Bombs and Boots
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