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The Taliban Offer

 

With renewed offers for talks via a new video, the Fata-based Taliban is once again making headlines in the national, as well as international media. The timing of this offer makes perfect sense. In recent days, the ruling Awami National Party’s top leadership’s stance has softened and provided enough room for talks with the Taliban.

On the other hand, the US-led coalition force’s peace efforts to enter into a dialogue with the Afghanistan-based Taliban, also empowers the Fata-based Taliban to negotiate from a position of strength. However, despite this the offer does not seem to be a serious effort on the part of the Taliban. It is more of a change of tactics, than the change of mind. There are reasons for this: first, the conditions associated with the offer for talks are too hard to be accepted by the government and the military establishment. And why the government has still not responded to the offer.

The Taliban doesn’t seem serious about the peace talks especially with the rise in attacks on the government as well as the military installations during the last couple of days. Shortly after the offer for talks was made public, 21 levies officers were kidnapped from the Frontier Region Peshawar and brutally murdered; their bodies were found in the hilly and mud-spattered Hassan Khel area of Peshawar. Also the rocket attacks on the Karak oilfield was another incident of this kind.

The ANP-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had not yet recovered from the tragic death of Bashir Bilour, when it had to tend to the bodies of female polio workers killed in Peshawar and Charsadda. The attack on the Peshawar airbase was still fresh in the memory of the nation, when a vehicle of the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) was attacked in Miranshah, North Waziristan, leaving one dead and five injured. The nation had not forgotten the attack on young Malala, when it had to mourn the death of seven NGO workers, including six females in Swabi.

The Taliban’s offer for talks does not seem to be a serious move aimed at reaching a mutual understanding for a ceasefire and a peaceful settlement of the long-standing problem in Fata. Rather, it seems more of an attempt to gain as many concessions as it can.

In the first instance, the move is a deliberate effort aimed at dispelling the impression that there is any rift between the top ranking leadership of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and that they agree when it comes to the objectives of the movement. The forty-two minute long video meant to send a message across to the government that the movement was intact and the leadership was united to further its agenda, hence rejecting the persistent media reports about the differences between its top leadership.

Famous for its rigidity, the TTP has always rejected offers for talks on the plea that it would not negotiate with the Pakistani authority as it is a US ally in the ongoing war on terror. This step will also earn the Taliban a good name as a peacemaker and boost its image in the eyes of the national, as well as international community.

Following the tragic incident of Malala and later the death of Bashir Ahmad Bilour in a suicide attack, there have been repeated calls for a military operation against the TTP, which were taken seriously by the North Waziristan based militant Taliban. This made the Taliban speed up its activities to engage the security agencies on various fronts and try and avoid any move that could result in dislodging it from its base there.

With the dawn of a new year, the national political theatre will witness a lot of changes down the road. The Pakistani nation is all set to vote at the next polls and ultimately experience the transition of a democratic government. With the heavy loss of men and equipment faced by the nation over the last decade, it can ill-afford to open new fronts against militants. The resolution of September 29, 2011 – that carries the signatures of 58 representatives of all mainstream political parties – also calls for a complete halt to the use of force.

Neighbouring Afghanistan is also getting ready for a massive political change in the post-Nato withdrawal scenario. If the Taliban in Afghanistan are made part and parcel of the future administrative setup across the Durand Line, we are left with very little choice but to negotiate with all the warring factions and bring them into the political mainstream.

The writer heads Fata Research Centre (FRC) in Islamabad. Email: khan45@gmail.com

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