Bombs and Boots

Southasia - - COMMENT -

Astring of de­vel­op­ments has taken place within a span of a few weeks which would have a last­ing im­pact on the way things pan out in the re­gion in the com­ing times. It started with the killing of the TTP leader Hakimul­lah Mehsud through a U.S. drone at­tack which brought to an end a life of bru­tal bomb­ings and killings across Pak­istan. Hakimul­lah had taken con­trol of the Pak­istani Tal­iban af­ter the death of Bait­ul­lah Mehsud, who was elim­i­nated by a U.S. mis­sile back in 2009. Hakimul­lah took the mis­sion fur­ther by un­leash­ing a greater reign of ter­ror over the past four years. In the last days of his life, though, he seemed open to peace talks with the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment, pro­vided the lat­ter ac­ceded to his pre­con­di­tions such as with­draw­ing troops from the en­tire tribal area and im­pos­ing Shariah law in the coun­try.

Hakimul­lah Mehsud’s killing cer­tainly cre­ated a ma­jor set­back for pos­si­ble Pak­istan-TTP talks. His suc­ces­sor, Mul­lah Fa­zlul­lah was sup­posed to pick up the ba­ton from here but he has proved to be an even tougher cus­tomer. While the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment has been mak­ing over­tures to set up a fresh sched­ule for peace talks, the Mul­lah has out­rightly re­jected the of­fer and is, in­stead, bent upon aveng­ing Hakimul­lah’s killing as well as per­pe­trat­ing fresh vi­o­lence, more specif­i­cally, against the Pak­istani mil­i­tary and gov­ern­ment per­son­nel and in­stal­la­tions.

In the in­ter­est of peace, it is im­por­tant for the gov­ern­ment to talk to the TTP, also re­ferred to as the Pak­istani Tal­iban. This is an um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion of var­i­ous mil­i­tant groups based in Pak­istan’s FATA belt. Most Pak­istani Tal­iban groups op­er­ate un­der the TTP while their cur­rent leader, Mul­lah Fa­zlul­lah has al­ways demon­strated his anti-Pak­istani feel­ings.

There are a num­ber of other fac­tors too that could neg­a­tively or pos­i­tively im­pact Pak­istan’s sit­u­a­tion vis-à-vis. peace talks with the TTP. For in­stance, the stand­point of the Pak­istan Tehrike-In­saf (PTI), led by Imran Khan, which is sup­posed to have a soft cor­ner for the TTP, must be con­sid­ered. This party was ear­lier ad­vis­ing the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment to al­low TTP to open an of­fice in Pak­istan, which would have, in ef­fect, meant that the gov­ern­ment was ac­cord­ing them of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion. Fol­low­ing the killing of Hakimul­lah Mehsud, the PTI, whose gov­ern­ment also rules the Khy­ber Pakhtunkhawa prov­ince, wants NATO and U.S. sup­plies stopped from pass­ing through KP.

It is also im­por­tant for the civil­ian gov­ern­ment to take the armed forces into the loop and de­vise a col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach. It must not be for­got­ten that it is the army that has ac­tu­ally taken for­ward the cam­paign against the TTP and has scored con­tin­u­ous suc­cesses. It is for this rea­son that they are the fore­most tar­get for the mil­i­tants. They have wrested back many of the ar­eas ‘con­quered’ by the TTP, such as Swat, and have not al­lowed other parts of Pak­istani ter­ri­tory to come un­der TTP con­trol.

The pro­ceed­ings of the Afghan Loya Jirga (a grand as­sem­bly of el­ders) which was held in Kabul re­cently, could also have long-term im­pli­ca­tions for the peo­ple of this re­gion. The Loya Jirga spon­sored a se­cu­rity deal with the U.S., un­der which thou­sands of U.S. troops would re­main in Afghanistan once com­bat op­er­a­tions ended in 2014. This means that the huge Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pres­ence cur­rently in Afghanistan would not be sub­jected to the ‘zero op­tion’. While other NATO forces would leave the coun­try, a fair-sized U.S. pres­ence will con­tinue to stay in the coun­try for the next 10 years at least. This also needs to be seen in the con­text of the deal that the U.S. has cut with Iran re­cently. Un­der this agree­ment, the U.S. will re­lease over $4bil­lion in Ira­nian oil sales rev­enue from frozen ac­counts and sus­pend re­stric­tions on Iran’s trade in gold, petro­chem­i­cals and car and plane parts. In re­turn, Iran would re­strict its var­i­ous nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties and ac­cept more in­tru­sive in­spec­tions by the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency.

Since the re­gion will not see the backs of all U.S. sol­diers in 2014 and the TTP is not will­ing to smoke the peace pipe with Pak­istan, there is a need to re­draw the strate­gic map in light of the new re­al­i­ties and pre­pare for a new on­slaught – both from Tal­iban bombs and Amer­i­can boots.

Syed Jawaid Iqbal

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