Pakistan Begins Negotiations with Taliban

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This week the Pakistani government met with representatives of the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to negotiate an end to hostilities between the two parties. Even though the talks did not have a good start, some are holding out hope that something good might come out of them. In the eyes of many regional commentators, however, the government has walked into a trap. Given the fragile state of the TTP, these critics feel that there is hardly a need for a negotiated outcome. That understanding has many thinking that despite the talk about negotiations, more violence is not too far off.

The National’s (UAE) Tom Hussain is one of those skeptical of the real reasons why the TTP has decided to come to the negotiating table. He fears that the unmet expectations will lead to further conflict: “Belatedly, horrified Pakistanis are realizing that the government has been played by the TTP….Having moved his chess pieces into place, Fazlullah may choose to suspend terrorist attacks and engage in dialogue with the government, but only to buy further time to strengthen his hand for the future. On the other side, the government has only two options to either surrender or hit back. When it turns to its military to end the game, the TTP will launch tit-for-tat attacks in Pakistan’s cities against security and public targets. The almost inevitable result will be violence on a scale as yet unseen in six years of civil war.”

Pakistani commentators, meanwhile, are criticizing the president for negotiating out of fear and political necessity. For example, The Daily Times (Pakistan) columnist Mohammad Taqi expresses disbelief that the leader of a nuclear-armed country would be “humiliated quite so thoroughly at the hands of some armed thugs as is happening in Pakistan. Whatever the outcome of this dialogue melee, the state has disgraced itself monumentally, perhaps even irreparably, along the way….The Pakistani state, under Mr Nawaz Sharif, seems to be on all fours now. The fear of a backlash in Punjab appears to have kept Mr Sharif from doing anything to stem the bleeding in the three other provinces, and FATA. However, more disconcerting is how he has gone about doing it. If the PM had been fumbling before, his delegating responsibility to people outside parliament in a speech made in that august house, suggests he has dropped the ball completely.”

The Pakistani Daily Times’ Ijaz Kakkhel also reports on the statements made by opposition politicians who have criticized the government’s efforts: “The opposition in Senate on Thursday termed peace negotiations between the government and Taliban a futile exercise, declaring it a ‘well-throughout strategy’ by militants to ditch the government and regroup themselves….Speaking on a motion moved by Raza Rabbani concerning law and order situation with particular reference to recent terrorist attacks, Tahir Hussain Mashhadi of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) stated that the government never goes for ceasefire, adding that it is militants who have to give up arms….Afrasiab Khattak of the Awami National Party (ANP) questioned the legitimacy of the peace committee representing Taliban, saying that nobody from the Taliban is part and parcel of the body.”

Writing for a another Pakistani daily, The Dawn, I.A. Rehman notes that “good intentions are not enough” when it comes to negotiating with the PTT, adding that the government must stand strong on behalf of women’s rights and other vulnerable segments of the society: “A STRONG desire for an end to terrorism should not lead anyone to underestimate the difficulties that the negotiating teams constituted by the prime minister and the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are likely to face because securing peace can sometimes be a more challenging task than making war….The toughest task for the official negotiators will be to tell the Taliban of the limits to their cultural autonomy in Fata. The creation of workable political, administrative and judicial institutions in Fata can be discussed but in that area too, the government will have to take a stand that the basic rights of the vulnerable sections of society, especially women and minorities, cannot be compromised.”

For some in the region though, the problem is not the government’s willingness to negotiate. Rather, for some, like the Saudi Gazette, more worrying is the apparent non-seriousness with which the negotiations are being approached by the Pakistani government: “Such a laid-back, even careless response to the Taliban’s readiness to come and talk does not inspire confidence in the process. At the very least the absence of the government team will have smacked of muddle, at the worst as a deliberate snub….The government’s error was that it failed to make its position clear immediately before the scheduled start of Tuesday’s talks and continued to deliver vague and inadequate explanations throughout the day. The effect was to empower the Taliban team with a sense of grievance and allow them to protest bitterly to the world’s waiting press and media about the government’s lack of good faith.”

Despite the criticism coming from different quarters, there are those who commend the president for giving the peace talks a go and taking what they consider a political risk. For example, a Gulf News editorial asserts: “The success of any peace talks will only come about if the government shows resolve and negotiates from a position of strength. Giving in to even one unreasonable demand can jeopardize the whole effort and fail to achieve anything tangible. While it may be true that Sharif may be making a last-ditch effort at peace talks before he gives the formal go-ahead of launching a large-scale military offensive to flush out the militant strongholds in North Waziristan, credit must be given to him for going the extra mile.”

But there is no doubt that the talks will be difficult, with everyone understanding that more violence could be in store if, as a Khaleej Times editorial points out, the negotiations break up without any agreement: “if talking to pro-Taliban clerics can provide a solution to militancy, why was so much time wasted in the process and why was the nation made to suffer so much violence? Moreover, the idea of entering into talks with an outlawed organization has irked many civil society pundits who feel that the government is just appeasing the militants. The briefing that the government and delegates from the Taliban are likely to receive from the Inter-Services Intelligence also makes it quite clear that the powerful army wants its aims and objectives to be heard loud and clear. How the Taliban will react to this military agenda and whether it will dump the dialogue option is anybody’s guess.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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