Security observers in the region say that things are not as simple as they seem.
New Delhi: Even as Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that his government was talking to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) by using Afghanistan-based Taliban leaders as mediators, on 6 October another armed group active in South Waziristan pledged its allegiance to the TTP.
More significantly, less than 24 hours after Khan’s statement that was televised on 2 October, the TTP killed five Pakistani security forces. Incidentally, just two days before Khan’s statement to TRT World, a state-owned Turkish broadcaster, on 29 September the chief of TTP, Noor Wali Mehsud, in a video message, told the Pashtun leaders and youth to stand against the Pakistan army which he claimed wanted to erase their identity.
It is pertinent to mention that TTP is a group of several armed groups and is led by present chief Noor Wali Mehsud. The recent group that joined Mehsud is led by two local commanders—Sher Alam and Hameed. The TTP was accused by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) of carrying out the 14 July attacks in which nine Chinese nationals, who were working on the Dasu dam, were killed. The ISI had alleged that the attacks were masterminded by three entities—TTP, India’s intelligence agency R&AW (Research and Analysis Wing) and Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the NDS (National Directorate of Security)—who were working together. However, the TTP, which never shies away from taking responsibility for the attacks that it carries out, has vehemently denied its hand in the Dasu attack.
On 1 October, Khan in an interview to TRT World had announced that his government was engaged in peace talks with the TTP. However, security observers in the region said that things were not as simple. “What Khan is saying and what TTP is doing are totally different. Maybe Khan, on the advice of his army commanders and security advisors, is using the media to create confusion among TTP ranks or maybe he is trying to give a message to the angry Chinese that he is trying his best to control the TTP by using his good relations with the Taliban and presenting commanders like Gul Bahadur who have been working with the Pakistan army for long as evidence of his labour,” an official said.
According to other individuals, including former TTP spokesperson, Ehsanullah Ehsan, it was true that some “insignificant” commanders of TTP were in talks with the Pakistan army.
Among them is Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a local terror commander, active in North Waziristan tribal district, who had on 1 October, announced a 20-day cessation of hostilities with the Pakistan army. His announcement came just hours after Khan’s interview to TRT World—it was as if he was waiting for Khan to make the statement. Bahadur, who has worked closely with Sirajuddin Haqqani, had in 2006 negotiated a deal with the Pakistan army and is now not considered a part of the core TTP, say security experts.
Local sources add that Gul Bahadur is regarded among those commanders who have always been pro-Pakistan army and his announcement of ceasefire does not carry much weight in the “jihadi circle” as he is seen as someone who acts on the directives of GHQ, Rawalpindi.
This reading seems to have proven correct when on 2 October, the TTP killed five Pakistani security forces, including four armymen and a policeman in North Waziristan. The killings came just hours after Khan and Bahadur spoke in unison on the purported ceasefire.
Khan’s decision to use the media to announce that his government was talking to a section of TTP rather than announcing it through an official announcement, is likely to be based on the ideas presented in a paper published by National Defence University, Islamabad, by one of the country’s foremost strategic academicians, Dr Raja Muhammad Khan who headed the International Relations Department then.
In his paper titled “Negotiations with TTP: An Analysis of Counter Terrorism Strategy”, which was published in April 2013, Khan had advised the government to use “declaration strategy” rather than direct negotiations offer to avoid any fallout in the future.
“This approach may seem less imposing, where officials grant interviews or otherwise encourage media reports conveying the message. Using declarations rather than direct negotiations offer governments a political advantage as they can claim they are condemning violence even as they hold out the possibility of talks. The declarations, of course, often are necessarily vague and are difficult to use for delicate discussions of any quid pro quo. The Pakistani government should engage with TTP via declaration strategy,” Khan had written. The paper has been deleted from the institute’s site.