Tough terms

Posted: February 22, 2014 in Published in, The Friday Times

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By Zia Ur Rehman

February 14, 2014

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/tough-terms/

Reports of a series of tough conditions laid down by the Taliban are fueling doubts about the success of ongoing peace talks, security experts and political leaders say.

Amongst the 15 demands made by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan are the release of all jailed Pakistani and foreign militants, and the withdrawal of troops from the tribal areas. For the TTP, these two demands are a “test case” for the government to prove its commitment towards the dialogue process.

The TTP also wants the state to replace the democratic system of governance with what they call the Islamic system, drop all criminal charges against Taliban militants, apply Sharia law in courts, implement an Islamic system of education in public and private institutions, and stop US drone attacks.

The Pakistani government had set five basic conditions, of which two were of fundamental importance – the scope of the talks should remain confined to the areas affected by violence and not the whole country, and the dialogue should be held within the framework of the constitution.

“This is the last chance for both the Taliban and the government”

Security experts are worried the peace talks will only allow the militants time to gain strength and regroup.

“If we assess all the previous peace agreements made with Taliban groups, it is clear that the government signed them from a position weakness,” said Raees Ahmed, a Karachi-based security analyst. The government has never accepted the Taliban’s demand for the release of their prisoners or withdrawal of troops from FATA, and the Taliban have never accepted the government’s demand that they lay down arms of surrender foreign militants, he added.

Since 2004, the Pakistani government has entered into a number of peace truces with different groups of Pakistani Taliban in attempts to conciliate the militants. The three most prominent of them are the Shakai peace agreement of April 2004 (between Nek Muhammad Wazir, a leader of Taliban in South Waziristan, and the government), the Sararogha peace agreement of February 2005 (between Baituallah Mehsud and the government), and the Swat peace agreement of May 2008 (between Mullah Fazlullah-led militants and the ANP-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government). Most of these peace deals resulted in further strengthening of the Taliban.

While some analysts and political leaders have high hopes from the new peace talks, others are deeply concerned because they see the move as a sign of weakness on part of the government.

Sirajul Haq, the senior deputy chief of Jamaat-e-Islami and a senior minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says this is the last chance for both the Taliban and the government, to reach a resolution. “There are a thousand hurdles in the way of peace, and in the case of failure, Pakistan’s geography may be threatened,” he said. “If both the government and the Taliban are sincere, these hurdles mean nothing.”

“All the political parties gave a clear mandate to the PML-N for the restoration of peace,” said Bushra Gohar, a former parliamentarian belonging to the Awami National Party (ANP). “However, the ANP wants the government to take the Parliament in confidence on the process, objectives and scope of this peace initiative.”

Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri, secretary general of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam’s Fazlur Rehman faction, said his party would never allow anyone to challenge the constitution of Pakistan.

“The 1973 constitution was made on the basis of Islam, and it was signed by top religious leaders including Shah Ahmad Noorani, Maulana Abdul Haq, and Mufti Mehmood,” he said.

Expressing her party’s concerns, Bushra Gohar said the government’s suggestion that peace talks would only be confined to the violence-affected areas seemed to mean that terrorism was limited to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. “The whole country is in the grip of terrorism and religious extremism, and a deliberate impression must not be given that terrorism is a Pashtun-only problem,” she said.

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