Doubts rising about success of Taliban peace process


ISLAMABAD: First, it unilaterally declared a 30-day ceasefire on March 1. Then it extended the ceasefire for 10 days but finally withdrew it last April 10 or after the lapse of 40 days.
All these moves by the Pakistan Taliban were confidence-building measures aimed at giving the peace process with the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif a chance to succeed. But the only problem was that while they were proclaiming their desire for peace, the Taliban continued without letup its reign of terror in the country by staging attacks not just against security establishments but also against civilian targets. And as if to pour salt on a wound, the Taliban refused to claim responsibility for the attacks even if there were telltale signs that the militant group carried them out.
Now that the talks are in a moribund stage, the Taliban have restated two major demands before they would agree to restart the peace process. One of their demands is for the government to return to them control of an area South Waziristan tribal region which has been occupied by security forces after the armed militants were driven out in 2009. The Taliban want the area to be called a “peace zone” for future talks. But the government, including the military establishment, is unwilling to return any area to the militants since such move would only enable the Taliban to regroup and strengthen their force. On top of that, the Taliban have been engaged in double- talk in dealing with the government in the past.
The Taliban demand was also strongly opposed by political parties, many sections of the society, members of the parliament, defence analysts and the media. Aside from the return of their area that they previously controlled, the Taliban are also demanding release of what they called non-combatant prisoners, but at the same time are reluctant to set free civilian prisoners they have kidnapped for ransom and to use them for a swap of prisoners.
When the Sharif government started talks with the Taliban earlier this year, people in Pakistan were hopeful that the process will end the bloodshed mostly blamed on the Taliban. But the people have yet to see a halt to terror attacks. A surge in attacks has been witnessed in bomb attacks in the country’s northwest and the commercial hub of Karachi after the Taliban ended its 40-day temporary ceasefire. The spokesman has said that the ceasefire was not extended by the group’s powerful leadership council because of the “lack of progress” by the government side on their two initial demands.
Dozens of people have been killed in deadly bomb attacks in parts of Pakistan after the Taliban ended their ceasefire. On April 24, at least three people were killed and 40 others, including 14 policemen, injured in a bomb attack in the northwestern Charsadda District. Two bomb attacks killed eight people, including a police officer, in the port city of Karachi over the past three days. No group claimed responsibility for these attacks. However, security forces blamed the Taliban for the attacks.
On the eve of the Taliban’s announcement of the end of the ceasefire, on April 9, a deadly bomb blast killed over 20 and injured nearly 100 at a crowded fruit market of the capital Islamabad. All the casualties were civilians, including labourers and vendors in the market. All these attacks have raised serious doubts about the outcome of the peace talks as many believe the dialogue process is worthless if the militant group continues its terror attacks and killing toward not just security forces but innocent civilians.
These unabated terror attacks have prompted calls for a final push by the security forces against the Taliban in their last stronghold of North Waziristan tribal region. Security officials believe that Taliban use North Waziristan for running training camps and to prepare suicide bombers. As the government has adopted a policy of a tough response to the Taliban in case of any attack, the security forces on Thursday used fighter jets to pound positions of the Taliban militants in Khyber tribal region, killing 37 militants. The military sources said that the targeted militants had been involved in the Islamabad fruit market blast and other bomb attacks over the past few days. The government had suspended air strikes against the Taliban in North Waziristan after they announced ceasefire in March 1 but the forces resumed the targeted strikes as terror attacks again started killing the people.
Although both sides have not officially ended the dialogue process, the rise in terror attacks once again has posed a serious threat to the future of the dialogue process. Will the peace process still push through? Or will the government finally adopt a purely military solution to the problem of the Taliban? The answers to these questions now lie in the hands of the Sharif government.

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Aaj Kal