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February 06, 2014

Peace Talks In Pakistan

Eight month after the Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif won the elections peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, which he had promised, have finally begun:

The two sides gathered at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa House in Islamabad for a preliminary meeting likely to chart a “roadmap” for future discussions, amid deep scepticism over whether dialogue can yield a lasting peace deal.

Sources said that talks were held in a cordial atmosphere and that negotiations would now be continued on a daily basis.

It is unclear though whether these talks will lead to an end of violent incidents which are attributed to the Taliban. A McClatchy report claims that prime minister Sharif no longer has hope for these talks to succeed and has planned an all out military assault on the Taliban borderlands with Afghanistan. There is reason to doubt that claim as the writer of that report also manipulates some facts:

[T]he Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, already has decided to press ahead with a massive military strike at the militants’ headquarters in North Waziristan, a tribal area bordering Afghanistan – and the insurgents know it’s coming.
...
After being sworn in, Sharif insisted that the option of peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban be explored, despite opposition from the country’s powerful military, which had all but routed the militants after five years of fighting involving 150,000 troops.

The TTP used the eight months since to regroup, organize and publicly demonstrate their renewed strength with the two-month wave of terrorist attacks. That response to Sharif’s reconciliatory policy has made him look ill-informed and naive, and much of the public anger generated by the terrorist attacks has targeted him.

Of course the Pakistani military never "all but routed the militants" which is what make peace talks a necessity in the first place.

The writer of that highlighted sentence is also leaving out some important historic events and is thereby coming to a very wrong conclusion.

There were few attacks from the Taliban during the first few months of Nawaz Sharif's rule and preparations for peace talks went well along. But just a day before those were starting in earnest the Unites States killed the head of the TTP, Hakimullah Mahsud, in a targeted drone strike and thereby sabotaged those earlier peace talks.

It was only after Hakimullah's assassination that the TTP launched a series of attacks against Pakistani security forces. For McClatchy to leave that out and to blame the attacks on Nawaz Sharif's willingness for peace talks is a serious manipulation of the facts.

One central demand the TTP has is the end of the U.S. occupation in Afghanistan and the end of Pakistan's support for it. The United States fears that Nawaz Sharif will agree to that and therefore has an interest to make any peaceful solution in Pakistan impossible.

Sharif's alleged plan to use a wide ranging military campaign to fight the TTP will end like all such plans have ended since the British colonized India - in disaster. The Taliban will slip away and come back as soon as the attack is running out of steam. The plans for that attack are based on pipe dreams. As McClatchy claims:

[Sharif's national security adviser] Aziz laid out a new policy under which Pakistan would act to secure the northwest tribal areas by the time the United States withdraws the last of its combat troops from Afghanistan in December. That entails a decisive operation in North Waziristan, with Pakistan seeking the support of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force on the Afghan side of the border to cut off TTP escape routes.

How can ISAF forces block the border on the Afghan side when ISAF is withdrawing? It would take several brigades of ground troops to prevent Pakistani Taliban from slipping into Afghanistan. Such troops are no longer available and the planned campaign will therefore end just as pointless as earlier ones. The Taliban will cross the border and come back as soon as military exhausts it's campaign drive.

Talks between the Taliban and the government are the only way to peace in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan. One major point in such talks and a condition without which no success is possible is the end of foreign occupation and drone attacks. But as the U.S. wants to stay in Afghanistan it will do its best to sabotage such talks. Both those between the Afghan president Karzai and the Taliban in Afghanistan and those between the Pakistan premier Sharif and the Taliban in Pakistan.

Posted by b on February 6, 2014 at 14:09 UTC | Permalink

Comments

There might be some link to the up-coming election in India and the more than probablle election there of a certain nationalist called Modi. It is more than probable that Sharif, a muslim traditionalist, is aligned with the Saoudi politics. Taliban being historically a by-product of the cooperation between SA and Pakistanis in the 1990's (incidentally Sharif was prime minister at the time), the pakistanis intelligence has always showed reluctance to fight them on the side of the US. It looks though that US is pressuring Saudis, which is cascaded to the Pakistanis, asking them to show a more moderate public face. Sharif is calculating that this is a good time for a rapprochement with Taliban and a display of unity to thwart the rise of a hindou nationalist among country's number one adversary.

Posted by: ATH | Feb 6 2014 14:38 utc | 1

There will be some bombardment of villages in NW, so Pakistan can extract benefits from Uncle Sam.

Also, the "Good Taliban" (Haqqanis) will be left alone.

Pakistan needs to be on good terms with the Taliban in the future, when they take over large parts of Afghanistan after all NATO troops have fled.

Posted by: Afg | Feb 6 2014 15:20 utc | 2

No doubt at all, ATH, that Nawaz Sharif is in the Sauds' pocket: he owes his life to them for protecting him from Musharaff, and filling his pockets with gold.
The question of peace talks with the Taliban seems very complex: the fact that Mahsud was killed on the eve of talks does not necessarily mean that the US was opposed to those talks. It might just mean that a faction within the CIA or Pentagon opposes them because it intends to stay in Afghanistan whatever Obama plans ("Obama" being shorthand for another faction in the government, which is only occasionally successful in imposing its will on the others).
Still there is no doubt that, whatever happens, Sharif will be looking for money. And it won't be earmarked for distribution among the Pakistani poor.
It will be interesting to see whether Balochistan based attacks on Iran intensify as the Saudis try to prevent anything resembling peace between the US and Iran.
Interesting too, to see whether Iran moves deeper into Iraq: and closer, physically, to the Saudi proxies ripping the place apart.
There is an interesting interview "After the Sheikhs"at the The New Left Project with Christopher Davidson. An interesting comment beneath it too.
These are indeed interesting times.

Posted by: bevin | Feb 6 2014 15:53 utc | 3

@bevin
That's another interesting angle to be looked at. I'll read the interview you pointed to.

Posted by: ATH | Feb 6 2014 16:14 utc | 4

I think Sharif is basing his hopes of a peaceful resolution of the Taliban insurgency on permitting them to establish their 'rule', including the imposition of shariah, in the tribal belt, while they leave the rest of Pakistan in peace.

This is unlikely to work, even if the Taliban accept some such agreement as a temporary phase in which to consolidate and build up their strength. The insurgents lumped together as "the Taliban" comprise not only tribal jihadis but also fundamentalists from the Punjab and Karachi. They are unlikely to be satisfied with any such agreement, except as purely a tactical pause. Their aim is to establish their rule over the whole of Pakistan.

Pakistan's military has probably indicated to Sharif that it can live with the kind of agreement he has in mind, provided it brings about a cessation of terrorist violence in Pakistan. However they will never accept the rule of these jihadis over the country.

Should these negotiations break down, or should violence resume even after a temporary lull following an agreement, the army will probably move to establish control over the tribal areas. While it is not properly trained or equipped to fight such an insurgency, it can establish domination over any area by moving large numbers of troops into it, as it did in Swat. Such a move would require a significant re-orientation in the strategic thinking within the military command; there have been indications that more and more senior officers are coming round to this point of view. Perhaps in the new army chief they have found a champion to effect this wrenching change.

Posted by: FB Ali | Feb 6 2014 16:17 utc | 5

@1
> There might be some link to the up-coming election in India and the more than probablle election there of a certain nationalist called Modi.

Well, he certainly is a nationalist figure in India where he is likely to become PM. After trying very hard to sic the 2002 Gujarat riots onto him, it's completely unravelling for the Congress. They've managed to sort of unite the Hindus and other various groups against the 'muslim' other. It didn't help that their crony capitalism would be stupidly venal & illegal that it would stun even David Cameron's 26B GBP? tax writeoff for Vodafone and a couple of banks.

If Modi comes, he's going to be definitely smarter than MMSingh and would give the army a free hand in Kashmir and taking out the Jamaat in B'desh. He's no wilting flower and he speaks and connects to the masses. He can easily get 60% of the people behind if he does some 'macho' stuff which the PAkistani army will do to help by trying to push militants across the LOC.

Fun times ahead.

Posted by: shanks | Feb 6 2014 17:01 utc | 6

I find it interesting that no-one ever looks for Zawahiri. There he is, a minion of the CIA ever since the 1990s in my estimation, but supposedly sitting in some obscure village on the AfPak border, pumping his videos and text messages to the cadres of AQ worldwide, and no-one can be bothered to look for him. They would say if challenged, "Of course we're looking for him; we just don't tell the media about it." But I don't believe that. They don't even pretend to look for him, because he is part of the stage machinery of the whole phony threat.

Posted by: Rowan Berkeley | Feb 6 2014 17:54 utc | 7

@bevin
I read the Davidson article you mentioned. I don't share his optimism for any kind of near future positive political change in the southern Persian Gulf sheikdoms, apart maybe Bahrein. On the other hand I kind of agree with him that the best days of the GCC are behind it and the future will see either the dismantlement of this anchronic council or its dillution into a broader association.

Posted by: ATH | Feb 6 2014 18:29 utc | 8

Re my #7, I have just found a claim that they are going after Zawahiri (even though I don't believe it):

A senior US official briefed on the discussions said there was an understanding that the US would now focus on a smaller number of high-priority targets. US officials said the CIA intended to focus next year on a handful of high-value targets, top among them Ayman al-Zawahiri.

WSJ, also here

Posted by: Rowan Berkeley | Feb 6 2014 19:52 utc | 9

@7 and 9,there was an interesting article from one of Al-akhbar correspondents in Cairo last week about Zawahiri.It appears that Zawahiri is the nefew of ambassador Tahtawi who was director of the Presidency under Morsi for whom he arranged a meeting with Zawahiri in Lahore that was due to occur during Mursi state visit to Pakistan but was cancelled because of rumor of a possible assassination of al qaeda's boss.The strangest thing of all is that nobody ever made a remark about the information divulged by the Al-Akhbar as if it were the most common thing of all !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I often thought that Zawahiri was in hiding under that desk in the oval office and here he was so banally exposed...

Posted by: Nobody | Feb 6 2014 20:21 utc | 10

ATH @8
I'm inclined to agree with you. Nor is it unlikely that the Gulf emirates will all be rolled into a unity even worse.
On the other hand they are few and the dispossessed and disdained number in the millions.
One has to bear in mind how incredibly fragile this British invented structure is. So far, outside of Bahrain there has been almost no pressure on these tyrants. That cannot last.

Posted by: bevin | Feb 6 2014 22:59 utc | 11

Sharif might have promised peace talks during elections, but public opinion in Pakistan is anti-Taliban. A majority wants an army response in FATA after the suicide bomb mayhem inflicted on Pakistani cities by Taliban. The Pakistan Army has historically supported terror groups and Taliban on both sides of the border are a creation of the Pakistan Army. To say that the Army wants to fight its own creation is a travesty. Army has always considered Taliban as it's ally in Afghanistan, and it plans to again use Taliban to continue it's old plan of strategic depth by neutralizing Afghanistan.
There was great pressure on Sharif admin for talks from the right wing led by Imran Khan a former cricketer and now a leading politician in Pakistan. Taliban also nominated him to be part of the Taliban negotiation team. Imran Khan's party is strongly allied with the Army. The Sharif admin also agreed to talks because it was unsure about the Army following the civil governments orders to act against Taliban. Sharif admin's comfort level with the new Army chief is higher, but it's still not high enough for the Sharif admin to trust the Army completely. Specially against the terror group, the Army itself created and financed for a long time.

FATA, Taliban, and Afghanistan are confounding issues made even more complicated by the clueless Obama admin which can't decide on any policy. Bob Gates book clearly showed the depth of disagreements between the Obama White House and the Pentagon over Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are going to be many problems before US pulls out, partially.


Posted by: Sriram | Feb 7 2014 7:19 utc | 12

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