The Talks Conundrum

Spearhead Analysis – 04.02.2014

PM Nawaz SharifIt seems that the TTP evaluates the evolving situation in Pakistan continuously and very carefully — especially the trends in public opinion and the drivers behind those trends. In the aftermath of the US Drone strike that killed the TTP leader the TTP must have noted the divergence in views and sensed that a decisive military operation against them was not likely. They escalated violence with two deadly strikes against the Pakistan military ostensibly to avenge their leaders’ killing. The rapidity and violence of the military’s response took them by surprise. The bigger surprise must have been the near complete swing in favor of a military operation to end the violence — not just in FATA but in urban areas where there was an insurgent-organized crime-militant linkage. Their response came in the form of two overtures for ‘meaningful talks’. On the very verge of sanctioning a military operation the government agreed to give talks ‘one last chance’ and announced a four member committee for the negotiations.

The TTP has responded to the government offer after consultations within their ‘shura’. They have named a five man team to be their arbitration committee. None of these five is a TTP member or associate and two have promptly publicly disassociated themselves from representing the TTP. The TTP has also named a larger ‘political monitoring’ committee to oversee the work of the arbitration committee and all the members of this larger body are TTP members. There is method in this considered response. The message being sent to Pakistan and the world is that the Taliban in the TTP are Pakistanis fighting for ‘reform’ of their homeland and are being represented by other Pakistanis drawn from their support base within Pakistan. The implication being that Pakistan is indeed divided into pro and anti Taliban segments. They have also clearly indicated that the entire process will be overseen by the TTP thereby implying that all those within Pakistan who support them accept their leadership. It goes without saying that the TTP thinks it has moral ascendancy and that it has achieved a superior position through its efforts and has forced the government to not only accept the talks proposed by them but to also agree to the teams proposed by them. The four man government committee will be talking to its own people representing the other side. The whip hand will be held by the TTP with its capacity to orchestrate violence and its monitoring committee that will have the final say.

It is being said that this entire exercise is a government master plan to gain time for a final military operation. If this is so then the trigger for this has been provided by the Taliban through their talks offer. It can also be said that this is a Taliban ploy to gain time for consolidation and preparation and to continue violent attacks to sap the will of Pakistan for a fight. The most recent attack on policemen in Karachi has not been owned by the TTP. There may be many more such ‘false flag ‘operations as the dialogue enters the long haul stage. There is also no guarantee that violence will cease even if the talks succeed and territory is ceded to the Taliban. After all there are no attacks within territory controlled by the Taliban and a territory formally acknowledged as their stronghold has many implications for Pakistan — especially because of the large number of factions that may have their own agendas and ideas.

The entire dialogue process has to be very carefully monitored and analyzed over the entire duration of its progression. The State has to be clear on it’s redlines from the word go and public as well as media support must be ensured by transparency to the extent possible. Now that the decision has been taken to give talks ‘one last chance’ then the implication of this decision has to be fully grasped and capacity built accordingly. In the backdrop must be the evolving situation in Afghanistan and the impact on Pakistan of the possible scenarios.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)