-long ceasefire announced by the militants. A possible military operation to clear out the TTP’s base in North Waziristan, part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border, is on hold while the talks continue. Washington and Kabul have long pushed for an offensive in North Waziristan, which is also home to al Qaeda and Afghan militants.
Such an operation, however, would risk violent retaliation across Pakistan, officials said.
“The government is staying faithful to this desire for talks. But I want to emphasize that this is not an open-ended dialogue,” said Tariq Fatemi, prime minister’s special assistant on foreign affairs. “If, in the unfortunate situation that the talks do not show visible, meaningful, tangible, progress, the government will be in a far better position to create a consensus in favour of other options.”
Some other aides close to Nawaz Sharif remain convinced that the TTP as a whole is ready for a peace agreement — and that the terrorism problem won’t be solved until it does.
“There comes a time when everyone gets fed up with war,” said a senior aide. “This war was imposed on the tribal people.”
Sajna, also known as Khan Said, comes from the powerful Mehsud tribe that makes up much of the TTP. A defection by his faction would help rehabilitate that tribe and its home of South Waziristan.
The TTP’s overall leader, Mullah Fazlullah, who isn’t from the tribal areas, in recent days announced he had fired Sajna from his position as head of the South Waziristan TTP. Fighting between Sajna and a commander called Shehryar, who is backed by Fazlullah, has claimed 50 to 60 lives over the past few weeks, Taliban commanders and intelligence officials said.
Azam Tariq, a spokesman for Sajna, said that the army and the government were ‘not speaking as one voice’ in the peace talks. He added that Sajna didn’t accept his removal by Fazlullah.
Saifullah Mahsud, director of the FATA Research Center, a think tank in Islamabad, said that Pakistan didn’t want to begin an operation in North Waziristan until the future of Afghanistan became clearer, amid ongoing elections and fears that a civil war could follow the withdrawal of most Western troops by the end of this year.
Under the worst-case scenario, should Afghanistan descend into civil war, Pakistan could again back the Afghan Taliban, as it had in the 1990s, reinforcing them by the ‘good’ Pakistani Taliban factions, he said.
“Pakistan would be mad to let go of its options right now,” said Mahsud.
Islamabad wants to avoid a civil war in Afghanistan, which would inevitably spill over into Pakistan.
National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz told The Wall Street Journal last week that Islamabad wanted to see the Afghan Taliban brought into a ‘power-sharing’ deal with the new government in Kabul, but not take territory by force.
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