Peace talks with TTP floundering
23 September, 2013
By Asif Haroon Raja
While corruption, inefficiency and bad governance which were the hallmarks of the last regime have made our economy fragile, decade old terrorism has struck the severest blow to the economy. Not only over $100 billion has gone down the drain, over 40,000 people have lost their lives in this senseless infighting. Despite such huge sacrifices and economic losses, terrorism has not been bridled. It has become so menacing that Army chief had to state last year that internal and not external threat is most dangerous to the security of Pakistan.
Terrorism in Pakistan has become multi-dimensional since TTP the mother hen has 69 terrorist groups of different hues under its wings. These include foreign groups like Al-Qaeda, IMU and Turkistan movement. Arab, African, Tajik, Uzbek, Chechnyan, Uyghur, Afghan nationals and Hindu RAW agents disguised as Muslim Mujahids are all present in North Waziristan (NW). To make matters worse for Pakistan, TTP is aided by several foreign powers and it has safe routes of supply from Afghanistan. Arms are also stolen from NATO containers. Although thoroughly battered by the military, TTP created in December 2007 is still powerful enough to challenge the writ of the state in NW, which it has made into its main base after its ouster from South Waziristan (SW) in November 2009. Each group has become militarily powerful and self-reliant. IMU is currently providing main strength to TTP and is averse to talks and so is al-Qaeda.
Owing to its affiliation with so many groups located in all parts of Pakistan, TTP members can strike the chosen targets howsoever well protected and get away. The militants can kidnap for ransom, extort money, procure explosives, arms and funds and communicate with ease. Our intelligence agencies and investigative agencies operating in respective orbits and police cannot locate wanted leaders of TTP and other terrorist groups, their hideouts and sleeping cells in urban centres. They seldom learn about their movement and method of operation, and their mode of receiving cash from internal and external sources. The worst was when militants broke into DIK jail and after freeing 250 prisoners loaded them in vehicles and safely reached NW. 250 target killers in Karachi wanted by the law enforcement agencies have safely escaped to NW. Spokesman of TTP transmit messages on wireless or telephone on behalf of Hakimullah from unknown location but is never detected. Terrorists nabbed with great difficulty are freed by courts on account of lack of evidence.
Out of several high profile attacks on sensitive targets, loss of three PC-3 Orions and one Swedish made AWAC and damage to two was most excruciating for the military since it impaired its early warning capability. These aircraft acted as eyes and ears against threats from the sea and western border. The US has so far not made good the losses of Orion. ISI setups were hit in several cities to weaken first line defence of Pakistan. Tying down 150,000 security forces in FATA and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has to an extent weakened military balance on eastern front. Ten-year high intensity war with high rate of fatalities and injuries to all ranks has impacted the operational, administrative and technical fitness of Army and Frontier Corps and has fatigued the troops. PAF has been frequently used in hitting far flung hideouts of militants and in major operations and in the process has consumed precious flying hours. So has Aviation. All these factors are to the advantage of our arch enemy India. TTP has not gained anything out of this war but has served India's interest.
With PML-N and PTI coming into power, it is hoped that some way out of war on terror will be found because of tacit two-way understanding. TTP had spared these two parties and targeted only liberal parties during election campaign. As ground was being leavened for entering into negotiations with TTP, death of Hakimullah Mehsud's deputy Wali-ur Rahman by drone in NW derailed the process but brought to fore division within TTP Shura. This supposition turned into reality when TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan and head of Punjabi Taliban Muawia were sacked by Hakimullah for welcoming PM Nawaz's desire for peace talks.
The peace process once again picked up momentum when positive signals were exchanged from both sides and APC conference was held on September 9 to decide how to tackle terrorism. Notwithstanding the reservations of anti-peace lobbies that are in small minority, great majority fed up of the war welcomed the outcome of conference in which it was unanimously decided to give peace a chance and to enter into dialogue with militants without pre-conditions. People got further encouraged when TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid after getting clearance from his boss greeted the resolution passed by APC. Chief Minister KP in his excitement declared on 14 September that troops deployed in Shangla, Dir and Malakand Division would fall back next month.
Amidst the euphoria, peace process that has yet to take off has begun to flounder in the very preparatory phase because of unfortunate incident on September 15. Maj Gen Sanaullah, Lt Col Tauseef and one NCO lost their lives in Upper Dir because of the IED planted by militants. Military targets were also hit in Bannu and Miranshah on the same day. As if these hostile acts were not enough, TTP sprinkled salt on the wounds of the Army and the nation by owning Dir tragedy and then adding that it is on war and will continue to hit military targets. It further upped the ante by giving out pre-conditions for talks which included release of fifty prisoners and vacation of FATA by Army. Such a stance has dampened the atmosphere and dimmed the chances of peace talks.
Sudden change in behavior of TTP leaders strengthens doubts that strings are actually in hands of some other powers who do not want peace in Pakistan. It appears that the TTP under a planned strategy is on one hand indicating its willingness to enter into peace talks and on the other it is egging on the Army to wrestle with it in NW for the decisive battle. Pretense of love for peace is aimed at gaining goodwill of the people. The other is its usual offensive stance which is real. Perhaps Hakimullah is convinced that next round will be his and he will be able to contain a corps size force if not defeat it. This self-confidence is consequent to number of factors.
One. TTP and its affiliates have succeeded in making NW a strong base and stocked sufficient war munitions. Two. His fighters have learnt lessons from SW debacle and have practiced drills and selected sites for ambushes, IEDs and raids. Three. He is confident that major operation in NW and corresponding displacement of people will antagonize Hafiz Gul Bahadur as well as Haqqanis and followers of late Maulvi Nazir in SW and impel them to join hands with TTP and put up a united fight. Four. Pakistan will lose an important Afghan ally. Five. Marrying up of these militant groups together with 69 other groups would make it into a formidable force to the tune of over 100,000 fighters. Six. Surge in attacks and government's unconditional offer of talks has given him a notion that TTP is winning and Army losing. Seven. Further thinning of eastern front will make the task of Indian military that much easier to execute its planned limited war. Mere deployment of Indian Army along our border as was done in 2001 and in 2008 and simultaneous heating up of western border, the indication of which has been given along Zhob border, would place Pak military in a dicey situation. Eight. Twin external threat coupled with internal threat will enable TTP to negotiate from position of strength and have its demands accepted.
Rejection of talks by TTP will result in further cracking up of TTP and isolation of hard line elements led by Hakimullah and may provoke 2009 like military action. TTP tried its strength in Tirah and lost the battle. TTP's hey days will last up to December 2014 during which it will continue to receive full quota of financial and material assistance from its patrons. Thereon, this tap will either close or may get reduced to a trickle and Haqqanis would return to Afghanistan. With US gone, TTP will not have any justification to fight the war and will lose whatever public support it has. Kashmir front may get activated thereby encouraging Jihadi groups to get deflected towards Kashmir Jihad. With ongoing development projects and creation of greater educational and job opportunities in SW, the youth in tribal belt will find militancy less attractive. Under the circumstances, it will be in fitness of things that TTP Shura should avail this God send opportunity of peace talks and get their sins washed at the earliest before the mood changes.
The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst. firstname.lastname@example.org