by Zia Ur Rehman

January 4-10, 2013

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) offered to hold peace talks with the government last week, but said it would not lay down arms until the implementation of their version of Sharia law in the country.
In a letter to journalists on December 26, TTP Punjab chief Asmatullah Muawiya said the group was ready to declare a ceasefire if the Pakistani government agreed to withdraw from the US-led war on terror and form a new foreign policy in accordance with Islam. Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan endorsed the contents of the letter.

On December 28, Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud appeared in a 40-minute video alongside Ehsan and Waliur Rehman, in which he said the TTP was ready to begin serious dialogue. “We believe in dialogue but it should not be frivolous,” he said. “Asking us to lay down arms is a joke.” He blamed the government for violence, saying it had broken peace agreements in the past.

Some politicians and analysts see the negotiation offer as a positive development. “We have a golden chance to bring an end to suicide bombings and terrorism after ten years of killing, frenzy, bloodshed and terror,” Ansar Abbasi, an Islamabad-based journalist, wrote in his December 27 article in The News . “The authorities have no choice but to respond positively to the TTP’s offer and get the local Taliban engaged in serious and sincere negotiations for the sake of Pakistan and its people. Pakistan can’t afford killings and terrorist attacks anymore.”

Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, former federal interior minister and chief of Qaumi Watan Party, agrees. “If the US can negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan, then Pakistan must also seize the opportunity and start the process of negotiations with the TTP for restoration of peace in the country,” said Sherpao. He called for the formation of a grand Jirga for negotiating peace with the Taliban militants.

The timing of the truce offer is surprising for some security analysts who are linking it with other developments in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the last few months. They believe that the TTP wants the same recognition in Pakistan as the Afghan Taliban have in their country.

“The TTP sees that the regional situation will change in the next couple of years so they will have to work out some way to survive. The Afghan Taliban have showed their willingness to talk and once they lay down their arms the so-called jihad that the TTP is waging will automatically be discredited,” said Abdul Basit, a senior analyst at Singapore-based International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism (ICPVTR). “After a ceasefire in Afghanistan, there is no reason left for the TTP to continue fighting the Pakistan Army in FATA. To me that fear is pushing them to negotiate,” he said.

Some think that the TTP’s charter of demands essentially amounts to a surrender of the Pakistani state to the militants. “The TTP leadership is also confused and their idea of peace talks is less clear,” said an Awami National Party (ANP) leader from Swat who played a role in peace talks with the Sufi Muhammad-led Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) in 2008. “One one side, the TTP leaders are offering peace talks, and on the other, they are kidnapping and killing security personnel from the outskirts of Peshawar. It indicates that they are not interested in peace,” he said.

ANP’s central leader and railways minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour said the offer for negotiations was an attempt to create division among political parties. “The statement seemed to be written by some intelligent politician. It is an attempt to create division among political parties, especially between the ANP and the MQM.”

The journalists who have read the TTP letter say it contains nothing new. “The Taliban have been making these demands since the day the movement began,” said a reporter from FATA. “Nobody will take them seriously.”

The government has made several peace deals with factions of the Pakistani Taliban since they emerged about a decade ago. The Shakai, Sararogha and Swat peace agreements were written down, while there were a number of verbal truces in North and South Waziristan. All of these deals failed, and each one resulted in the Taliban becoming stronger, said Basit.

A retired military officer said the TTP wanted to gain “higher moral grounds” with the offer at a time when a national consensus was emerging in the country on an operation in North Waziristan. He said that the security establishment has ruled out a ceasefire with the TTP, and that the recent peace overture from the militants was a ploy to avoid a possible military offensive in the tribal areas.

Abdul Basit believes talking to the TTP is like talking to Al Qaeda, and it would mean accepting that their struggle was legitimate. Laying down arms, he says, should be the precondition to negotiations.

The writer is a journalist and security analyst. and Twitter: zalmayzia