INTERVIEW
 
Army hedging its bets on Taliban
The Express Tribune
13 January 2014
The federal government is drawing up plans for a possible military operation against the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates in case it fails to lure militants to the negotiating table, The Express Tribune has learnt.

“Yes, all options are on the table including the military operation,” said a high-ranking official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The official familiar with the backdoor efforts seeking peace talks with the TTP said the army was told to prepare for “all kinds of contingencies”. However, he added that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wanted to exhaust all possible options for tackling the militant threat through peaceful means. The official admitted that TTP had so far shown little interest in holding peace talks with the government ever since the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike in November last year.

Despite peace overtures by the government, the TTP has escalated its attacks across the country in recent weeks. On Sunday, a senior PML-N leader survived an attack in Swat Valley. Although, Premier’s Adviser Amir Muqam remained unhurt, at least five policemen were killed and four others injured in the attack.

The government is under pressure from the main opposition parties, including Pakistan Peoples Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which are calling for decisive action against the TTP following the recent surge in terrorist attacks. At the same time, however, it is facing opposition from religious parties as well as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which is a staunch opponent of use of force against the TTP.

There is also a growing sense within the powerful security establishment that hardcore militants led by Mullah Fazlullah may not enter into dialogue. The army, however, is publicly not willing to make any statement on the issue. “We want the political government to take a final decision,” commented a security official.

The official insisted that any decision to go after the TTP had to be taken by the government. “There should be political ownership of any such action.”

A senior cabinet member dismissed the perception that the government had no clear plan to deal with the militancy. “We are following multiple tracks. Dialogue is one of the many options the government is currently working on,” he claimed.

Security analysts are of the view that with terrorist attacks increasing each passing day, prospects of any peace deal with the TTP are very slim.

“We have to take a decisive action against the TTP and a variety of other groups who have challenged the writ of the state,” remarked Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed, who is a Jinnah Fellow at the Oxford University.

He believes that Pakistan will have to carry out a targeted operation against hardcore militants in the lawless tribal regions before the drawdown of the US-led forces from Afghanistan by the end of this year.

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