INTERVIEW
 
Peace talks with the Taliban
The Express Tribune
24 March 2014
The federal government is quietly pushing for peace deals with individual militant groups after some members of its peace committee have concluded that reaching an ‘all inclusive agreement’ with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) may not be possible.

At least two members of the committee told that they expect the government to reach an understanding only with parts of the TTP. “Realistically speaking, it is not possible to strike a peace deal with all groups working under the TTP umbrella,” said a member. He pointed out that the government was in the process of identifying groups which are willing to reconcile. “The government is using backdoor channels to contact such groups,” said another member.

Efforts to reach out to ‘reconcilable elements’ within the TTP stem from the realization on the part of the government that the militant group does not exercise full control on all its affiliated outfits.

“Recent terrorist incidents clearly indicate that TTP may only have lost control on these groups,” said the committee member. “Had all the groups been listening to TTP, these terrorist attacks would have never have taken place after the ceasefire,” he added.

There is also growing concern within the country’s security establishment that the TTP is only ‘buying time’ and may not be interested in a peace deal. A senior military official insisted that the Taliban should have condemned attacks in Islamabad’s district courts complex and Khyber Agency instead of merely denying its involvement in its statement.

A committee member admitted that the army was still skeptical about a positive outcome from the ongoing peace efforts since it does not think the TTP is ‘sincere.’ “That is why the army is reluctant about joining the peace committee,” he added. Top military commanders decided not to become part of the government’s new proposed committee to hold direct talks with the TTP and its affiliates.

However, the committee member maintained that the army might take part in the process if it realized that a deal could be reached with certain groups. At the same time, he did not rule out the possibility of a full-scale military offensive against elements which might not enter into the peace deal.

Sources said the visit by Finance Minister Dr Ishaq Dar to the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Saturday was also meant to discuss the army’s needs in the event of a ground offensive in North Waziristan Agency.

Analysts, meanwhile, say time is running out for the government to take a final decision. “With the drawdown of US forces approaching fast, Pakistan needs to make the final call on how to deal with militancy sooner rather than later,” said security analyst Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad, who is Jinnah Fellow at the Oxford University.

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