The Talks Scenario

Spearhead Analysis – 20.09.2013

Afghanistan - Pakistan mapBy now all the bits and pieces of information on the All Parties Conference (APC) proposal for talks with the ‘stakeholders’ (probably meaning the TTP – Tehreek Taliban Pakistan – ostensibly the umbrella organization for the many insurgent groups though it is not specifically mentioned) to end the FATA-Afghanistan based insurgency against Pakistan are out on the table. It is however the TTP that has responded in a number of ways: first by welcoming the APC proposal, then by stating that they would hold a shura to discuss and evolve a response then by owning up to a number of violent incidents including the targeted killing of a Pakistani general and colonel, then by stating two conditions for talks – the release of prisoners and the pullout of the Pakistan Army from Pakistan’s FATA area and finally by stating that the ‘war against Pakistan will continue and that they would miss no opportunity to target the Pakistan Army’. In a new twist to the situation there are reports of back channel contacts between the TTP and the Government of Pakistan and a self declared contact man for Al Qaeda and TTP – has stated that he has been contacted by the TTP leader personally and told that no formal proposal for talks has been received and that all prisoners including those of banned militant parties in Pakistan must be freed. The contact has been denied by the TTP probably because it was meant to be confidential and if made public could create a rift within the TTP ranks – a rift that already exists.

It is obvious that there is a proposal for dialogue from Pakistan and that the TTP senses an upper hand and is formulating a response that will not diminish its precarious leadership role over the many insurgent groups and the militants within Pakistan that act to kidnap, extort, stoke ethnic and sectarian violence and create urban leverage for the western border based groups. It is also clear that the majority within Pakistan including the Army are not comfortable with the connotation of abject surrender that the APC’s talk’s proposal implies especially after the TTP’s multiple responses. The Army has, however, clearly stated its support for the political initiative even when severely provoked by the general’s killing. It is also clear that neither side wants to completely scuttle the dialogue possibility. The back channel if there is indeed one needs to be out of the public domain and it needs to fine tune the public utterances from both sides so that rhetoric does not push people into corners because that is the surest way to end the possibility of dialogue. A complete cease fire could be a game changer but the TTP knows that it may be difficult for them to enforce this given the number of groups with their own agendas and the fact that the TTP by demanding the release of militants has formally admitted their linkage with them all over Pakistan. Till there is a breakthrough the ‘war’ will continue with no quarters given or asked for. This reality should be made clear to the people of Pakistan.

There is also the looming 2014 scenario. If there is no meaningful progress in the peace process then we are looking at a difficult phase in the three decades of violence in Afghanistan. There will be the northern alliance backed government in Afghanistan and it will attract Indian, Iranian, Central Asian and Russian support because of past linkages that have endured and the fact that warlords allied with the former northern alliance still exist. If there is a Presidential transition through elections then Karzai will not be there and a new man will take time to settle. The residual US presence, and it may be a significant presence, will mean that there is US and Western support for the Afghan government. Against this ‘coalition’ will be the Afghan Taliban who has turned a blind eye to the TTP and other insurgents fighting the Pakistan state and even given them sanctuaries. We should also expect no change in the financial, weapons and human resource inflows into Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the TTP does not respond positively to Pakistan and continues its activity then Pakistan will have to make a very difficult choice putting its own interest foremost. It is in the interest of the Afghan Taliban to make sure the peace process ends on a positive note for them. Equally it is in the TTP interest that they make peace with Pakistan and end their insurgency. So while hoping for a good outcome Pakistan needs to prepare for the worst case scenario and this time it has to consider all the steps that need to be in place for a counter insurgency and counter terrorism operation including external support and internal security. Pakistan must also note the possibility of a thaw in US-Iran relations, China’s stakes in Afghanistan, the need to improve relations with India and of course its own centrality in the ongoing run up to 2014.

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